Through a partnership with the Catholic University of Ávila in central Spain, University of Dallas students have the opportunity to live in Ávila for a month each summer and develop their Spanish while studying business, Spanish literature, medical Spanish, Catholic mysticism and more. Saraih Mendoza ’25 traveled to Ávila in July 2023 to hone her language skills and explore a new part of the world.
As a double major in Spanish and business, Saraih found the program a natural fit for her interests. She came to the University of Dallas after much prayer and consideration, wanting to come somewhere totally new from her hometown of Alamo, TX, on the southern border while developing her professional skills and faith. She landed at the University of Dallas and has used the university’s study abroad opportunities to expand her horizons even further.
One of her best memories is her Spanish for Business course, in which the students talked to local small business owners about their work in the community.
“There were really good discussions and opportunities to compare the English and Spanish business vocabularies,” Mendoza said. “I actually prefer speaking Spanish since I grew up speaking Spanish, but I learned that many of the words and phrases in Spain are very different from Mexican Spanish.”
The partnership with the university has lasted 23 years, according to modern languages professor José Espericueta, PhD, director of the University of Dallas program in Ávila.
“The Catholic University of Ávila is our partner. They’re a similar institution to us, and we’re very fortunate to have that relationship,” Espericueta said. “It fits a UD education very well.”
The joint program was created by a University of Dallas alumna who now serves as a professor in Ávila, Maria Stella Ceplecha, BS ’73.
The chance to study and practice the Catholic faith in Ávila is one of the most memorable parts of the experience. The city has had an outsize impact on Catholic culture worldwide.
“Ávila is a very small town, but it is the birthplace of two different doctors of the church: St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross,” Espericueta said.
Saraih found the trip a unique chance to grow in her faith through studying and spending time in the ancient Catholic city. The Ávila program is, she noted, a natural extension of the Catholic culture at UD. In addition to her other courses, she studied the writings of the church doctors in the original language.
“The biggest challenge was the old Spanish from St. Teresa,” Mendoza said. “She used to write really, really fast, writing down whatever she was thinking right on paper.” Her autobiography and mystical writings, such as the Interior Castle, are classics of Catholic literature.
Part of the experience is also simply spending time in the city of Ávila amid its friendly people and ancient architecture.
“I spent most of my time walking around the city. I didn’t even want to take the bus. Everyone is very nice and friendly, and you feel at home,” according to Saraih.
University of Dallas students who have spent time on the Rome campus may find the city design familiar. The Romans established the original foundations of the city and its grid pattern. Massive medieval walls from the 11th century loom over the town, lit up brightly at night.
Dr. Espericueta says that the university hopes to further promote and expand the reach of the Ávila program in the UD community and wants to make it available to as many students as possible.
“Studying abroad is a life-changing experience, and we want students and faculty to know we have this program,” Espericueta said. “Language skills come from using and being forced to use those skills all day, every day.”
Saraih currently aims to complete the University of Dallas 4+1 program in accounting, hoping to use her Spanish language and business skills to open her own company with her family that unites people and supply lines between the United States and Mexico.