The Charger Blog

Students Call Barcelona Study Abroad Trip a ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Experience

A dozen forensic science students spent a memorable two weeks in Spain over the summer, exploring science, investigations, and Spanish culture. Whether they were visiting a crime lab, an art museum, or interacting with locals, they say it was a remarkable opportunity to learn and grow.

August 29, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students explored Barcelona during their two weeks in Spain.
Students explored Barcelona during their two weeks in Spain.

When Jasmine Byrne ’24 was still in middle school, she began telling herself that if she studied abroad while in college, she wanted to go to Spain. This summer, she had the opportunity to do just that, and she says it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip.

A forensic science major, Byrne was among the dozen students who spent two weeks in Barcelona as part of the study abroad program – the first of its kind for forensic science students. They explored the stages of crime-scene investigation in Spain, from analysis and reporting to the court system. For Byrne, it was especially exciting to see the forensics labs in a new country.

“I hope to focus on toxicology, so seeing a forensic chemistry lab was great,” she said. “It was an amazing experience. Going on this trip meant branching out, and I’m so glad I went. It also helped with my confidence.”

Led by Josep De Alcaraz-Fossoul, Ph.D., and Bridget Brosnahan M.S., forensic science professors at the University, the trip also brought Chargers to a medical examiner’s office. Students even had the unique opportunity to witness an autopsy firsthand.

“Viewing an autopsy was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget,” said Milada Burovova ’25, a forensic science major. “The trip was such an amazing opportunity because along with viewing the various forensic science laboratories, we gained so much knowledge in lab work and protocols. I feel it was integral for gaining a basic understanding of forensic science, giving us more skills to bring back to the University.”

Students gained hands-on experience while studying in Spain.
Students gained hands-on experience while studying in Spain.
‘Engaged, connected, and focused’

The trip offered students a perspective of the European justice system through the lens of forensic science, challenging them to compare it to the system in the U.S. Dr. Fossoul, who was a crime scene investigator for four years before coming to the University, hopes the trip encouraged self-reflection, particularly when it comes to understanding diversity in forensic science. He says investigators often have biases, and while these are often unintentional and implicit, it is important to be aware of them and to address them.

While interacting with Spanish investigators and forensic science professionals, students had the opportunity to learn about their work and ask questions. Dr. Fossoul says he was proud of the students’ engagement and curiosity.

“The discussions were very rich, and the students had great questions for the professionals,” he said. “They then commented on how smart the students are and how impressed they were by their interesting and relevant questions. Our students were so open and eager to learn. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had as an educator.”

“The students stayed engaged, connected, and focused on the experiences,” added Prof. Brosnahan. “I’ve gained a great amount of respect for this special group of students, who grew in so many ways right before my eyes! They may not know the depths of value in this experience yet, but they will, and the best is yet to come for them.”

‘Open their minds’

The trip had a second and equally important component: culture. The study abroad program comprised two courses: One focused on forensics and one concentrated on culture. Students spent the mornings immersed in forensics and studying at the University of Barcelona.

Afternoons were dedicated to excursions in the community that enabled them to experience everything Spain had to offer. Students created notebooks to capture what they learned about forensics as well as their reflections on the cultural and social aspects of the trip.

Students ate at a variety of restaurants and cafes while in Spain.
Students ate at a variety of restaurants and cafes while in Spain.

While exploring the Catalan region of Spain, interacting with locals, and trying new foods, the students enjoyed a variety of opportunities to get a taste of Spain’s rich culture. Their cultural excursions included a visit to the Dalí Theatre and Museum, where they saw where Salvador Dalí painted.

“I was so grateful for this unique opportunity with Dr. Fossoul to travel with the forensic science students to Barcelona,” said Prof. Brosnahan. “For some, it was their first experience out of the United States. I witnessed our students open their minds and allow the many different perspectives of the city to inspire them.”

‘They were all open to new experiences’

For Caroline Fernandes ’25, ’26 M.S., this was her first visit to Europe. She says it enabled her to gain experiences far beyond what an internship might offer, deepening her understanding of her field.

“This opportunity also helped me grow personally,” said Fernandes, a forensic science major. “I made many friends with the other students on the trip, got out of my comfort zone with language and food, and gained perspective on the differences between the cultures. The experience was remarkable overall, and I would do it again.

“These opportunities to travel abroad can be scary and might not seem to fit into your desired schedule, but I truly believe that the experience you get from being abroad is so unique that it is 100 percent worth it,” she continued. “I encourage everyone to travel abroad and welcome the experiences that come your way, as all of us did.”

Dr. Fossoul says he and Professor Brosnahan were impressed by how much the students were willing to adapt and remain open-minded, and they were amazed by the growth they saw over the two weeks. He hopes to offer the trip again in the coming years.

“I saw exponential growth in their communication and social skills, as well as how they embraced a new culture,” said Dr. Fossoul. “I’m very proud of them. They were all open to new experiences. I hope they will continue to grow and develop their perspectives. The feedback has been very positive, and I’m so happy we all had this experience.”

More than a dozen Chargers spent two weeks in Spain over the summer.
More than a dozen Chargers spent two weeks in Spain over the summer.
‘One of the best memories’

For the students, there was one activity in particular that, while challenging, enabled them to grow and, even, connect with new people. They designed a questionnaire, coming up with five questions they then asked people on the street in Barcelona. They conducted their interviews over several afternoons, meeting locals, tourists, and new residents. The conversations revealed what different populations knew and thought about Spanish culture and society.

For Byrne, the assignment was a particularly memorable one, and it helped her to immerse herself in the culture. She recalls an interaction with a local woman that still makes her smile and remains a highlight of the trip.

“I spoke with a woman in her 90s who had lived in Barcelona her whole life, including during the Spanish Civil War,” she said. “She spoke only Spanish and Catalan. Our interview questions were in both languages, and I tried to ask her a question in Catalan. She was so excited that I’d tried to speak it! She was very sweet, and it was one of the best memories.”