Alumni Spotlight: Sergio Fernandez


Sergio was born in Bogotá, Colombia but he lives in North Carolina. He is a biology major and neuroscience minor at Haverford College in Philadelphia. He is passionate about soccer, snowboarding, motorcycles, and traveling.

Why did you pick this program?

I think my situation was a little different from most. I arbitrarily decided when I was 15 that I wanted to study abroad in Milan. My university's only study abroad program in Milan was with IES, so IES it was!

It honestly could not have turned out better. The staff is extremely welcoming and accommodating, as well as very apt. I chose to be placed in a homestay and the family they placed me in was a perfect fit with every aspect of my personality. Milan is a beautiful, international (but not crowded), and central location that provides a complete study abroad experience.

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

People told me but either I did not listen or I did not quite understand - plan a budget and plan your trips ASAP! The earlier you plan your trips, the cheaper it will be. You may think "oh RyanAir and EasyJet are already cheap, who cares" - but take my word, when you have a long list of trips and activities every single penny counts!

As for the budget itself... it's hard to do - I spent way more money than I had thought I would - but try to at least set a weekly spending limit by dividing your initial amount with the weeks you will be there. Even if you go over your limit it will really help you keep track of your spending.

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

You should have already signed up.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

For me it was probably packing. Not just deciding what to pack but actually making it all fit in the suitcase. I packed at 2 am the night before and woke up and finished packing in the morning. I didn't do a terrible job but I still don't recommend it.

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

This one is really tough. There are several, but this is one of the better ones... I planned a trip to Prague to meet my dad who had to go for work. We had Friday off that week so I decided to go from Thursday-Sunday. My dad's visa was expired and he wasn't allowed to enter the Euro Zone.

Thus began the adventure. I booked two more nights at my hostel and off I went. The first night I went with a Honduran guy and a German guy to a CouchSurfing meeting at a bar and the owner of the bar ended up having two pet pumas. He was walking one of them around the bar on a leash and then it went and laid up on the bar. That was pretty wild!

What made this experience unique and special?

My best friend on the program stayed with a hostfamily that was a 10-minute walk from me, and our family's were good friends. That made our experience pretty unique and we had a great time.

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

During spring break I went to Malta and Sicily. Obviously those places are in Europe, but I am thinking more in the sense that I could not have had a parallel experience in the US. We had 3 flights that week that totaled about 180 euros per person. In the US, to fly to the Caribbean you would not be able to find ONE ticket for that cheap during the spring break period.

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

I would say if you really want to learn the language and culture, stay in a homestay. Additionally, if at the end of the semester you want to feel like you LIVED in Milan, don't go away every single weekend. Two months into the program I had only gone on 3 trips and all of those were inside of Italy. At the end of the semester I had other people say to me that they wished they had spent a little more time in Milan.

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

I could talk about this for hours. The past 6 months have been the best of my life without a doubt. My host family was a huge part of making my trip meaningful to me. I became good friends with my host brother and my the parents treated me as there own child.

Additionally, the opportunity of exploring a new culture (and Europe in general), in the manner in which I wanted, was absolutely amazing. I have always enjoyed traveling but this really set fire to my passion for traveling; so much so that I am likely going to take a few years before going to med school.

What made you choose where to travel?

For me, the first criteria was cost. London was one of the big ones I left off my list, which a lot of people thought was strange. The way I see it, I'll be able to go to London later in life when I have a bigger budget. The same goes for several other cities I didn't visit. The second criteria was events.

For example, I went to Frankfurt solely for a J. Cole concert. I had no clue what Frankfurt had to offer other than the concert, but that made it more fun because when I get there I was intrigued by the newness of it all. Be sure to look up what events are going on around Europe, and if it is something that interests you, GO!

The last, and maybe biggest, factor in my travel destinations was spontaneity. I think it is more fun to travel spontaneously, and in fact it was! Malta was probably the most spontaneous trip I made. I looked at the list of countries that approve the schengen visa and arbitrarily chose Malta. It ended up being an unbelievable trip to a beautiful, unique, and quirky Mediterranean island that was unlike anything I'd experienced before.