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Transformative Learning Experiences Abroad

From marine ecology to marketing, embracing unique learning opportunities in Madrid gives study abroad student a new global outlook on the future.
Talia St. Angelo in front of the Syracuse University Study Abroad table.

Since returning from her semester in Madrid, Spain, Talia St. Angelo ’25 has served as a global ambassador for Syracuse Abroad, helping other students learn more about studying overseas.

When Talia St. Angelo ’25 heard she could start her semester learning to scuba dive while studying ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea, she was sold. She applied right away to spend a semester studying at the Syracuse University Abroad center in Madrid, Spain.

The marine ecology seminar is an award-winning, 10-day course that introduces students to coastal and marine ecosystems and a range of marine management practices along the Mediterranean coast. Although the course did not directly connect to St. Angelo’s majors—marketing and finance in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management—to her, it represented the main reason she wanted to study abroad: to expand her horizons and global perspective, take advantage of unique learning opportunities and challenge herself. “The marine ecology course was a perfect way to start my semester abroad because I didn’t know what to expect. It was an opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone,” she says.

St. Angelo’s willingness to try new things proved incredibly rewarding, she says. “It was an amazing experience! We learned about the ecology of the Mediterranean Sea, we got to explore different coastal communities, we went paddle boarding, snorkeling—and the whole time we’re also learning how to navigate Europe and getting to know each other,” she explains. “At the start of the semester, I didn’t know most of the students in the Madrid program. Now, back on campus, they’re all my best friends!”

On-the-Ground Learning

Talia St. Angelo on a boat in Madrid.

For St. Angelo, one of the highlights of study abroad was a marine ecology course focused on the biodiversity, conservation and communities of the Mediterranean coast.

St. Angelo relished a range of other courses that also grounded her classroom learning in field experiences in Madrid and other parts of Spain. She particularly enjoyed a course that helped her appreciate how cultural context influences marketing. “It was a critical thinking course and very hands-on and creative. We studied certain Spanish advertising campaigns and then reimagined them for American audiences,” she says.

She took an art history course that included nearly a dozen fieldtrips to regional museums. “First, we’d study Baroque and Romanesque architectures and paintings in class, and then we’d go and actually see the pieces we’d just been talking about,” she says. “I learned so much about Spanish and world history—it was amazing.”

St. Angelo chose to live with a host family during her time in Madrid. This, she says, provided an extraordinary opportunity to be immersed in Spanish language and culture.

Transformative Impact

Talia St. Angelo in Madrid in a museum.

Through field trips with her art history class, St. Angelo saw in person the works they studied. “I learned so much about Spanish and world history,” she says.

St. Angelo says her semester abroad has changed what she’s looking forward to in her senior year and beyond. For one, she has added being a Syracuse Abroad global ambassador to her busy schedule of academics, club sports and student organizations. And, she enjoys practicing her much-improved Spanish with her friends from the Madrid program.

But the most formative impact, she says, has been a perspective shift: an expansion of what she can imagine as possible. St. Angelo, a native of Rhode Island, says she used to assume she’d stay close to home when starting her career, but her experience abroad has shown her she can explore, and thrive, farther away as well. “I know I want to go into marketing and finance after I graduate—creative business has always been my plan—but living overseas has definitely made me more open to branching out and trying different things,” she says—adding that her summer internship, with the brokerage company Ryan Turner Specialty, will have her working in both Boston and New York City. “I brought back with me a mindset of being positive and really open—it really did broaden my horizons.”

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