Alumni Spotlight: Paige Wheeler

Give us an intro!

A women standing in front of a city

Paige is a third year Political Science and Spanish double major with a Linguistics concentration from Bristol, Indiana. She hopes to pursue graduate work in Linguistics, and would love to someday be able to tell where a person is from based only on their accent.

Why did you pick this program?

I chose this program because I knew I wanted to study abroad in Europe, since I had never been there before, and I needed a Spanish speaking country in order to keep up with my major. I chose Madrid specifically because I grew up in a small town and my college is in a small town, so I was interested in living in a large city.

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

Honestly, I wish I had been better prepared for the food. Spanish people eat a lot of seafood, which I don't really care for.

It wouldn't have affected my choice of program, but if I had realized how much seafood there would be, I would've started trying to get used to it before I went so it wouldn't have been such a shock.

Cathedral in Toledo

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

I learned an enormous amount about Spanish while abroad. My grammar class taught me a bunch of Spanish idioms and colloquial vocabulary that, while different in every country, help me to better understand native speakers.

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

Pack lightly. I tried to pack really lightly, and I did a decent job of it but I still ended up bringing things I didn't need.

I think my best packing choice was bringing shoes that I was ok with leaving--I went to Spain with 5 pairs of shoes, and traveled back with 2 because I took old pairs that wore to pieces while abroad.

A view of a city from a window

What was hardest part about going abroad?

I had a difficult time adjusting to the schedule and culture of a big city. Madrileños like to go clubbing, which means they eat and sleep much later than I was accustomed to.

I'm not much for clubbing, so I had to work to make myself go out and experience the culture even though it was different than what I would usually have done.

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

I think the stories I tell most frequently are about being lost. I was very lost while in both London and Venice, and mildly lost in Granada. While it was frustrating at the time, we saw a lot of all three cities while lost that we wouldn't have otherwise, and in hindsight I'm glad I got to experience the cities more organically instead of just sticking to the known tourist arwas.

What made this experience unique and special?

I loved that I got to stay with a Spanish host family, while still having an American flatmate. I got to know my host family and experience their culture, and also make friends from different parts of my own country that I hope to keep in contact with in the future. The design of the program created a rich cultural experience, both in my interactions with Spanish culture as well as my own.

Sunset on the Beach

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

I had the opportunity to intern with a Spanish NGO, so I worked as a translator in the office of PROYDE, an organization that promotes educational development in impoverished countries.

I expanded my vocabulary, and also got to interact with Spanish people in a professional setting as well as other more informal contexts.

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

Know the weather. Madrid is not that cold in the winter. It never got down to below perhaps 40 degrees before I left in mid December. I brought a winter coat that I never used. If you're used to cold winters, you coils easily survive with some swesters, hats and scarves, and skip the big winter coat entirely.

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

This trip expanded my Spanish, which I'm immensely grateful for. It also allowed me incredible travel and cultural experiences that I'm sure have influenced my worldview in ways I'm not fully aware of yet.

A temple surrounded by a grassland

And, my internship, while enjoyable, showed me that I'm not interested in pursuing a career in straight interpretation, which was something I had previously considered.

What cities should I be sure to visit while abroad?

I visited 3 cities outside Spain (Venice, Amsterdam, and London). Of those, Amsterdam was far and away my favorite and I would highly recommend it (if you go, be sure to visit the Anne Frank house and book your tickets ahead of time online).

Within Spain, I visited Bilbao, San Sebastian, Toledo, and Segovia with the IES program, and since they're free I would highly recommend all of those trips. I loved Bilbao, as northern Spain is very different! I also visited Granada, which was well worth it, you can bus there easily; be sure to book tickets and see the Alhambra, budget an entire afternoon for it.

I also heard that Barcelona was nice, though I didn't visit, and that you "haven't seen Spain until you visit Seville."