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Chico State

Journeys of Self-Discovery to Uruguay and Cuba

Victoria Villasenor poses in a white sweater and jeans, holding a Uruguayan flag across her lap.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Since 2016, approximately 1,600 Wildcats have studied abroad at one of 200 locations across 35 countries. In the opposite flight path, Chico State welcomes over 250 students from 54 nations annually. The following article is one of six student profiles included in ‘Passport to Self Discovery,’ a feature article in Chico Statements, Spring 2023.

  • Name: Victoria Villaseñor
  • Traveled to: Montevideo, Uruguay, and Havana, Cuba
  • When: Spring 2022 and Spring 2023
  • Majors: History, Multicultural and Gender Studies

For Victoria Villaseñor, breaking away from routine and predictability was part of the experience she wanted.

Villaseñor’s confidence in herself and her ability to navigate a new environment was strengthened during her maiden semester abroad in spring 2022 with the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) in Uruguay at Universidad ORT Uruguay.

In choosing Uruguay, Villaseñor wanted to challenge the predominantly European focus on travel and history by going somewhere less talked about. For academic reasons, she was equally drawn to the country’s socially progressive politics and wanted to take courses there focused on gender and history from a Latin American perspective.

When finding her place in Montevideo, she chose to stay with a host family rather than in the Campus Pocitos dorms and connect with local residents, which helped her build relationships with people and her surroundings.

“My host mom was very loving and welcoming,” she said. “I tried to talk to her and to locals, even though my Spanish wasn’t perfect, just to feel more connected to the space I was living in.”

With every experience abroad, two learning processes happen simultaneously: one of self-discovery and one of academic growth.

I was surprised by how well I handled everything that comes with living in another country. Looking back, I will always be proud of myself for being able to accomplish that.

Victoria Villaseñor

For Villaseñor, the latter was always an imperative component of her overall education.

“I was really fortunate to have professors who also made an effort to take us to the museum and relate this to the coursework, and just connect the story of Latin American history while we’re all in Latin America,” Villaseñor said. “It’s one thing to read books and watch films—you can do a lot of cultural exploration from your own home—but being there and seeing a place firsthand, experiencing the culture in a more direct way with the locals, being immersed in it, is so valuable.”

While the people of Uruguay made the biggest impression on her, the country’s natural beauty gave her a spectacular sendoff that lingered with her long after she got back. “Once classes were over, I went to see Iguazú Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world,” she said.

“Being there and seeing so many huge, beautiful waterfalls and cute little monkeys was amazing.”

Still marveling at the experience, she almost immediately signed up for a second one—Villaseñor just returned from Havana, Cuba, in January.

  • Three students are standing at the bottom of the steps in front of the capital building in downtown Havana, Cuba.
  • Students are photographed outside of a historical building in downtown Havana, Cuba.

“USAC’s Cuba program had been shut down through the pandemic, so when they announced it was back on, I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to visit a country that has a very interesting political history with the USA.”

This latest three-week interactive program was hosted at the Instituto de Filosofia, a short drive away from the UNESCO-designated Old Havana, and combined coursework focused on history and politics with museum field trips.

“We obviously spent a lot of time in Havana, because the city is a part of history in itself, but we did take a few trips to the beach. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beach as beautiful as Playa del Este,” she said.

As Villaseñor prepares to graduate, she is drawing courage from all that she learned during these two trips of self-discovery. “I was surprised by how well I handled everything that comes with living in another country. Looking back, I will always be proud of myself for being able to accomplish that,” she said. “I want to continue to see more of the world and learn from it. I realized that we’re all much more connected than we often think.”

*All travel photos courtesy of Victoria Villaseñor