As an international studies major with a focus on Latin America, heading south of the border for a semester abroad was a natural fit for Kerry McGowan, ’16. “Sure, living in Spain and traveling through Europe would be nice, but Latin America interests me more,” she says. “I love the excitement of Latin culture — the food, the music, the dancing. Plus, I’m interested in the politics [of this region] — our closest neighbor yet we don’t really know much past the stereotypes.”

For McGowan, Guadalajara has been the perfect destination to absorb the culture of Latin America and to visit its prominent sights. On campus at Guadalajara’s Jesuit university and Richmond partner institution, ITESO, she takes advantage of such extracurricular programming as Latin dance, live concerts, and soccer. Close proximity to the Pacific Ocean has allowed McGowan to visit Puerto Vallarta, see indigenous wildlife, and to visit the pyramids of Teuchitlán. Additionally, she receives a daily dose of the vibrant, local culture via her host family. “I appreciate the [practical help] with information about busses and places to visit, not to mention the conversational practice. I especially enjoy the opportunity to learn about Mexican culture and eat real Mexican food at home.”

But McGowan is quick to note she is “doing more of the ‘study’ part of study abroad.” As a direct-enrollment student, she takes classes in her major with mostly locals. “Here, most of my classes are in Spanish. International relations classes have really allowed me to see Mexico, the U.S., and the world from a very different perspective,” she says. Though a challenge to her language skills, McGowan’s experience at ITESO has motivated her to take more politics-based coursework and has her focusing globally on career paths. “I’m thinking about joining the Foreign Service or working with an international company or NGO. Daily life [in Guadalajara], my coursework, and extracurricular involvement will all be invaluable practice for living in and understanding another culture.”

Wherever McGowan lands, an immersive experience in Mexico is sure to pay dividends in her future. Study abroad director Michele Cox couldn’t agree more: “Mexico is crucial to the U.S. economy and security, not to mention our shared economic and cultural ties that have been in place for centuries,” Cox says. “Students who go into nearly any field will inevitably work with Mexicans here or in Mexico.”

And to think, had she given in to the lure of Western Europe, McGowan would have missed so many of these uniquely Latin American experiences. “After some research on safety concerns and other study abroad options, I felt comfortable with Guadalajara. Study abroad is a great opportunity to take a risk and do something different.”

McGowan took the risk and she couldn’t be happier.