Collegiate Life at University of Virginia

Perhaps you remember Samantha (Sam) Clavelli, whom we interviewed two years ago as she was experiencing her entry into life at the University of Virginia. Sam now is completing her junior year, and we thought it would be interesting to revisit her to see how her collegiate life has developed and how she now views her UVA experience.

When Sam entered UVA, she was already planning on a major in English and contemplating a possible career in teaching. With that in view, she enrolled in the five-year PG/MT in English Education program offered through the Curry School of Education. That part of her plan hasn’t changed, but it now shares the spotlight with Spanish. Sam wanted to build on her earlier years of studying Spanish and decided to add Spanish as a second major. It was a decision that played a large part in her decision to study abroad last fall – in Valencia, Spain.

Sam had a number of program choices but decided on UVA’s program in Valencia so that she could experience a truly 100% immersion program. She thought Valencia, being just one-third the size of Madrid and less of a tourist destination, was key to achieving that. Sam took a full course load of upper division classes, all taught in Spanish, and she also conducted her daily business in the Spanish language. Actually, she found that her Spanish held up beautifully in the classroom, but that initially she had to work a bit harder in conducting general colloquial conversation.  Even so, the whole point of going abroad was to be pushed, so she was glad for it. On weekends, she and friends further stretched their experience by traveling to other parts of Spain and Europe.

The result of it all was an experience that Sam describes as incredible and life changing. It not only was an exciting time of nearly four months abroad but gave her a much greater knowledge of the history and culture of Spain. Three months away also gave Sam some interesting insights into the differences that exist between Spanish and American societies. The most notable aspect to her is a general difference in lifestyle. Spain’s is noticeably more laid back than ours in the US. Spaniards are more likely to be present in the moment, to focus on family and on what they find personally fulfilling. When she returned to U.S. shores, Sam became aware of how much more typical it is for Americans to be motivated by what they need to do. She thought that people here, in general, seemed more distracted, more focused on planning for the future and on money.

Sam loved her time in Spain, but didn’t have much time to think about the transition of resuming her undergraduate life because, upon her return, she was immediately thrust into another great adventure. In addition to her studies, she assumed leadership of her sorority’s 24th annual Run for Life 5K, an event that benefits breast cancer research and that draws from both the university and the larger Charlottesville community. Sam has been active in her sorority (Zeta Tau Alpha), and had been vice-chair of the 5K event last year but advanced to the top leadership position for this year’s race. The preparation for the race turned out to be just as grueling as the race itself, perhaps more so. Sam had oversight responsibility for every aspect of the event, but she is proud that it drew nearly 900 participants (on a cold, snowy day) and raised in the neighborhood of $30,000 for breast cancer research.

It’s not hard to recognize that Sam’s junior year has been filled with events that she’ll remember for a lifetime, and it’s natural to wonder how she’s changed and how her experiences might have changed her impressions of UVA. She sees the ability to adapt as key to making the most of her college years. After being abroad, she recognizes that the UVA campus is a bit of a bubble, but she’s okay with that because she has a better sense of what’s on the outside and knows she doesn’t have to be (or feel) stuck in UVA’s world. She also recognizes the competitiveness of UVA students and the stress that goes with that. At the same time, she sees that there is a ton of opportunity for new challenges and new experiences.

This summer, Sam will be working in her father’s IT consulting firm. She worked there last summer and was surprised at how much she enjoyed her part in building innovative applications for the company’s clients. After that will come her senior year at UVA. Sam has worked both “hard and smart” at UVA and, even with a double major, she will easily meet all her requirements before it’s diploma time. In fact, she’s realizing that her schedule could accommodate adding a minor, and she is contemplating adding Global Studies in Education to build on her newly awakened interest in international issues. After receiving her undergraduate diploma, Sam will finish up at the Curry School for one year. Given her new interest in the business side of things, she is thinking about switching her focus from teaching English to educational policy, which she points out is like studying the business side of education. She knows she has time to decide and, whatever her concentration, will leave UVA with a master’s degree, well prepared for what life has next for her.

Sam has a great story and is a wonderful example of how to make the most of one’s college years. Although she took only a short step in geography (from Loudoun County to Charlottesville), it has proven to be one has brought her enormous life dividends.