Alumni Spotlight: Rachael Chambers


Rachael hopes to be a lifelong traveler, and she is currently heading into her senior year at Mount Holyoke College in pursuit of a dual degree in history and political science. Her ambition in life is to travel the world and meet wonderful people in the process.

Why did you pick this program?

I chose this program because it really combined the two things I was looking for most: a rigorous academic track focused in European affairs, economics, history, and politics, and lots of travel.

The approach that incorporates private and public sector individuals, such as policy-makers, journalists, and professors in locations across Europe was especially attractive. I have also studied German, so the program's main location in Freiburg, Germany, gave me a chance to expand on my studies and practice what I've learned.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I did a lot of work on my own to find the program itself, but once I had applied, IES was very helpful in answering questions, sending along information, and notifying me about course registration and housing updates.

They also send students through a rigorous orientation once they reach Freiburg, ensuring that students have the necessary tools to get around the city with ease, speak (at least) some German, and introduce students to the program.

They take care of housing (including the residence permit issued by the city), direct access to international health insurance plans, and ensure at least 16 credits of classwork, as well as helping students to find academic and medical resources once they have arrived.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would totally recommend setting little goals for yourself, for example: I set a goal one week to meet and keep in contact with 3 local Freiburgers. I accomplished this by going to a poetry slam in town, which made me get out of my comfort zone and allowed me to meet more people locally, instead of relying on my friends in the program.

Setting small goals to work towards larger ones was really helpful for me, and I feel like my experience was more enriched because I paid more attention to my personal and academic ambitions on a micro level.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

In a way, there is no average, because there is about a week of travel at least once a month. Local and/or longer excursions are a huge part of IES Abroad EU's program, so students can expect to be on a bus, train, or plane a lot more than they would normally.

That being said, most days in Freiburg were spent in class or exploring the city, which has the old feeling of cobblestones and clocktowers interwoven with modern technologies like tram lines and photovoltaic (solar) cells. I especially enjoyed going to "Eis Cafe" for a scoop of ice cream for just 1 Euro, or heading to local shops for a slice of pizza or kebab.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

I think that my biggest fear coming into this program was making really meaningful connections with the people in the program. I have a really supportive and encouraging group at my home college, so I was worried that I might not be able to have a similar relationship with the people in the program given its short time frame (1 semester).

What really helped, I think, was traveling with people, because I got to know the real character of some people while joking on the bus back from Prague, or in long chats over beers in Berlin. Moments when exploring cities or cooking dinner with friends in Freiburg were so meaningful, and I really appreciated the community that formed. It was really supportive and welcoming.

Do you plan to go back to Germany?

-Yes! I hope to head back to Germany to pursue graduate work, but nothing is definite yet. This program and the chance to live there, however, was definitely a big push towards a future abroad, and I can't wait to continue exploring the world.