Alumni Spotlight: Suzanne Dufault


Suzanne is a senior at Macalester College where she majors in Applied Math & Stats and minors in Hispanic Studies. Her dream of studying abroad became a reality during the spring of 2014, where she studied in Salamanca, Spain. After college, she hopes to find a career that will combine her interests in math and medicine with her thirst for further international exploration.

Describe a goal you set and how you went about accomplishing it.

Suzanne: One of my main goals was to make friends with local students. While IES made this easy to accomplish by arranging intercambios (essentially meet-and-greets) between the IES American students and interested residents of Salamanca, I wanted to take this goal a step further and really exercise my ability to be independent abroad.

I decided to try to make a friend in one of the Universidad de Salamanca classes I was taking. As the only international student in the class, I was incredibly intimidated by my peers.

Initiating small talk and learning how to read a different culture’s classroom dynamics really opened my eyes to some of the barriers that international students face daily. However, the perseverance paid off! I met three incredible people and we got coffee weekly, went out for drinks and are still in touch today.

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

Suzanne: When my mom, dad and sister visited me in Salamanca, we took an impromptu weekend trip to Seville and Cadiz. One night, we began exploring the streets of Seville in search of dessert.

After entering a bar that looked promising, I asked the owner if he or any place nearby was still open with dessert. He kindly gave me the name of another bar and as I asked for further directions and mentioned that it was my family’s first time in Seville the whole mood changed.

In mere moments, we were able to experience firsthand the kindness and pride that Sevillanos take in their city and culture. The owner sat my family and I at a table, served us special dessert wine and home-baked goods that are only made in Seville during Lent and then told us that the experience was free on behalf of beautiful Seville.

Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.

Suzanne: Tapas. And paella. But definitely tapas. One of the best things about Spain is the concept of tapas. Essentially, when a person orders a beverage, generally wine, for free or for a tiny increase in price the person can also order a tapa, a small food dish, to accompany their beverage. Tapas range from small plates of seafood to the Spanish tortilla, but certainly their variety means there is always something appetizing for everyone.

As for paella, I don’t know if I have ever had a more delicious combination of rice, seafood and vegetables. Further, when ordered in a restaurant, paella is generally served in a generous, steaming portion.

Of course, the shrimp and other crustaceans served in the dish generally come more intact than in the States (i.e. legs and all), but this simply provides another learning experience and usually results in superb flavor.

Do you feel you got a chance to see the city from a local's perspective?

Suzanne: One of the most valuable aspects of studying abroad is the opportunity to live in a new place for an extended period of time. I definitely believe this allowed me to really integrate into the local to-and-fro of Salamanca. As a student living in the dorms, I had the opportunity to shop at local grocery stores which gave me insight into the kinds of foods that do and don’t exist in Spain.

For example, I could not find any Campbell’s soup or equivalent product. On the other hand, each of the markets I shopped in had extensive gluten free options. Further, I became a regular at a coffee shop and a local gluten free bakery.

Finally, I participated in weekly intercambios with two women who had lived in Salamanca their whole lives and they helped to educate me on local matters concerning health, education, politics, travel, and so on.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future students traveling with your program?

Suzanne: When studying abroad with IES Abroad Salamanca, it is important to recognize two things. First, be prepared to be independent. On the very first day IES places heavy emphasis in responsible independence abroad.

From your social life to your academics, you will be expected to take the initiative and interact with local professors and peers alike. However, the second important thing to remember is that IES is always there to help you when you need it.

In March, I managed to find myself sick with strep throat. Overwhelmed by the thought of navigating a foreign health system by myself, IES staff was more than willing to assist me in the entire process. They helped me understand doctors and pharmacists and take the steps necessary to both recover my health as well as make up the work that I missed while I had been sick.