Rabia Hameed - 2014 Program Participant

A View of Rome and the Vatican from the cupola of St. Peters Basilica

Standing in the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica overlooking Rome and the Vatican.

What made you decide to study abroad?

I decided to study abroad in order to better understand the world I live in and to better understand myself.

Why did you choose in Barcelona?

I chose to study in Barcelona because I was looking for a place with rich culture, close proximity to water, somewhere to practice my Spanish, and also a location with easy access to the rest of Europe.

What led you to choose IES Abroad for your program?

I chose IES because it matched up with my expectations better than any other program I looked at. IES offers many great opportunities to integrate into the local culture and the process was very straight-forward and transparent. Also, IES helped make this experience affordable by offering scholarships, some merit-based and others need-based.

What type of housing did you choose for your stay in Barcelona?

I opted for homestay as it was the most economical and also offered me the opportunity to practice my Spanish as often as possible. I stayed with an elderly couple and their dog. I also had two roommates, one of which joined us later in the program. We lived in a flat that had four bedrooms, two rooms in each wing. My roommates and I shared one bathroom while my host parents had their own bathroom. We were given breakfast every morning and ate dinner at 8pm in the evenings. My host parents were very sweet and always ready to do anything to make us feel accommodated.

Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain

In Barcelona’s very own Parc Guell!

Explain a day in the life of a student in Barcelona.

The IES Abroad center is located in the heart of Barcelona, which made going to class very enjoyable. My commute was about twenty minutes every day, which included about five minutes of walking and 15 minutes on the metro itself. I had Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday classes and that left me with a three-day weekend. I also had a class at an outside university, which was an additional hour commute on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In-between classes, I would run to the convenient store nearby and grab a snack or maybe go across the street to Cortes Ingles and buy my lunch for the day. If I had a longer break in-between classes, I would either get some homework done or maybe sit out in sun in Placa Catalunya and enjoy some gelato. Classes themselves were far more enjoyable for me as they were more interactive than the science classes I would normally take at my home university. Also, the grades were based on far less assignments, usually a paper (or two), a project, midterm, and final.

What was the most memorable experience you had in Barcelona?

The most memorable experience I had while abroad was having the opportunity to shadow an orthopedic surgeon. As a student looking to go into medicine, IES Abroad put me in contact with a wonderful surgeon who invited me to go watch him perform a back surgery and shadow him in clinic. More than that, he sat me down after seeing his patients for the day and showed me all of the wonderful things he does outside of the clinic, including being the head of a non-profit organization that gives healthcare access to people in countries around the world. When he pulled out pictures from his trips to India and beamed with pride as he explained each picture, he did more than just share some of his memories with me…he became my inspiration. 

Hiking around Granada, Spain

On an IES DiscoverIES activity, a guided tour while hiking around Granada.

What was the biggest challenge you faced studying abroad?

The biggest challenge I faced abroad was starting all over. A large portion of my program came from the same school, so many of them already had friends with them. For me, I came to the program knowing no one else, and that was a hard transition. The best decision I made was taking a class at a partner university, as I got to know students outside of my program and made friendships there.

What makes you want to go back to Barcelona?

Beautiful city and rich culture. I would want to go back to improve my language skills and explore more of the city that I didn’t have the chance to. I’d love to go back and visit friends and go to a salsa place.

How have your experiences in Barcelona changed you life at home?

I’ve learned that I have strength in me that I never knew was there. I have learned that there might be a wrong way of doing things, but there are many right ways of doing things as well. My study abroad experience taught me to be less judgmental and more open to other cultures and ways of life. The experience opened my eyes to the entire world as my playground. I am now consumed by wanderlust.

Would you recommend IES Abroad’s program to aspiring study abroad students?

Yes! I would definitely recommend this program to other students. The classes are great, the staff is wonderful, and Barcelona has everything from the beaches to the mountains all while being a metropolis. One thing I absolutely loved were all the musicians and street performers around every corner, things I still dream about. Also, when choosing a place to study, safety is a big aspect to take into consideration. Barcelona is a very safe place (when you take standard precautions of course) and the largest concern is theft/pickpocketing, which can be avoided if cautious.

What is one thing you would change about your program?

There were two orientation weeks at the beginning of the program that I would have had cut down to one week at the beginning and a free week at the end of the program. The end of the program became too overwhelming with last-minute shopping, goodbyes, and finals.

Monastery on the way to Tarragona, Spain

IES took Rabia’s group on to visit Tarragona where they stopped at monastery along the way and she was able to capture a great moment.

What important tips can you give to future participants of the Barcelona program?

Things WILL go wrong. Your experience depends on how you deal with adversity. You can choose to be upset or you can choose to let go and keep moving forward.

Also, learn to let go. Deactivate your social media, or make a new account so you can connect with people only on your study abroad journey. You have a chance to start fresh, so try to minimize distractions from back home. Life back home will keep moving forward, so it’s in your best interest to stop worrying about what’s going on back home and actually be where you are.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, make sure you listen to your heart more than you listen to other people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something. During my study abroad experience, I often decided to travel alone. I wanted time to understand myself and learn about myself without having the luxury of someone planning everything for me. When I would tell people that I was traveling alone, they often shot me down, trying to tell me that women shouldn’t travel alone, or that I didn’t know the language so it would be hard. I’m very glad I didn’t listen to them. These solo trips were a HUGE positive aspect of my experience and I’m glad I didn’t give in to the advice of people who often times didn’t know what they were talking about. But as always, safety first. Always make sure to exercise extra precaution when you’re abroad especially when alone.

When you returned home, did you find yourself experiencing reverse culture shock?

Yes, I experienced lots of reverse culture shock. I often find myself wondering what the obsession is in America with large items. Bigger houses, bigger cars, inefficient use of large spaces. The amount of energy consumption is mind-blowing. When I got home, I went through a phase of de-cluttering. I emptied my closet out of things I didn’t absolutely need. I am now far more aware of energy consumption. Food here in the United States is excessive in quantity and fat-usage. And maybe I’m still going through a judgmental phase, but stepping out of my bubble helped me see the areas that need major improvement.