University of Southern Indiana

Student Highlight - Larissa Sobczak

Larissa in Warsaw, PolandAbout Larissa Sobczak

Class of 2023

Majors: Global Studies and Sociology
Minor: Spanish Studies

Left: Larissa sitting atop a bridge in Old City, Warsaw, Poland


Throughout my life, I partook in Polish customs; my mother’s side of the family is Polish, and my father’s side is Mexican. As a young girl, I remember seeing Pisankis (colored decorative eggs) placed in the living room during Easter time. For Easter we had polish sausage, sauerkraut, my grandmother’s homemade babka and lamb cake (don’t worry, it’s not actually made of lamb!) Christmas was a tad Americanized, but a few items we would have were pierogis, glazed ham, braised sauerkraut, and my grandmother’s delicious kolaczki (a melt in-your-mouth pastry that holds a jam or nut filling). Since I have always connected more with my Polish side, I knew I had to visit Poland once I could travel on my own.

Barcelona, Spain

My desire to travel abroad truly began after my first year at overnight-summer camp. I had counselors from around the world – countries such as England, Scotland, Australia and Spain. Throughout many years of attending summer camp, I had the opportunity to meet and befriend people across the globe. They would talk about their lives back home and it felt as if I was traveling through their stories. I would try to envision life abroad. This fueled my desire to travel around the world and, hopefully, experience what it was like to live in a foreign country. In the spring of 2019, I had the marvelous opportunity to make those dreams a reality: I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain.

During my time in Spain, I studied within the Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA) Liberal Arts & Social Sciences program. All of my classes were held in one area: the CEA Barcelona Study Center, located on the Plaza Catalunya in the heart of the city. I took classes similar to the types of classes offered at USI; sociology classes, international studies classes, and an advanced Spanish language class. One of my sociology classes focused on immigration, race and identity in contemporary Spain. Another was called International Service Learning: Society, Inequality and Social Exclusion. This class focused on volunteering within the community throughout the semester. My International Journalism and Global Media class required us to write journal entries about the Syrian refugee crisis, Spanish writers, and current hot topics.

Sobczak in Baku, Azerbaijan

One class I was enrolled in, Communication and Global Competence, was taught by an American professor and became one of my favorite classes. Both Communication and Global Competence and International Service Learning became favorites because these classes required interaction with the community. Thanks to my coursework, I was able to engage with the local Catalonians and learn more about their culture and day-to-day life. I also enjoyed taking the metro and traveling to different cities across the coast of Spain in my spare time and on my three-day weekends. I even had the opportunity to fly to Ireland, Morocco, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Poland (of course!).

I was able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity thanks to the support of the wonderful Mr. and Mrs. Campbell and the USI Foundation. I am forever grateful for the Campbell’s generous donation that allowed me to experience my childhood dream of living abroad. In addition, I could not have been able to sort out all of the necessary paperwork without my study abroad advisor, Melissa Gonnerman. Melissa was always there whenever I was confused or stressed, making sure everything went smoothly. I would also like to thank my mother, friends, and USI faculty and staff for supporting my crazy, but wonderful adventure.  Their encouragement gave me the strength to make this trip happen.

You see, it takes courage to leave a familiar place where you don’t have to worry about language issues, where you automatically know the cultural customs, and you already how to get from point A to B. When I said “see you later” to USI, my friends, family, and the life I know here in Indiana, little did I know I would also say goodbye to the old Larissa. Because of my travels, I have become more independent, which I didn’t think was possible. I interacted with people from all over, I learned how to stay calm in sticky situations, and I saw just how beautiful the world can be.

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