'Just do it': GVSU student encourages others to study abroad

GV student encourages others to study abroad

By Tylee Bush | 3/12/18 2:13am

GVL / Courtesy - Christopher 'Pez' Lopez

Christopher "Pez" Lopez, a Grand Valley State University student studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, has just three words of advice for students who are considering studying abroad: “Just do it.” 

He may have taken these words from Nike, and they may be cliché, but the meaning is deeper to Lopez, who encourages all college students to invest in a study-abroad experience during their college careers.

Lopez arrived in Santiago at the end of August 2017. He is pursuing a liberal studies major with an emphasis in implementing social change in health care. However, in Chile, he is exclusively studying Spanish every day. 

“This has been one if not the best years of my life,” Lopez said. 

Even though Lopez is currently enjoying his study-abroad experience, there was a time when he was very nervous about leaving the U.S., the comfort of GVSU’s campus and even his fraternity. 

“I was getting worried about leaving,” he said. “However, it was the best decision I’ve ever made."

Lopez wasn’t sure how he would be able to afford his trip initially. He was fortunate enough to receive the Barbara H. Padnos Scholarship, and after accepting it, he decided to refrain from applying for other scholarships to allow other students to benefit, too.

“Because of the Padnos International Scholarship, I no longer needed money, which, in my mind, meant if I received more, I would be taking away from someone who actually needed the money,” Lopez said. “I wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t receive any money. (Receiving the scholarship was) a life-changing and worthwhile experience.”

In fact, Lopez shared that because of the scholarship opportunities available to students who study abroad, his time in Chile has actually been cheaper than attending GVSU would have been this year.

Even still, after overcoming the financial challenge, Lopez had one more challenge to conquer upon arriving in Santiago: the language barrier. 

“The language is hard,” Lopez said. “I came here without knowing any Spanish, but I have adapted very well.”

Despite this, Lopez said he has felt truly at home and welcomed in Chile from the very start. 

“I am Mexican and I look like everyone here, so honestly, I feel more comfortable walking around here than I do in the USA," he said.

Lopez has classes Monday through Thursday and often uses his Fridays off to explore. He has taken full advantage of his geographic location and has traveled to several places within and around Chile. 

“It would take a while to list all the places I’ve had the ability to travel to in my time here,” Lopez said. “The Atacama Desert was one of my favorite places, and I have been there twice.”

These excursions, along with his time in class and studying, have been enough to convince Lopez that there is no experience quite like studying abroad.

To prospective study-abroad students who are on the fence, Lopez said, “Even if you don’t know the language, just go for it. I came here to Chile for a whole year without knowing any more Spanish than 'Hola, ¿cómo estás?' 

"Enjoy yourself, live with a host family, immerse yourself in the culture, and not only will the language come along, but you’ll learn a significant amount about yourself along the way.”

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