Sweet Briar students Genisis (left) and Isis Balico at La Feria de Abril 2015 in Seville, Spain
Even before enrolling at Sweet Briar, identical twins Genisis and Isis Balico ’16 had been dying to study abroad — one of the reasons they chose the Central Virginia women’s college. When Isis realized their sophomore year that they didn’t actually have to be juniors to participate in Sweet Briar’s renowned JYS in Seville program, there was no holding back.
“We decided to apply, having had only a year’s worth of Spanish classes,” Genisis recalls. Both had studied Chinese in high school. “I remember dancing around Benedict lab when I found out that we had both gotten in. It was one of the best moments of my life!”
Genisis and Isis left for Spain the spring of their sophomore year and spent a total of three semesters in the Andalusian capital studying at the University of Seville.
It was the first trip abroad for the Springfield, Mass., natives, whose father emigrated from Honduras. Both are Spanish majors, with Genisis opting for government as her second major and Isis for history. They’re also members of the Spanish Club and ambassadors for JYS.
It’s a shared path that formed somewhat inadvertently.
“When we made our final pick as to what college we wanted to attend, we didn’t tell each other because we didn’t want to influence one another,” Genisis says. “We didn’t tell each other until after we sent in the deposit checks. It was a nice surprise when we found out that we had both decided to attend SBC.”
As it turned out, they were drawn to Sweet Briar for the same reasons.
Isis (left) and Genisis with their host parents at the JYS farewell banquet
“We both agreed that there was something special about SBC that made us want to be there. I think it was admissions. We didn’t get to visit the campus before our freshman year, but our exchanges with admissions were just so great that we knew this would be a great home away from home.”
They lived with a host family while in Seville, as is typical for Sweet Briar’s JYS program. In addition to taking several Spanish language classes, they also enrolled in a “regular” university course on the history of Latin America.
“I really recommend that future students do this,” Genisis says. “It’s not as scary as it seems. We had a wonderful professor and we made some really great friends in this class.”
So-called “intercambios” — meet-and-greets intended to help learners practice new languages — were another regular item on the twins’ schedule.
“It’s how we met a lot of our friends in Spain,” Genisis says. “They became just as important to me as my friends at Sweet Briar. We would go over to each others’ houses, go on vacations together … I think this really helped me not only to learn Spanish, but to become culturally sensitive and more patient. Sometimes there are these cultural barriers, but once you talk it through with someone of that culture, it really opens your eyes up to the fact that your views of the world are not the only legitimate way of viewing the world.”
Trips to Paris, London, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal and Italy broadened the sisters’ perspectives in a more tangible way, as did their part-time internship teaching English at their host mother’s school — one of her favorite study-abroad experiences, says Genisis.
“I think it really allowed me to not only pick up new Spanish vocabulary on a weekly basis, but to immerse myself in the culture and the community. We would help out with after-school activities, and we became really close with our host mom through working together. We still talk to each other every day.
The twins visited the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland with fellow Sweet Briar student Kari Christopher.
“I loved living in Seville. After a year-and-a-half abroad it didn’t feel like I was studying abroad anymore, it felt more like I was living my regular life.”
Occasional moments of homesickness were alleviated by friendships with other American students — most notably, fellow Vixen Kari Christopher ’16, says Genisis.
“We became really good friends.”
Isis and Genisis were in Seville last spring when they heard the news of Sweet Briar’s planned closure. Having been away from the place they called home for so long, the thought of it not being there when they returned was “heartbreaking,” Genisis says.
When the College remained open, there was no question they’d spend their senior year at Sweet Briar.
“This is our home,” Genisis explains. “We couldn’t have imagined going anywhere else. The friends we made here have become our family and the professors we have had have inspired us in so many ways. They have helped us to grow, mature, and to push ourselves to levels we never thought possible.”
Isis agrees, particularly on the latter.
“What brought me back to Sweet Briar was its academics,” she says. “Not many schools have professors like Sweet Briar. I’m glad to end my senior year doing what I love: learning from professors who push me to be the best version of myself.”
Both are in the process of getting their Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certifications and will spend a year teaching in Korea after graduation. Next, Genisis is planning for law school, while Isis is hoping to head to medical school.