It’s officially summer, and Case Western Reserve University students are pursuing a variety of different experiences before a new academic year begins. And for some, those opportunities are found abroad. Whether studying death, dying and euthanasia in the Netherlands; exploring archaeological sites in Rome; or conducting biology field research in Costa Rica, CWRU offers many opportunities for students to get up close and personal with their passions—and find new ones along the way. Curious what their experiences have been like? The Daily is putting the spotlight on students who are studying—or recently traveled—abroad. 

Though Joaquin Mendoza has called Cleveland, Ohio, home in recent years, the rising fourth-year student has international roots—and a long-standing passion for travel. Born in Peru and raised in Puerto Rico, Mendoza is no stranger to exploring the world, having wandered all over Europe and even visited Spain with his family years ago.

Photo of Joaquin Mendoza and others on four-wheelers in the desert

 It was during this family trip that he says the soul of the city intrigued him, so much so that Mendoza—a finance major and member of the integrated master’s program in finance at Weatherhead School of Management—chose to study abroad from January through May of this year at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Madrid. 

“Since I arrived at CWRU my [first] year, studying abroad in [Spain] has been my dream,” he said. “Additionally, the college in Madrid that I attended is very well known in Europe for being a good business school.”

1. What was your favorite part of studying abroad? 

My favorite part about studying abroad in Europe was being able to travel around at affordable prices. I love traveling and learning about new cultures and I was able to do this by studying abroad. While I was in Spain, I was able to travel to six other countries—the United Kingdom, Morocco, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy. Tickets to these countries from Spain cost between $10-$20, which was something surreal for me. Apart from traveling, I loved the friendships I built—I lived in a student residence so I was able to meet people from all over the world. 

2. You shared some photos with us about your travels. Can you give some background on them?

I studied abroad in Spain, which gave me the opportunity to visit places I never thought I would. I have so many photos from Spain I could share, but I wanted to show you these breathtaking photos from my trip to Morocco. I always dreamed of going to Africa and the Sahara Desert, and I was finally able to experience it. On the trip, we drove ATVs through the desert and also rode on a dromedary. We stayed at a camp for one night in the desert which was an amazing experience. I was able to do this trip with a group of friends which made it a very memorable experience. 

3. What is something you learned about yourself while studying abroad?

I learned that I need to let loose more. Before this trip I was very focused on studying and getting good grades to get a high-paying job. I was not that focused on my happiness. After this experience, I decided that I need to live more. Looking back, I feel that this experience helped me a lot in terms of finding myself and what I want to accomplish in the future. Being able to get to know many different cultures just gives you the perspective of how big the world is and there—are many places left for me to explore. 

4. Do you encourage other students to study abroad? 

I highly recommend and encourage students to study abroad. It’s a scary thing, I know. It’s not easy to just go live in a different country with different customs and most importantly a different language. A mentor once told me that “if you never put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you will never grow.”

I was comfortable at CWRU—I knew most of the people in my classes, and I knew my way around campus. I needed this experience to grow and experience more.  I can assure you I made the right decision—I had the best five months of my life. 

When you’re abroad, you have to put yourself out there and learn about the culture and everything, and you have to start from zero. It was tough at first, but you just have to take the first step, and when you do that you will see that there are many people in your same situation.

5. What are some things you’ve learned about Spain?

The most interesting thing I would say was the siestas. Small businesses would close from 2-5 p.m. for siestas and restaurants from like 4-8 p.m. It was hard at first to get accustomed to that, but with time it became normal. My eating schedule also changed drastically—normal lunch time is from 2-4 p.m., dinner was from 9-11 p.m., and people in Spain don’t usually eat breakfast!