UT alumnus Anthony Spencer, BJ '95, was so inspired by his experience studying in Costa Rica, he created a company to give others access to study abroad. Below, he shares his story.
JS: Tell me a little about your road to The University of Texas at Austin.
AS: I come from a rural high school in North Texas. Most of the kids from my high school (graduating class of 45) did not go to college. Those who were lucky went to community college or a regional school. I could not imagine going any place but UT. I visited my aunt when she was a student there. It is where my parents took me on vacation to learn about Texas. It is also where I competed in UIL academic events. I only applied to UT. It was either go to UT or not go anywhere.
Which study abroad program did you participate in at UT?
I studied abroad in Costa Rica in 1993 on a reciprocal exchange with the University of Costa Rica. I initially went for the spring 1993 semester and loved it so much I begged Helena Wilkins in study abroad to let me stay another semester. I went as a sophomore, and it was one of my goals at UT starting at freshman orientation. I worked in the International Office my freshman year, and I would visit the study abroad area almost daily just dreaming about studying abroad. It was really my passion. I was a kid from rural Texas with limited opportunities; I could only dream of seeing the world.
How did your time abroad affect your life and career path post-graduation?
Study abroad changed my life completely. I was a broadcast journalism major at UT. While in Costa Rica, I was able to intern at the Univision affiliate and allowed to report and produce stories in Spanish for broadcast. I worked as a journalist for many years at stations in Texas and Alabama. Study abroad was one of the reasons news directors hired me. They wanted to hire people who had language skills and international exposure.
Study abroad was my ticket to see the world. Before I studied abroad, I had only taken day trips to Mexico and Canada. I remember the first night I arrived in Costa Rica. I had never spent the night outside of the U.S. I was terrified and excited about it. I remember thinking, "Tony, your life is about to change,” and my life was never the same. I thank study abroad for that.
Why do you think it's important for Longhorns to study abroad?
Study abroad makes a university degree complete. Taking classes and/or researching abroad allows you to experience the world you only read about in books. Study abroad is accessible to every UT student, and there are programs for every budget. Study abroad will make your college education a richer and more valuable experience. International education will also make you a better student and enhance your chance of finding a job after you finish school. I have met and/or interviewed presidents of the United States, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and other countries. I interviewed my first presidential candidate (who later became president) in Costa Rica as a 20-year-old intern!
What are you up to now?
I own and operate a study abroad business called Explore505. We coordinate faculty-led and group programs for Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I am also a faculty member at the Universidad Americana (UAM) in Nicaragua. I teach in the undergrad/grad program in communication and the grad program in Latin American Studies. I am an academic and international entrepreneur, and I got my start in a UT study abroad program.
Did you study abroad while attending UT? Share your story with us here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
By Jordan Schraeder
Top, Spencer visits the Amazon jungle in Peru. Inset, Spencer studying abroad in Costa Rica in 1993. Photos courtesy Anthony Spencer.