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Driven to discover... the world

CBS undergraduate Brooke Willborg spent a semester learning abroad in Toledo, Spain. The experience left a big impression.

From Nature of Life and Foundations of Biology to directed research and internships, no one can claim that the life of a CBS undergrad is a walk in the park. But taking a walk is precisely what junior Brooke Willborg is encouraging her fellow CBS classmates to do… preferably in another country.

In the spring of 2013, the genetics, cell biology and development major traveled to Toledo, Spain to immerse herself in her love of language and her desire to explore the world. Despite her worries over financing the trip, Brooke had always wanted to study abroad and was determined to make it happen. With the support of several awards, including a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, her dream became a reality.

Participating in the International Program in Toledo, Spain, through the University’s Learning Abroad Center, Brooke took courses in Spanish architecture, Colloquial Spanish and linguistics. “I wasn’t about to take genetics in Spanish, genetics is hard enough in English,” Willborg says. Not that she shies away from a challenge, half way through her semester abroad, Brooke decided to add Spanish as a second major to her course-load, and she’s still on-track to graduate in four years.

A veteran of two research labs at CBS, Willborg worked as an English tutor while studying abroad and volunteered with T-oigo, a non-profit, that pairs volunteers with hearing impaired individuals to help teach them English. That experience helped inspire Brooke to become a volunteer at Amplatz Children’s Hospital when she returned home. Though she loved her time in the lab, she says “I realized volunteering in Spain how much I appreciate patient interaction, that’s why I’ve decided to volunteer at the hospital.” With such a diverse range of patients at Amplatz, Willborg looks forward to trying something new and embracing a new challenge.

Studying abroad helped Willborg realize what she really wanted to do with her life and encouraged her to combine her love of the lab with with her love of language. She’s planning on taking a Spanish-language medical terminology course next semester, and has started taking Portuguese, just in case. “Now, I want to travel more. I’d love to move to South America for a year or two and do hospital or research work, and then maybe come back and go to medical school.”

Willborg says she didn’t realize before she studied abroad how key of a role creativity plays in the sciences. “I used to think it was purely factual, ‘I know these equations, this technique,’ but experiencing other cultures and languages really expands your mind and has given me a perspective that is more outside the box.” That’s why Brooke is taking every opportunity available to encourage other CBS students to study abroad, hoping to get them outside of that box and realize they have the resources and the ability at the University to do more.

— Katie Hoffman