Alumni Spotlight: Rabia Hameed


I am a fourth year biology major looking to apply to medical school for next year. I absolutely love dancing and during my time abroad, I fell in love with salsa dancing. Some of my other hobbies include fashion and photography.

Give us a little intro!

Rabia: Hi there! I am a fourth year biology major looking to apply to medical school for next year. I absolutely love dancing and during my time abroad, I fell in love with salsa dancing. Some of my other hobbies include fashion and photography.

Why did you pick this program?

Rabia: I picked IES Barcelona- Liberal Arts and Business because I wanted to be in a bustling metropolis that was near the water and had a generally warm climate. After looking through several different programs, I found that IES not only fit my preferences but that it also was the program that offered the widest variety of classes with a flexible schedule.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

Rabia: As a senior who was mainly taking elective courses, I wish that someone had told me that the best schedule for someone who wanted to travel would be late Monday/Wednesday classes and early Tuesday/Thursday classes. This would allow me to fly out early on a Thursday and fly back on a Monday morning without missing classes.

Those also happen to be the cheapest flights. I also wish someone would have told me that it wasn't going to be easy. A lot of people say how wonderful it is, but they forget to mention that it's not easy, especially not for the first month. The hardest challenge is making new friends, and for that you need to put a lot of effort in.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Rabia: While traveling, I learned about many different cultures and ways of life through first hand experience. I learned that there are many different ways of doing things. While there might be a wrong way to do things, there is definitely more than one right way of doing things.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Rabia: I tell them to go!!! There is nothing like the feeling of going abroad and stepping out of your comfort zone. While I can say it's not always rainbows and sunshines, and definitely not a cakewalk, it is SO worth it. If anything, you learn about yourself and that the world is your playground. It opens doors you never knew were there.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

Rabia: Not knowing. No matter how many advice columns I read, no matter how much I researched, nothing made me feel prepared enough to live in another country for over three months. You just don't know until you experience it yourself. Packing was a large portion of that uncertainty.

If you're a fashionista like me, I think it's important to pack what makes you comfortable. If basics aren't your thing in the U.S., they probably won't be in the place you're traveling. You know you, so pack what you know will make you feel the best. As for the fall semester in Barcelona, pack roughly equal summer and fall style clothes (I say fall because the coldest it gets is 50-60 degrees F).

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Rabia: I love to tell about my time in Athens. This was a solo trip I took, and it was a 7 hour voyage (as I had a stop in Zurich). I loved learning about myself, and my capabilities. My first night was a little uneventful, as I was exhausted from the travel. The next two days, however, were loads of fun.

I missed the tour that my hostel offered of Athens, only to run into another group that was about to go on another tour. There were three Americans in the group who happened to go to university twenty minutes away from my college back in Chicago, and were on a trip visiting Athens from their study abroad program in London. Not to mention that they all went to high school within a half hour my high school. Talk about a small world!

Everywhere I went in Athens, people would talk to me in Greek and were surprised to know that I wasn't Greek. One man was so adamant, he tried to convince me to go on a date with him and marry him. When I politely refused, he told me I broke his heart. He isn't the only one to use that line on me. This sort of thing happened to me often all throughout my trip. I guess European men are far more forward? In any case, Athens was lots of fun and the atmosphere was great!

What made this experience unique and special?

Rabia: This experience was made unique and special by all the things that went wonderfully smoothly as well as all the not-so-great moments. In retrospect, the low moments were just as great as the high moments. While I met some of the greatest people, people who have forever changed my life for the better, I also met some of the worst people. And these people were also great teachers: they taught me how I shouldn't behave and what not to do.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Rabia: The entire experience of living in a city where the culture and language are completely different was an experience that I couldn't have at home. One of my favorite experiences was taking a salsa class at a place called Antilla. It was a beginner level class and it was amazing to see the progress I made over the course of a few months.

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

Rabia: Listen to your heart. When something isn't going your way, you can either sit and pout or change the situation yourself and make yourself happy. This is quite possibly the only time you'll be doing this so don't be afraid to be selfish. If you don't like the group of people you're spending your time with, find another group.

I know that's easier said than done, but it's YOUR experience so make the most of it. Take a trip by yourself and learn what kind of a traveler you are. Do things that push you out of your comfort zone. It's not easy: making new friends, finding people to depend on, balancing schoolwork and travel. Your experience is what you make of it, so make it great.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

Rabia: For me, this trip opened up many opportunities that I didn't realize were there before. I officially have wanderlust. During my experience, I had the wonderful opportunity of shadowing an orthopedic surgeon who introduced me to his international work.

He runs a non-profit organization that provides educational opportunities to little girls in India and also provides healthcare to people in certain third-world countries. It was this experience that reaffirmed my love for the medical field: there isn't anything that is more fulfilling than the gift of health, the gift of life.

What's something you wish you had done but didn't have time to?

Rabia: In Barcelona, there are retired army bunkers that overlook the city. I heard about them a lot and I saw many people taking pictures from the bunkers, but I didn't get a chance to go see them for myself. It's the local hotspot with a breathtaking view of the city. When I go back someday, that's something that will definitely be on my agenda.