Alumni Spotlight: Sierra Newell


Sierra is a fourth-year majoring in journalism and public relations at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California. Her experience studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain with CEA instilled a love for travel and discovering new cultures, and she plans to return to Europe once she graduates.

Why did you choose this program?

Barcelona has always been on my bucket list. I have studied Spanish since I was twelve years old, and have dreamed of visiting the country that I have gained so much knowledge about.

I wanted to find a program that would help make my dream a reality and CEA kind of fell into my lap. The curriculum offered the most amount of classes that would transfer credits towards my degree, which was huge. I also wanted to see as much of the country as possible, and this program included a ton of weekend excursions.

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

CEA was available for guidance every step of the way. From the second I submitted the application, I received an email from an advisor that offered to give me any help or assistance that I needed.

I had never been out of the country of traveled alone before, but the staff was so friendly and helpful that I wasn't nervous at all! I had to book my own flight and choose my own classes, but they took care of where I would be living and provided me with straight-forward info on what to expect. They even sent me an entire packet of information to make sure I felt prepared.

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

Be present and live in the moment. This experience will fly by and you will be on a plane home before you know it, so take advantage of any and every opportunity you can. Book a flight to a place you've never heard of, try a new food that you can't find back home, face your fears (I hated heights until I went paragliding in Switzerland) and savor every second of it.

That being said... do try to plan ahead (Just in case).

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

During the week, I would have about one to two classes per day Monday through Thursday. The course load was never extremely intense, so I would have a lot of time to explore the city throughout the day and in between classes. This made every day so different: one day my professor was taking us on a field trip through El Raval, the next I would be discovering a new art gallery in El Born.

I always had a three day weekend, which was spent traveling all over Europe and planning my next adventure!

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

Before studying abroad, I had never been out of the country before and especially without my family. The furthest I had been was Disney World in Florida. I was extremely nervous embarking on this adventure alone to an extremely different culture I knew little to nothing about.

Also, the idea of living in a big city was intimidating. Coming from a suburban town near the coast of California, this was a huge step. I was definitely going outside the realm of my comfort zone.

Overcoming this took some mental preparation. I figured that I would regret not fully immersing myself and taking advantage of every opportunity, so I made a conscious effort to do so.

This showed me the truth behind the saying, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." I began to understand that my biggest regret would be the things I said no to out of fear. Some of my favorite memories were made when I was fearless, confident and took that risk.

Is there anything that you would have done differently?

If I could relive my experience, I definitely would have planned a solo trip. So much of my personal growth
stemmed from exploring my surroundings by myself, having to make decisions on my own and being alone.

Sharing and creating memories with people is amazing, but studying abroad is your chance to not only discover the world, but discover yourself. Those small situations taught me so much about myself and the extent of my capabilities, that I can only imagine how much I would have been impacted by an entire solo weekend adventure. My friends that did this absolutely loved it, and my friends that didn't always regretted it.