by Jennifer Chavez Rivera, BA Political Science 2017
I spent the fall semester of my senior year in warm, sunny Alicante, España… and it was AMAZING. Although I spent a lot of time at the beach, airports and exploring several different countries, I was also able to learn a lot about the Spanish Government and the European Union. It was definitely an interesting time to be living in Spain, as they technically had not had an official president nor government in place for several months. The Spanish citizens had been through two voting sessions and were anticipating a third one because the main parties in Spain’s political system could not agree on a candidate to preside over their parliament. In the meantime, Spain’s former President Mariano Rajoy was filling the role of president without any authority and was ultimately voted back into power (you might have thought the U.S. was the only country having a bumpy ride leading up to the presidential elections… definitely not the case!).
One of the courses I took through the USAC program at La Universidad de Alicante was titled “Political and Economic Institutions of the European Union”. This course focused on the main institutions within the European Union along with learning about the history behind it. As the course content unfolded, it was interesting to use our Brexit discussions to predict the results of the U.S. presidential election. The professor was very curious to hear how we felt about American Politics at the time as much as we were curious about the impact of Brexit. One of my favorite parts of this course was our field trip to EUIPO which is the European Union Intellectual Property Office. Surprisingly enough, we learned about trademarks and marketing in a very entertaining manner. It was nice to tour and learn about such a critical institution in the European Union, which was located alongside the Mediterranean coast of Alicante.
Last but not least, it was very common to have people personally ask, “So how do you feel about Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton?” several times a week. Although many people do not enjoy talking about politics with others, it was interesting to discuss them with Spanish locals. They certainly had a lot to say about their perception of the U.S. election. Additionally, I appreciated the fact that we heard various points of view around the different European countries we visited. The narratives within the major newspapers were also very intriguing. Another interesting topic to discuss and compare viewpoints on was regarding refugees and immigrants in the EU. There were certainly people on both sides of the issue, however it was rather appalling to identify which countries were more openly in favor of allowing refugees into their home. For example, Madrid, España had a large banner saying “REFUGEES WELCOME” outside one of their governmental buildings.
I am very happy I decided to study abroad. It is probably the best experience I have had and if I could do it over again, I would—except this time I would do it for an entire academic year. Although my course schedule was not heavily based on political science courses, I engaged in political science-type topics in my day-to-day activities and gained so much knowledge about politics outside of the United States. These experiences have put my academic career into perspective and have reassured my interest in political science. I strongly encourage all students to check out the different study abroad programs available through the University of Iowa, there are certainly some political science based programs as well!