When Culture Goes Viral
Sara Milles Gupta ’02 spent her junior year in a relaxed, hip city full of bicycles — but it wasn’t Isla Vista. Copenhagen, Denmark didn’t attract many UC students, so Sara found herself navigating new relationships with Danish and European peers. Now, Sara supports the Education Abroad Program (EAP) to help students experience life and learning in other countries.
EAP gave Sara the skills to go from UC Santa Barbara to the tech startup world to the fast-paced environment of global technology sales. She became an empathetic communicator unafraid of change. Sara believes EAP prepares students for all careers because it gives you the confidence and skills to navigate a variety of personalities and cultural norms.
“Each new job has a new culture,” said Sara. “It’s like moving to a new country: you must figure out the language and how your new coworkers relate to each other.”
Expressing the value of study abroad isn’t always easy, especially for science majors like Sara. As a first-generation student, Sara also struggled with sharing her decision with her parents.
“To them, it was scary, confusing, frivolous,” said Sara. “It would have been valuable to have resources beyond the counseling I received.” Sara hopes her support will improve study abroad access for students who have trouble meeting the incremental costs, like flights and food.
Recent travels to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe reignited Sara’s belief in active education. Sara learned about apartheid in South Africa and met a Botswanan activist who led a grassroots education program. When Sara returned home, she felt compelled to help students share this experience. Sara’s support will empower students to study in countries with emerging economies. She believes travel changes not just the student who goes abroad, but their entire network at home.
“There will be something from each country that you will share virally with others throughout your life,” said Sara.
“There’s a transformation: Students want to make a difference based on their experience in the world,” said Juan Campos, faculty director for EAP. “There is rapid change in the southern hemisphere, and what students have to learn and offer is significantly enhanced by studying there.” Private support is essential, since financial aid can only meet the needs of a quarter of students who apply.
“I had a life-altering experience at UC Santa Barbara between the professors, the College of Creative Studies and studying abroad,” said Sara. “EAP is the power of the UC system.”