Why did you decide to study abroad with IES Abroad?
Matt: There were a variety of reasons why IES was a good match for me. To start, IES has the most impressive program center out of any study abroad program in Barcelona. Being away from home, and being essentially a tourist for 4-5 months, you want to be close to all of the action. The IES Abroad Barcelona center is literally steps away from the center of Barcelona, Plaza Cataluña. In addition, inside the center there is ample space for studying, computer use, wifi - even an outdoor terrace with lounge chairs and picnic tables. In keeping with these themes, IES does an excellent job at allowing students their independence, while also being an informative guide and resources for the students. IES organizes trips and cultural outings that are mostly optional, but are planned perfectly and worth every penny. Never did I feel like IES was breathing down my neck and controlling my every move, however I always knew that there was an extensive support system of advisors and teachers ready to help me if I needed.
Another thing I liked (and still very much like) about IES is that they have a large social media presence. Social media plays such an important role in the way my generation consumes information, so I think it is prudent and smart of IES to take advantage of all of the benefits of social media. It shows that they understand their consumer very well. These aspects of the IES Abroad programs make IES unique among its peers.
What made this study abroad experience unique and special?
Matt: My experience wouldn't have been the same if it were not for the IES orientation trip that they organize. The trip is mandatory for all students and is a time when you get to bond with all of your fellow classmates from IES. It was during this trip that my strongest friendships formed and I really cannot imagine the semester if IES had not organized this orientation trip to Valencia. A large part of one's experience abroad will depend on one's relationships with their fellow students. But, studying in Barcelona during the spring also gives one access to certain Catalan holidays that don't take place in the fall. For example, in April, Catalonia celebrates Dia de Sant Jordi. It is sort of like their version of Valentine's Day. It's a great day to be in the city of Barcelona, because the streets become lined with book and flower vendors. As the tradition goes, men give women flowers, and women give men a book. It's just a very festive day in the city, and it was truly one of my favorite cultural happening during my time abroad.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Matt: It goes without saying that my time abroad in Spain helped improve my Spanish skills. Often people think that studying in a big city - in a city like Barcelona where the native language is Catalan even, not Spanish - that one won't have an authentic or enriching experience studying Spanish. This is not the case at all. Apart from actually improving, my experience abroad motivated me to keep studying more, and keep improving more. During my time in Spain I also had an internship, which greatly improved my understanding of the Spanish economy, in addition to improving my confidence in Spanish. Learning about the political and economic worlds in Spain was important because although I enjoyed every minute of my experience there, and want desperately to return, it also makes me appreciate the systems we have in place here in the United States.
Overall I cannot imagine my education (my years of undergraduate education) without my semester abroad. It has had such a drastic impact on my interest and my knowledge of the areas I study in my classes for my major at my university. I developed a great sense of independence and confidence being able to travel throughout Europe on my own, being able to grocery shop on my own, and learning to navigate a different culture. These are skills I take back with me to the United States, but are also fond memories I look back at every day since returning.