Studying in Oaxaca gave Bianca Rizzio the opportunity to travel abroad in college.
Thanks to the UVM Oaxaca Semester Abroad program, Rizzio was able to travel during the spring semester of her junior year and develop her global perspective.
Now a UVM senior, Rizzio looks back at her time in Oaxaca as one of the most valuable experiences of her life. “”I was so fortunate with my host family, and I had a fabulous roommate. The city is filled with markets, kind people, and opportunities to explore. My Spanish-speaking ability improved exponentially, too.”
In some cases, travel study is not an option for students who have limited financial resources. But UVM’s Oaxaca program allows students to apply for UVM financial aid and seamlessly transfer their grades so they can earn credit and graduate on time.
“Financially, I was concerned that study abroad wouldn’t be an option for me,” says Rizzio, a psychology major who is minoring in women, gender and sexuality. “I learned about the UVM Semester in Oaxaca and realized that you pay basically the same thing for a semester in Oaxaca as you do for a semester on campus – maybe even less.”
The financial benefit of UVM’s travel study program is one of MANY reasons to study abroad.
That was a big relief to Rizzio, who is helping to finance her college experience. She is busy on campus, while maintaining a job and volunteering. “You know, I’ve got a couple pesos, but not much more,” she jokes.
The financial benefit was not the only reason Rizzio decided to go to Oaxaca. She did her homework and attended an info session to learn more about the program.
Having researched Oaxaca and the UVM program, the experience seemed like an incredible opportunity. “I knew that I wanted to live with a host family and I knew I wanted to go spring semester, so that was perfect,” she says. Traveling with UVM students and faculty were added benefits.
Rizzio says her experience in Oaxaca helped her establish lasting friendships with other students. “I met some people who are now huge players in my UVM experience,” she says. “Everyone assumed my roommate and I knew each other before the trip because we were inseparable.”
Oaxaca is an incredibly diverse and culturally rich place. The program hosts three academic tracks, which were developed by UVM faculty to support students in fulfilling their graduation requirements. Rizzio enrolled in the Arts and Sciences track. While in Oaxaca, Rizzio earned a full 18 credits and fulfilled many of her graduation requirements — all while getting outside of the classroom and building her global perspective through experience.
“I received 18 credits and it felt manageable. If you’re going to take 3 credits of a language, it might as well be in a place where you’re constantly practicing,” she says. “And if you have to take a lab science, you might as well do it while you’re hiking around, listening to really awesome professors in the field.”
Rizzio described the application process as seamless. She also didn’t need to worry about transferring credits or changing any of her finances for the year.
Study abroad can be a challenge for some students because the credits don’t always transfer perfectly. Many struggle to get credit for the courses they take abroad, or their courses don’t factor into their GPA after they return. In the UVM Oaxaca program, Rizzio fulfilled her lab science requirement, took her second semester of a language, and finished up of number of general elective graduation requirements.
“I didn’t have to transfer any credits and everything counted toward earning my degree. I just filled out a few forms and that was that,” she says.
Pursuing Her Passion
Students in the Oaxaca program are responsible for an independent research project, which requires them to work with local professionals and conduct field work.
Rizzio is personally interested in extending educational opportunities and financial access to economically and socially isolated groups, and her project focused on understanding how rural and economically disadvantaged communities address educational access needs.
“I enjoyed my research project, and it made such a difference to have a real element of self-directed learning,” she says. “I was able to develop a project that I personally wanted to study. It was fascinating to learn about the economics of education in Oaxaca, and to understand the issues of access to education for rural and indigenous students.”
Following her study abroad experience, Rizzio has translated her independent research project experience into a meaningful internship with Vermont Works for Women, where she works to empower incarcerated women by teaching financial literacy and career-readiness classes in a Vermont prison.
Not only did her independent research project inspire her work, it prepared her to engage with others and develop a new perspective.