For Sarah Repko ’19, home is where you never feel alone, no matter who’s around. It’s where you have a sense of peace, comfort and community.
That’s what Repko found at the University of Mary Washington, and that’s what she found nearly 4,000 miles away in Bilbao, Spain. There, she’s earning a master’s degree in international relations and business diplomacy at Universidad de Deusto. And she’s on a fast track for it, thanks to one of several new 4+1 partnerships between UMW and overseas schools. The pathways let students earn master’s degrees in half the time, while soaking up culture outside the U.S.
The rolling Nervión River. Charming, walkable neighborhoods. The food – savory pintxo, rich tortilla española. Repko embraced it all, and shortly after arriving in the Spanish port city for her first study abroad experience, she found herself texting Center for International Education (CIE) Director Jose Sainz.
“During the few weeks I’ve been in Bilbao, I’ve been thinking about either returning or staying an extra semester … ” she wrote in winter 2018. “Would it be possible and what would I have to do?”
So, after not one but two semesters abroad, a final few months at Mary Washington and a pandemic that curtailed international travel for more than a year – while Repko taught Spanish in the U.S. – she’s back in Bilbao, this time as a graduate student headed for a career overseas.
“She was the perfect candidate to take advantage of our 4+1 international pathways,” Sainz said of the programs available in Spain, France, England and Wales, with one in the works in Ireland.
Repko had taken six years of Spanish in middle and high school in Mechanicsville, Virginia, by the time she enrolled at Mary Washington. She majored in Spanish, completed practicums through the College of Education, did volunteer work on weekends and spent plenty of time in the CIE. “Study abroad was the big, big thing for me,” she said. “The longer I was in Bilbao, the more I wanted to stay. I figured it would be better to finish my Spanish education in Spain.”
Courses in subjects like geopolitics, sustainable business development, and international trade and politics, plus an internship completion requirement – oh, and on the side, she’s learning the Basque language of Euskera – leave little opportunity for leisure. But Repko fits it in, making time for long Spanish lunches, dodging raindrops to explore the city and soaking up a landscape she describes as extraordinary.
All the while, she keeps up with family in the U.S. through phone calls, video chats, pictures and texts – like the one she sent Sainz three winters ago when she first felt at home in Bilbao.
“She’s driven and determined to achieve the goals she’s outlined for herself, and now being in Spain is a true testimony to how she’s pursuing her personal, professional and academic objectives,” Sainz said. “These programs were created to address the needs of students, like Sarah, who return from study abroad hungry for more international opportunities.”