First-Generation International Grad Welcomes Next Chapter as Texas Ex
- May 22, 2023
- Alex Briseño
[Editor’s Note: In celebration of The University of Texas at Austin’s Class of 2023, Texas Global presents a miniseries featuring a few of the many international graduates who leave a lasting impact on their UT Austin community.]
As Sara Rodriguez Sanchez reflected on her four years at The University of Texas at Austin, the first-generation college graduate recalled one of her first sources of inspiration while growing up in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Rodriguez’s father provided the early example that led her to earn a business management degree from the McCombs School of Business. Specifically, Rodriguez says, she admired his work ethic, which allowed him to build a career in real estate despite never receiving any type of formal education.
“He hasn’t taken a class in his entire life,” Rodriguez said. “He didn’t go to college, he didn’t go to high school, he didn’t go to elementary school. His resilience, effort and passion are what inspired me to be like him.”
Rodriguez remembers her father saying her greatest inheritance will be the thing he never had the opportunity of receiving: an education. As she got older, Rodriguez also discovered a natural pull toward entrepreneurship, which is ultimately what attracted her to UT Austin and the McCombs School.
“Beyond the fact the UT Austin ranks among the top universities in the world, I was drawn to the Forty Acres due to its core values of learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity and responsibility,” Rodriguez said.
From studying abroad in Madrid to thriving in the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute, Rodriguez is one of the many international students who maximized their time on campus and left a positive impact on the UT Austin community.
“After four years as a Longhorn, I can truly say that what starts here changes the world!” Rodriguez said. “Graduating is such a big milestone for me and my family, so I know they’re really proud of this.”
When Rodriguez arrived at the Forty Acres in 2019, the only people she knew in the city were two high school friends who also enrolled in UT Austin that year. For Rodriguez, though, she viewed this unfamiliarity more as an opportunity than an inconvenience.
“When I came to UT Austin, I was definitely excited to meet new people and experience a new culture in a new place,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always had this strong interest in learning about different cultures, traditions and foods. I just love talking to people and learning about them.”
That mindset led her to join the Latin Economics and Business Association (LEBA), a student organization within McCombs that looks for students who are committed to developing their professional skills, expanding their knowledge of Latin American cultures and fostering cross-cultural relationships.
There, she served as the head of social and finance, where she planned and budgeted more than 10 events each semester for more than 1,000 students. Rodriguez then joined Students Expanding American Literacy (SEAL), a student service organization whose members tutor and mentor local elementary students.
As a woman studying to work in the business industry, Rodriguez also found a welcoming community in the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (KS WELI). Established by Kendra Scott and UT Austin, the female leadership program is constructed to confront the challenges women often face in business while increasing the number of women-led businesses.
“KS WELI really expanded my horizons,” Rodriguez said. “Through networking events such as the McCombs Executive Mentorship Dinner and the KS WELI Women’s Summit, I have been able to build strong relationships with diverse and successful students and professionals. Overall, I have learned that through excellence, integrity and passion, nothing is impossible.”
Once she built a community at UT Austin, Rodriguez’s passion for meeting new people and experiencing new cultures inevitably pushed her to study abroad in Madrid.
“I really wanted to go abroad because I feel like it’s truly a once in a lifetime experience,” Rodriguez said. “I am starting to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable, plus I love trying new things and living in new places. I don’t have a fear of doing any of that, so I knew I needed to study abroad.”
Rodriguez participated in an exchange program at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas de Madrid, one of Spain’s leading universities, where she took classes ranging in topics from spanish culture through cinema and literature to sexist language and gender in advertising and media.
Aside from exploring Spain, her favorite memory was visiting a friend who was studying abroad in Copenhagen.
“It was really nice to experience the various cultures, meet people from all around the world and take classes with different professors,” Rodriguez said. “I loved it, but I definitely missed UT Austin and this community, which is just so united here.”
Becoming a Texas Ex
With friends and colleagues from Spain, France, Denmark, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina and numerous other Latin American countries, Rodriguez says the community she built for four years is what she will miss the most after graduation.
That is, aside from the Longhorn football games, she says, which were also some of her favorite memories in Austin.
“The football games quickly became one of the things I enjoyed the most,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t have something like that back home in Costa Rica. The school spirit here, and especially at those games, is so awesome. Everyone — even people who didn’t go to school at UT Austin — are so proud. Having that kind of connection is something I will miss, but I know I will always be a Longhorn for life.”
While Rodriguez arrived to campus with plenty of passions, she credits her time at UT Austin for allowing her to discover the deeper purpose she desires from her career: to serve others, get involved in the community and give back.
“That was the most surprising thing to me — discovering what my passion in life is — because it’s such a journey to finding that, and I feel like I haven’t even discovered the whole picture,” she said.
Long term, Rodriguez dreams of combining another passion, yoga, with her business background to own her own studio. She hopes to one day collaborate with friends who are instructors to share this practice that helped her through some of her most pressing challenges during college.
“Yoga is a game-changer,” she said. “That was really awesome for me, to find this challenging yet fulfilling exercise. I want to own my own yoga studio in the future, and I would love to bring friends along with me on this journey.”
She added, “One of my best friends is an instructor, and one of my favorite yoga classes is with another instructor who is also graduating. We have this community of yogis, so I would love to keep this up in the future.”
In the immediate future, Rodriguez will continue her exploration. Shortly after graduation, she will be moving to Monterrey, Mexico, where she will work in marketing and sales to begin her next chapter.
“I have loved the U.S., but as I mentioned, I love experiencing new countries and new cultures,” she said. “I want to keep learning and experiencing new things, so I will relocate to Mexico in June. I am just so excited to start my next journey as a Texas Ex.”