Why did you decide to study abroad with IES Abroad?
Katherine: Although there were other programs that my local university (University of Illinois in Urbana, Champaign) offered, I knew that I wanted to study abroad specifically in Barcelona. Many of the other programs allowed me to study abroad in Spain, just not Barcelona. Additionally, IES seemed to have a more competitive program than the others and to me, seemed more personal and inclusive. I also applied to the program with the idea that my brother had previously studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain through IES and had nothing but terrific things to say about the program.
The program seemed to really do a great job at putting themselves out there to prospective and even current students. Although I was extremely apprehensive about traveling to a foreign country, I felt comfortable with the idea of studying through IES. They made sure to provide me with all the necessary information prior to my trip. When I had potential problems or questions with my housing assignment and the academic courses I would be taking while abroad, my adviser in the Chicago office was prompt at responding to any and all questions. IES just seemed like the right fit for me. They were, and continue to be, extremely friendly and inviting.
What made this experience unique and special?
Katherine: There were a number of things that made my study abroad experience unique and special. Prior to leaving for my study abroad trip, I had only been outside of the United States when traveling to Mexico with my family. Likewise, I had never flown on a plane by myself. Furthermore, I knew no one when applying to the program, nor did I know anyone once I had arrived in Barcelona. While I had taken four years of Spanish in high school, I hadn't taken any Spanish courses since my college education had started. When I arrived to my host family's house, I was very shocked to learn that not only was my Spanish not up to par, but that my no one in my host family spoke any English. While I was very scared at first, I quickly picked up on conversation, and was able to converse with my host mom and brother, and attempted to converse with some of the locals as well. Another part of my study abroad experience that made my time in Spain unique and special was the numerous opportunities I was given to travel to other countries.
While travel wasn't necessarily cheap, it was definitely more accessible, which allowed me to learn so much more about other countries and more importantly, myself. As mentioned previously, because I had never traveled outside of the country before, these experiences helped to build my confidence and knowledge of other countries.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Katherine: My study abroad experience has definitely had a positive impact on my future. I believe that I became a much more personable and adaptable person. I also think I became much more confident after my study abroad experience. Furthermore, I believe I became a more patient person. The people of Barcelona (and essentially all across Europe) are not as demanding as the people here in the United States. Instead of living to work, the people across Europe work to live. Because of this, and unlike the norm in the States, the customer is always wrong. The people working in Barcelona, especially, would and could refuse to serve you if they felt that you were being rude. They also didn't worry about time.
The atmosphere in Europe is much more relaxed, so expecting to get anywhere on time is almost impossible. Because of the independence and confidence I gained while abroad, I believe I am a more desirable candidate for my future employers. Having worked with a multitude of people and living in a much more diverse culture, I believe my experience will benefit me professionally, as I will be able to adapt to any workplace environment. I also believe my study abroad experience had a positive impact academically.
Although I've taken numerous history courses throughout my high school and college careers, actually visiting the countries and studying, firsthand, the different architectural and intellectual buildings, museums, etc., was much more beneficial to my academic achievement and understanding of foreign countries than my learning experience in class. I left Europe with a much better understanding of the different cultures, lifestyles, and political/historical aspects of numerous countries.