Alumni Spotlight: Autumn Paone

Autumn is from Pennsylvania and studies neuroscience at Lafayette College ('22). She studied abroad in Madrid, Spain, during her sophomore spring with IES Abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

IES Abroad was exactly what I needed! I knew I wanted to study in Madrid to improve my Spanish, but I also wanted to take STEM courses. Most of the pre-approved programs at my college were based in arts and history, so I did a lot of my own research on science-based opportunities. I came across IES's Engineering, Math, & Science program that allowed me to attend a local university for STEM courses, as well as take cultural courses with the program. It was the best of both worlds! I had to petition for my program at Lafayette which was some extra work, but it was 100% worth it.

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

Before departure, my IES advisor was very attentive and available for any questions I had; I typically received email responses or returned phone calls within 24 hours. They organized housing/roommates, class registration, and even medical appointments while in Spain. The biggest thing I had to organize on my own was the flight. I had to be at the Barajas airport during a specific time period on a certain day, otherwise, I would be responsible for getting to my living arrangements on my own. Acquiring a student visa was made easy through their ACCeSS program, but the convenience was due to the state I live in. I know this experience can vary!

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

Unlock your phone! This is very specific, but I had a bad phone experience. I bought a new phone a few weeks before traveling (which apparently is a terrible idea unless you buy it unlocked). I had heard of people having trouble with this, but I was clueless as to what exactly a locked vs. unlocked phone meant (and the man who activated my new phone shrugged it off). After wrestling with the company for a month, I ended up having to buy the cheapest possible phone while in Madrid. My overall experience was amazing, but if I could do something different, I definitely would have figured out how to unlock my phone well before I traveled!

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

Madrid has a multitude of new experiences, so each day/week is different and exciting! I had a fairly long commute, so most weekdays would consist of traveling to and from class which provided a great time to do some work. I lived in an apartment, so I would also walk to the supermarket during the week to buy groceries. On the weekends, I would travel or explore the city's museums, parks, and shopping. I also went to church every week in a beautiful cathedral which I highly recommend if you're religious! It also gave me an opportunity to practice more Spanish. The nightlife is also something to note. It thrived essentially every night, not just the weekends. There are an endless amount of restaurants, clubs, and bars to explore! On one of my favorite nights, my friends and I did a pub crawl; it was affordable and took us all around the center of the city. In summary, Madrid will never bore you!

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

My fears were mostly outweighed by excitement before traveling abroad; it was when I arrived that things started to set in. My first day in Spain, everything hit me. I was overwhelmed with jet lag and emotions, and I started to fear that I would get too homesick or that I wasn't cut out for an abroad experience. This took me by surprise because I was never on the fence about studying abroad. I knew since high school that I wanted to be in Europe for a semester. When all these emotions hit, I felt lost and completely unprepared for them. Funnily enough, I overcame them by going to the supermarket! It was something so normal and manageable compared to the big picture (which appeared very unmanageable at the time). I got some groceries, made myself a nice dinner, and had a completely new mindset for the next day. I went into orientation with a clear head and an excited attitude. Of course, homesickness persists and that is completely normal, but I just reminded myself of the short time I had in Europe and that I needed to make the most of it!

Write and answer your own question.

If you're ballin' on a budget, figure out your priorities before departure! Obviously, you don't want to be stressed and hardcore budgeting while trying to have fun abroad, but there are a few things you can straighten out in your head beforehand. My main expenses (other than tuition and housing fees) consisted of food, nightlife, and travel. The coronavirus prohibited me from traveling as much as I wanted to (definitely don't wait to start planning your trips), but that was very important to me. If I had ingredients in my fridge for dinner, I would eat at home and then go with friends to hang out and maybe get something small. I was still able to have a great time, bond with new people, and not feel left out, while still saving expenses for plane tickets and Airbnbs in new cities!