By Elizabeth Valenzuela – Staff Writer – [email protected]
Gabrielle Whitmire, a senior at UNC Asheville, impulsively decided to study abroad a week before the deadline passed, but her rash decision led to her achievement of becoming a global ambassador for International Studies Abroad.
“ISA was a last resort, but a perk of the program is their last minute deadlines,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire’s goal while abroad was to travel to as many places as possible, and experience different cultures. This influenced her decision to study in Barcelona, Spain.
“It’s easiest to travel out of because of their huge airport,” Whitmire said.
She achieved her goal by traveling almost every weekend to places such as Italy, Ireland, Morocco, Southern France and by taking advantage of the weekend excursions provided by ISA.
Capri, Italy became Whitmire’s best travel experience, and if she gets the chance to go back to Europe, Italy would be the place she would like to return to, she said.
“Italian culture is one of my favorites,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire said she misses Italian culture because it surrounds food.
“You experience food, rather than treat it as a necessity,” Whitmire said.
During her time in Spain, Whitmire lived with a host mother who would buy a fresh loaf of baked bread every morning. She enjoyed her home-stay because of the ability to be fully immersed within the Spanish culture.
Whitmire studied at Universidad Autonoma in Barcelona, taking upper-level business classes to fulfill her UNCA studies of business management.
Just three weeks before leaving for Spain, Whitmire met Ian Graham, who shortly became her boyfriend.
“I knew that she and I would become extremely familiar with the ins and outs of Skype,” Graham said.
However, the distance only made their relationship grow stronger.
“During my senior baseball campaign at UNCA, she served as a strong support system for me, on and off the field. She tuned in to various games online, as well as stayed up late to congratulate me on a job well done,” Graham said.
About a year after returning from Spain, the couple became happily engaged.
Upon Whitmire’s arrival back to the United States, she kept in touch with ISA alumni through a monthly newsletter. She later interviewed for the global ambassador position, which she now serves as.
Through this position Whitmire has become the face of ISA and represents their program by connecting and relating with students who are thinking of becoming involved with the study abroad experience.
According to Diane Royer, administrative assistant, there aren’t many students that do this.
“(Whitmire) is one and we had one other who was an ISEP ambassador, but that’s it. Most of them stay in touch with us,” Royer said.
Although Whitmire had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling, a semester was not enough time to go to all the places she would have liked. She did not get a chance to see the Swiss Alps or travel to Greece.
However, a semester was enough time for Whitmire to fall in love with the study abroad experience. According to her, it is something everyone should experience.
“It brings you out of your comfort zone, you learn more about yourself and you become more independent,” Whitmire said. “It was my first time using public transportation.”