A Career Devoted to UVA’s Valencia Program


A Career Devoted to UVA’s Valencia Program


Liz Wellbeloved is assistant director of UVA’s longest-running study abroad program. A first-generation student, she has helped thousands of students explore options in Valencia. She shares her experiences as the program nears its 40th anniversary.

Tell us about your first interest in studying in Valencia? Were you a fluent Spanish speaker?
Wellbeloved: I first heard about studying abroad when some students, probably from UVA, visited my class at Charlottesville High School and spoke about their experiences. I started studying Spanish in high school, but was by no means a fluent speaker! The Spanish TAs I had during my first year at UVA were amazing and inspired me to major in Spanish.

Tell us about your Valencia experience?
Wellbeloved: When I first asked about spending a year in Valencia, I was told that I would have to take a leave of absence from UVA. I didn’t accept that as a final answer. I found out I wouldn’t have to take a leave but was then told that I could not use my financial aid for the program. I was a first-generation student, working my way through school, so my grants and loans were critical. Eventually I did get the ok to use my aid and in September of 1985 I arrived in Valencia.
By October, I wanted to go home.

Along with the usual homesickness, I was having a hard time without the income I usually earned waiting tables in the evenings. The stress of not having much money was getting to me.  But the other year-long students and the then director, Carol Harris, saw how much I already loved Valencia and they convinced me to stay. I was able to tutor English which helped and while it wasn’t enough to allow me to travel on the weekends like most of my fellow students were doing, it did give me the ability to go to the movies or eat out every once in a while.

Liz in Valencia
Liz Wellbeloved in Valencia in 1985.

I spent many weekends wandering the city alone and hanging out with my host family and eventually I felt at home, and I had a wonderful time exploring the city and an amazing year abroad.

How did you decide to start working for this program?
Wellbeloved: In early 2000 I had the opportunity to return to Valencia for the first time since my teary farewell in the spring of 1986.

As many students have, I had stayed in contact with the program founder and director, Professor Fernando Operé over the years. Before my trip I let him know that I was finally getting to go back to visit. When I returned from Valencia a few weeks later, he asked me to come talk with him about the program.  With my two young kids in tow, I visited his office one afternoon and left our meeting with a job as his assistant.

What has been your experience?
Wellbeloved: These last 23 years have been such a gift.

Claire Liz and James in Valencia
Liz Wellbeloved with her son James and daughter Claire in Valencia.

Both of my kids grew up in my office and even traveled a few times to Valencia with student groups when they were younger.
My son James (a double Hoo) spent his second year in Valencia, becoming the first second-generation student on the program. My daughter, Claire, went to Connecticut College and was able to spend a fall semester on the program as one of our many visiting students.

My other “kids”, I've worked with over 7000 so far, have spent full years, semesters, and summers in the program.

When people ask me about my passion for Valencia, I always say that Virginia is the home of my heart and Valencia is the home of my soul. What a wonderful thing it is to have two homes!

How has UVA's Valencia program grown since you began?
The first semester of the program served 6 students. We now have over 325 participants in the program every year and about a quarter of our students come from other institutions to study with us. In the summer 2022 we hosted our 10,000th student!

They have inspired us to start the Business Spanish, Engineering, Pre-Health, Global Health, and the Sports, Language, & Culture programs. Many have returned to Spain to teach, work, travel and marry. I truly believe that their lives are forever enriched by the experiences they have here, just as my life has been.

What would you say to someone considering Valencia as an option?
Wellbeloved: I would say “go!”. The UVA in Valencia program offers a wide range of courses taught by amazing professors. There is a lot of on-site support to help students adapt to living in a new place. Many students have lasting friendships with their host families and students they meet on the program. Students have time to explore the city, other parts of Spain and other countries in Europe. For any student interested in improving their Spanish language fluency, the opportunity to spend time immersed in the language and culture is invaluable. Regardless of major, all students will be enriched by the process of living in another culture and seeing the world from a new perspective.

More Information:
40 Years of UVA in Valencia