Embracing Classes and Culture During a Semester Abroad

Although the pandemic unexpectedly changed many Syracuse University students’ plans that didn’t stop them from pursuing opportunities that they had dreamed of doing. Stephanie Pagán ’22 (WHIT/MAX) always knew that she wanted to study abroad in the spring semester of her junior year, however, the program she was interested in was canceled because of COVID-19. Pagán decided that she would not let this keep her from fulfilling this once-in-a-lifetime chance and applied to go to Madrid, Spain

For Pagán, the cultural experience of a new country is what drew her into the Syracuse Abroad program. Before COVID-19, she had been interested in the Syracuse‘s World Partner program in Hong Kong, China. “The whole experience would have been very different for me, even culturally. I’ve never been abroad before,” she says.

When that program was canceled, she decided on Syracuse Madrid primarily because it was in a Spanish-speaking country. While a language barrier can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome while abroad, Pagán speaks Spanish, which made for an easier transition into the foreign country. 

Even without a language barrier, Pagán says that she faced many challenges while abroad. She shares that the biggest was finding a balance between classes and travel, her favorite places to visit being Barcelona and Valencia. The program also did a great job at allowing students to go on adventures like skydiving and SCUBA diving.

“I did the most that I could during my time in Spanish, and I’m very glad that I did. That’s the purpose of going abroad, creating these crazy experiences for yourself,” she says.

Living with a host family was a change of lifestyle. Pagán explains that he and another student in the program formed a great relationship with their host family, who gave them the ability to experience Madrid for the first time. “Our host mother did give us the freedom, so it didn’t feel like someone was asking where we were going all the time… It felt pretty freeing,” she says. And, some of her favorite introduction to the delicious Spanish culture came from the cuisine the host family provided. 

As a double major in supply chain management at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and environment, sustainability & policy at the Maxwell School of Citzenship and Public Affairs, Pagán says that she learned a lot during her time abroad that she will take with her into her professional career, noting that the work-life abroad is very different than it is in the United States. 

“I learned that I don’t want to live to work. I want to work to live. I did see that abroad, and you get that feeling. You meet these people that genuinely don’t overwork themselves and that is something that I want to incorporate into my life,” she says.

Seeing this type of lifestyle in Europe changed her outlook on her professional goals. Pagán is now interested in moving and working abroad, something that she had not considered before. 

When asked if she would recommend going abroad to other Syracuse University students, Pagán strongly agrees that all students, if able, should experience it. 

“It’s something that you cannot pass up,” she says. “Wherever you study, you will learn so much and grow as a person, which makes you fall in love with life and with the world.”

Learn more about Whitman students and their experiences.

photo of Stephanie Pagan before skydiving in Madrid
Rylee Pohancsek