UVA in Valencia Education Abroad Program Celebrates 40 Years

October 16, 2023
Group of students at the celebration dinner

More than 50 students studying at UVA in Valencia joined University officials and program alumni in celebrating the program’s 40th anniversary. (Photo by Creaty)

UVA in Valencia, the University of Virginia’s flagship education abroad program, marked its 40th anniversary with a three-day celebration attended by nearly 200 guests, including students, supporters and UVA officials.

Guests at the Sept. 28-30 event included current students studying in Valencia and UVA Provost Ian Baucom; Vice Provost for Global Affairs Steve Mull; Christa Acampora, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences; Nicole Thorne Jenkins, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce; Jennifer West, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science; and alumni, parents and friends who traveled from around the world.

UVA’s 2030 “Great and Good” strategic plan calls for every undergraduate student to participate in a global experience prior to graduation. The UVA in Valencia program plays a significant role in meeting those objectives. Since its founding in 1983, the program has served more than 10,000 students, primarily from UVA.

Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do
Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do

“Spending time immersed in another culture enables students to broaden their perspective, develop new skills and become more empathetic,” Baucom said. “For 40 years, the University’s program in Valencia has provided this experience for thousands of students and served as a model for other international study programs.”

During the celebrations, participants toured program facilities, took a 10-mile bicycle ride led by founding director Fernando Operé through the Turia Riverbed gardens, and enjoyed a paella lunch in the countryside outside of Valencia.

The closing dinner was held at Hemisfèric, within Valencia’s modern City of Arts and Sciences. The highlight for many guests was connecting with the 54 current students who arrived in Valencia a few weeks ago for the start of their fall semester abroad.

Mull said the city’s youthful vibrancy, the program’s extraordinary faculty and host families’ hospitality all combine to create experiences that transform the lives of students. “The impact of the program is immeasurable,” he said. “We look forward to expanding the program even further in coming years so more of our students can benefit from its remarkable advantages.”

Wide shot of the dinner celebration
The dinner closing the three-day celebration was held at Hemisfèric, a building designed by Santiago Calatrava to represent a huge human eye as “the eye of wisdom.” (Photo by Creaty)

UVA in Valencia is the vision of Operé, a professor in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. He designed the academic program, recruited students, established contacts with other institutions and created an infrastructure that could take care of the students when they arrived.

The program quickly matured. In 2003, with support from UVA’s International Studies Office, the University decided to create an independent program. With faculty at UVA exercising oversight of curriculum and instruction, the program received approval to award UVA academic credit.

“That was a pivotal moment. We were able to hire full-time teachers and expand our class offerings,” said Operé.

The program offers academic credits for students with interests in engineering, athletics, business and health sciences, in addition to the curriculum in Spanish language and Hispanic studies.

In the fall of 1995, Rudene Mercer Haynes arrived in Valencia for a semester long program that included a stay with a host family, a core component of the program that allowed her to practice her Spanish every day. Haynes joked that in Valencia she could “dream in Spanish” and credited it to the immersive experience of the program.

Fernando with Students
At left, Fernando Operé, the founding director of UVA in Valencia, meets with students during a session early in the program’s history. At right, the director celebrates at the anniversary dinner. (Left photo contributed by Fernando Operé/right photo by Creaty)

“It was a level of exposure that I could not have imagined when I applied for the program,” said Haynes, now a Richmond attorney with Hunton Andrews Kurth.

Megan Ayers, a second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences, attended the summer session at Valencia this year. A QuestBridge Scholar at UVA, Ayers received the Sue & Lee Piepho International Scholarship to attend the program.

“The education abroad program is perfect because you get to live in Valencia and, even though it’s for a short time, you get to immerse yourself and become accustomed to a way of life that you never would have known if you had stayed in your shell,” she said.

Media Contact

Mandira Banerjee

Global Affairs Communications Officer