Living Abroad while Studying

Connie Fuentes Garrido

Founder and Director of Human Rights Awareness

I still remember that day. I was 12 years old, standing in an airport in Mexico City, with two suitcases, one ticket to Canada in my hands, and ready to leave my family for the next two months. I remember being a bit scared but at the same time at-ease due to the great enthusiasm I had. That was the first time in my life I travelled to another country without any family member or any friend. I was sent to an ‘English Camp’ in Ontario, created for children from all over the world to learn English as a second language. That experience was fun, exciting and above all, it was eye-opening. I learned that my reality as a kid was not necessarily the reality of kids from other countries, that being open to other cultures and embracing their differences is a major factor of social interaction, that a smile and kindness are a bridge for starting friendships regardless of not having a complete understanding of each others’ languages, and that I wanted to keep on travelling when I became an adult woman. After that trip I decided that somehow when I grew up I wanted to travel and to meet other people across the globe. And so I did!

When I was 15 and I was in high school I got the great opportunity to do my studies in three countries. I was studying in Mexico as a primary country and then as an exchange student in Spain and in Canada. At this point I was not scared any more of travelling with no friends nor family but I felt I had a great challenge being abroad because I was going to study not a language but ‘real stuff” like Maths, Physics, Biology, and all those difficult subjects you study when you are in high school. I had an amazing experience studying in those two countries. At this point I realised that studying abroad was an interesting, fun and very productive way of travelling to other countries and getting to know different cultures.

After high school I started Law School. During the 5 years of Bachelors, I did not study abroad as an exchange student even though I would have really liked to. Unless you are studying International Law as your Bachelors, Law is a very local subject that needs to be studied in depth in the country you are going to apply your knowledge. However, I did find an advantage of studying all those years in Mexico and not moving around: I worked as a Law intern almost all my University and that gave me the chance to save some money for my next study abroad!

Once I finished Law School, I took all the money I saved while working as a Law intern, I got some money by selling my car and with some help of my parents I went to Spain to study a Masters in Political Analysis at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. I had one of the best experiences in my life! I was studying abroad not as a 12-year-old with tutors in Canada, not as a high school teenager studying abroad, but as a young woman discovering the freedom and responsibilities that go along with living in a foreign country by yourself. It was simply amazing!

After Spain, I came back to Mexico. While working there in human rights I decided I wanted to study another Masters in Belgium but I did not have any money after spending all I had in my studies in Spain. I had not saved enough in my work in Mexico for paying another year of studies and living costs with no income. So, I decided to risk it and to apply for a scholarship. For getting it you needed to apply with lots of documents in a sort of a competition process. I still remember when I was informed that I got the scholarship. I could not believe it! I was very happy. I travelled to Belgium for studying an Advanced Master in Governance and Development at the Institute of Development Policy and Management of Antwerp University. I was studying with 70 people from around 50 nationalities. It was such an extraordinary experience to be surrounded by people from so many countries around the globe. I was so inspired by this experience and by knowing that no matter where you are from, what language you speak, what your ethnicity is, to what culture you belong, what your abilities are, we all are human beings with equal value and dignity.

Motivated by my studies in Governance and Development, where I chose the track of poverty reduction, I decided to go to India for a while. I had the great opportunity to be with women and children in the slums of New Delhi and to understand a bit about their complex situation. I learned so much about the importance of access to opportunities and development not only for some but for all. I fully understood that we, as a society, have the responsibility to defend the rights of those in vulnerability and not to leave anyone behind. While in India I founded an online platform for raising awareness of human rights, mainly of those of children, youth and women called ‘Human Rights Awareness’. I am very optimistic about this platform and I do believe that it can help to do my bit in this society.

Following India, I came to London and this is where I am right now, writing for the blog of this amazing project called Inspiring Women. I want to tell all young girls from all over the world not to give up in what you want in life. It does not matter how big the challenge looks, you are capable of facing it. I would encourage you all to travel as much as you can, get to know other cultures, be kind to one another, work for your society and do your bit!

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