At IE University, we participate in a range of exchange programs which bring students to our campuses every year.
For students, this semester abroad is a special and unique experience that shapes them both personally and professionally. Read on to learn about Sabrina LeBoeuf, an American exchange student who came to IE University for her exchange, as she tells about her experience over the last few months. Despite having to return to her home country early because of COVID-19, she wouldn’t change her experience in Spain at IE University for anything.
Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to carry out an exchange program at IE University in Spain?
My name is Sabrina LeBoeuf. I’m from the United States, and I study at The University of Texas in Austin. I’m in my third year of college and I study journalism, as well as radio, television, and film. I did my exchange semester at IE University in Madrid because I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking place since I speak it with my family. I also wanted to go to Europe because, other than the United States, I’ve only been to Panama. I picked IE University specifically because they have a Bachelor in Communication and Digital Media.
How was your exchange experience here at IE University?
My experience at IE University was refreshing. It was quite interesting to be at such a small school since my university caters to about 50,000 students. At IE University, it seemed like everyone knew each other whereas, back at home, I’m constantly meeting new people. It was also interesting to take classes outside of my major since I’m at a point in my program where I only take journalism and film classes.
My favorite aspect of IE University was how diverse the student population was. The student body came from all over the world, not just Spain. It helped me and the other exchange students not feel so different.
What did you like the most about Spain, in terms of culture, traveling, people, and Madrid?
The funny thing is that I didn’t like Spain at first. When I first got to Madrid, it didn’t feel like a new place because of how similar it is to New Orleans, where I grew up. I was convinced that I had chosen the wrong place to study abroad.
What changed my mind about Spain was the people. My host family started to introduce me to new things like their favorite filmmakers, artists, and authors. They showed me different Spanish dishes and gave me advice on places to visit in Madrid. In my flamenco class, I became friends with the other ladies even though I was the youngest of them all and wasn’t Spanish. The people I met were so welcoming, and it really helped me to embrace Madrid as my new home.
After I really got to know Madrid, I started to appreciate more of the little things. I like how the pace of life is slower. I love how there’s a pasteleria on almost every corner and how they make napolitanas de chocolate. El Parque del Retiro was my favorite spot for journaling, running with friends, and walking on my own. There was a never-ending list of museums to visit and various events to attend.
As for Spain, I adore their dedication to public transportation because it makes getting around so much easier, whether you’re traveling within a city, to a different city, or to a different country. I’m not a fan of driving, so the metro and the bus were my best friends.
How do you think IE University managed the whole COVID-19 situation?
I think IE University handled the pandemic (even before it became a pandemic) fairly well. They were really flexible, which is the most important thing. I’m especially glad they didn’t cancel classes, otherwise me and some of the other exchange students would have lost an entire semester.
How do you keep up with your classes online, with the time difference, group projects, and the content?
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult to keep up with my classes online. My time zone is seven hours behind Spanish time, so my classes take place anywhere between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. When I was forced to return home by my university, IE University hadn’t yet set up recorded lectures so I was waking up in the middle of the night to take classes. Luckily, they later incorporated this option, but I’m still waking up in the middle of the night to take classes.
All of my classes have group projects, but for one of my classes, there was no lecture. The point of the whole class was to have time to meet with the group and discuss the project. That being said, my professor suggested that students should continue to meet during the live class time.
I had another class that was similar, in that part of the class was for the lecture and the other part was for group meetings, so I still had to attend that one as well. The only class I could watch on a recording was my research methods course, but whenever the recording failed,
I had to miss out.
Besides being in a different time zone, I also had to switch back to my United States phone number even though all of my group project WhatsApp chats were connected to my Spanish number. In some cases, I was able to easily switch my numbers to receive updates from my group. In other cases, some group chats added my number during the last week of class. Both not receiving updates, and receiving them about half a day later, were obstacles. When communication did work well, my groups still had to work on different schedules, which made tasks take longer than normal.
Regardless of the difficulties, I believe this situation did bring about something good. It taught me how to work with an international team, which is relevant for jobs that have a global network. It also helped me break my procrastination habit, because you can’t wait until the last minute for a group project where the other members of your group won’t receive your messages until they wake up and vice versa.
What are the main takeaways from your experience abroad?
Although my experience abroad was a lot shorter than I expected it to be, I learned a great deal. I learned that having a slower way of life is something I want to incorporate back at home instead of working constantly. I learned about how to travel by myself and with other people. I learned how to make important decisions on my own, such as how to handle the pandemic and how to return home with a day’s notice. Overall, I discovered that I am resilient and curious to find out more about the world.
Even though my experience didn’t go as planned, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That was one of the best two-and-a-half months of my life.