Sophie Cheston - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I studied abroad because I had never traveled independently, and I wanted to learn how to live and explore on my own. I wanted to gain a new perspective on my background and the world I currently live in, I wanted to discover new ways that how and where I live impacts me.

Why did you choose your specific IES Abroad program?

I chose IES Abroad’s Barcelona Liberal Arts and Business program because it seemed to encompass all aspects of a study abroad program that I had imagined for myself. Not only did it provide psychology and marketing classes, which are difficult to take at my home institution, but it provided an internship program that would set me up with an entirely new perspective on the world, and the workplace. I also wanted to go somewhere with a language barrier, so that I could learn a new language in the most authentic way.

View of Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

What was your favorite part about Barcelona?

My favorite part of Barcelona was the people (and the climate). Even though I came into the program knowing very little Spanish, everyone I came across was helpful and kind, and engaged with me even though I was nowhere near fluent.

I also appreciated how busy and metropolitan of a city Barcelona was. Growing up in New York City, I was set on studying in a city that resembled a strong city vibe. I can’t think of a time that I was bored in Barcelona, and for that I am truly grateful, because it gives me even more of an excuse to return.

What made your experience abroad unique?

My program was unique because of my internship placement. During the semester I studied abroad, I was the only one who interned at Apartment Barcelona, which is a local apartment-rental company. I worked alongside adults from all over Europe, which broadened my worldview in invaluable ways. I had the privilege of producing work that went towards the company’s marketing platform. I really felt like I was contributing to the betterment of the organization, which is very special.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The IES Abroad staff was very helpful and responsive. When things felt shaky at the beginning, my advisor was always there to help guide me in the right direction. I was lucky in that she taught the internship seminar as well, so I had a lot of one on one time with her. She was very enthusiastic about the work I was doing at Apartment Barcelona, and she was always there to answer any questions about the internship, my program, or my homestay.

Canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

One thing I wish I had done differently was travel around Spain more! When I went to Barcelona, I had only ever visited Spain once, and that was to Malaga, which is extremely different than Barcelona. I never got to see Madrid, Sevilla, or Granada, and I really regret it (although I hope to see them someday). I prioritized visiting as many countries as possible, which is not wrong in any way, but I did miss out on a couple of awesome IES Abroad sponsored trips around Spain.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

My roommate and I would wake up at 8 a.m. We would leave our homestay at 8:30 a.m. to arrive for class at 9 a.m. I had three classes in a row, until 1:30 p.m. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I would grab lunch to go, walk to my internship, and eat it while I worked there. I worked there from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would go for a fun lunch somewhere close to school (there were tons of awesome places near school) with my friends, and then either go explore some neighborhood in the afternoon or head to a café or home to do homework or hang out.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During my free time, I enjoyed checking things off my “Barcelona Bucket List,” which consisted primarily of restaurants I had read or heard about, but also included exploring various neighborhoods, museums, stores, or sights in and around Barcelona. Because of my horrible sense of direction, visiting new areas of the city helped me to better grasp its layout and feel more comfortable traveling within it by myself. One of my favorite parts of Barcelona is that it borders the Mediterranean, so I would go to the beach any chance I had, at least for the first couple of months while it was still quite warm.

Interlaken, Switzerland
Interlaken, Switzerland

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived in a homestay with one woman in her 70s, and an American roommate from my program. I loved my accommodation because my host mother was extremely caring and hospitable, and she loved talking about her family and her experience living in Barcelona, which really connected me to the city in a closer way than I had anticipated. I shared a room with my awesome roommate, who turned out to be one of my best friends on my program. Since neither of us came into the semester knowing very much Spanish, it was a relief to live with someone with whom I could converse fluently and comfortably.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

I remember on the day I left, I was talking to my parents about how I wished I were already there, and not just there, but two weeks into the program; two weeks seemed like the point at which students were adjusted and began to adore their study abroad experience. It turned out, though, that everything was pretty smooth sailing from day one. I think every participant should know that there will be highs and lows, and in betweens, and not every aspect of the program will be perfect. But, try as hard as you can not to set expectations for how difficult or easy, or in between, something will be.

I surprised myself almost everyday of my semester abroad, and I think it’s good to know that there are no guarantees or things that are supposed to go a certain way. Your travels, accommodations, friends, and academics will pan out in ways that might not make sense, but they will all add something new to your experience.

Canal view in Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

Being home/back at school has been an adjustment. Naively, it felt like everything had paused when I left and when I returned, the play button would be pressed. However, I’ve realized that everything kept moving even though I wasn’t there, and sometimes things moved on in ways I didn’t expect. Learning and accepting this fact is helping me become more level-headed in general, and it is also helping me appreciate everything I had missed at home and at school.

Going abroad has also made me much more adventurous, both with the endeavors I pursue at school and with the travel plans I am anticipating in my near future.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

I would 100 percent recommend my program in Barcelona, along with IES Abroad as a whole. IES Abroad’s staff is extremely well versed in study abroad, and they truly are there for the students. I felt very well taken care of throughout my study abroad process, including before and after my semester in Spain. Since IES Abroad has programs in so many cities, the student community is enormous, and it provides huge opportunities for networking within the city of study and between cities where IES Abroad students are also in.