College Life Is Not Like the Movies, It’s Better, Says Spanish Exchange Student Clara del Olmo

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Spanish exchange student Clara del Olmo: ‘Students at Mason care about creating a real well-connected community that makes me feel safe to express my own thoughts without feeling judged.’

When Clara del Olmo learned she was coming to America as a college exchange student from her home in Spain, she imagined the experience would be something “like in the movies, where there would be lots of partying.”

The reality, she reports now, turned out to be better.

The junior from the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid arrived at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government on a one-year exchange program this fall to continue her study of politics and global affairs. Much to her relief, Mason and the Schar School were more about academics than the social activities seen in films.

“The university experience is organized better here than in Spain,” she said. “There is a bigger emphasis on learning and on networking and less on studying and memorizing.”

She soon discovered the school increases a student’s sense of community by providing opportunities to become involved in campus life and to explore the school’s culture, something that is not emphasized in her country.

When trying to pick a school, del Olmo’s study abroad advisor pointed her to Mason because of its reputation for having a great government program and a diverse student body. (In fact, Mason is majority minority and the most diverse university in Virginia). Del Olmo also talked with other students who had studied at Mason; they described the school as “very international student friendly” and the community as “very accepting,” she reported.

Since del Olmo is studying politics, she finds it important to be surrounded by a diverse group of people in order to better understand the world. Different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs give insight into how different world governments work and how people can interact with each other.

Faculty Is a Favorite

Del Olmo says the best part of the school is its professors. Each of her professors, she said, care about what they teach and is very involved with students, which fosters a good environment for sharing ideas.

Associate Professor Eric McGlinchey teaches theory and important background information, but also applies topics to daily life and makes learning fun, she said. He’s the reason why del Olmo decided to join the International Relations Policy Task Force Learning Community, which gives students a chance to become policy experts by researching and crafting policy recommendations in one of three task force areas.

What she likes about the task force is that she is learning about the American political system from insiders with different perspectives on a variety of issues:

“Students at Mason care about creating a real well-connected community that makes me feel safe to express my own thoughts without feeling judged,” she said. “I expected Mason to be an eye-opening experience, and that is what I got. There is time for learning and there is time to have fun, the perfect balance that keeps you motived and engaged with your university life.”