Over the course of the Fall 2018 semester, Quinnie Phan, a student in the Guaranteed Admission to Dentistry program at VCU, is crossing the bridge from the seemingly diametrically opposed realms of biology to design. Currently, Quinnie is studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain at the renowned international school of design, ELISAVA.
“When I first decided to study abroad,” Quinnie explains, “my plan was to take a break from science for one semester to study design, then return back to my ‘regular’ life at home and go on to dental school.” She continues, stating that “studying here at ELISAVA has made me realize how broad design is. I have come to learn that design is everything starting at the human body to the outside world… [It] has definitely opened my eyes to the ways I can incorporate design and creativity into my field in the future.”
From September to early October, Quinnie and a group of 13 other students from ELISAVA met each morning to produce a profound art installation that weaves together design, social injustice, and some of the darker strokes of Catalan history. Created as part of the Ús Barcelona festival, this art installation, set in a former prison named La Modelo, spans two prison cells.
“The prison is an important part of Catalan history,” she writes. “It was originally [built] to house 820, but officials crammed 13,000 prisoners into the building, resulting in up to 16 people in a cell built for [two]. The prison closed last year and this was the first public event since the end of its operation. Our objective was to reflect on the experience and history of this emblematic space.”
Through this experience, Quinnie has formed a deeper appreciation for history and a desire to look beyond the face of “a beautiful building” and into the “context of the time it was built, why it was built, and what it meant to the people at the time.” That being said, she hasn’t gotten to this point in her semester abroad without a challenge or two.
“The biggest challenge I have faced in my time here has been exposing myself to this new field of study, acknowledging that I am a beginner, and pushing myself to keep up with students who have more advanced design knowledge than I do. Fortunately,” she continues, “the environment at this school is very collaborative, and every day I am able to learn not only from my instructors, but also from my peers.”
Outside of class, Quinnie fills her time with other cultural Barcelonan experiences. Following the close of their art installation, Quinnie and the other students from her project group took a trip to Costa Brava. Thinking back, she shares, “as I hiked along the coast of Spain, I remember looking out at [the] view and just stopping to think about how surreal my entire situation was. I was staying at a friend’s apartment in a small village in northeastern Spain, hiking with a group of people from all around the world, and all of us had just met four weeks ago. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t pushed myself to do the art installation at La Modelo.” Quinnie also volunteers each week at the first elementary school built in Barcelona, where she values the time she spends working with the children.
For other students considering study abroad, Quinnie has a few words of wisdom to share. “For me, the deciding factor was the chance to study at ELISAVA because I always thought that if for some reason I couldn’t study science, I would have chosen to be an art major.” She adds, “if you are thinking about studying abroad, go with the intent of learning something new, study something completely different than what you are familiar with because the interdisciplinary point of view you gain is something you can take back home with you. That’s the way to get the most out of your experience.”
More on Quinnie’s La Modelo art installation can be found on the ELISAVA website.