Rabia Hameed plans to be a physician one day, but when the Elmhurst College senior biology major scheduled courses for her fall semester in Barcelona, Spain, she included not a single science class.
Hameed’s autumn abroad represents a hard-earned respite from what has been an intense three years of pre-med coursework, labs and research. It also figures to be her best and last chance to see a bit of the world before diving into the demands of medical school.
“I’ve been wanting to explore more of the world, and I probably won’t have the luxury of doing that again for a few more years,” she says. “I’m planning on being pretty busy.”
Hameed’s semester in Spain comes with an assist from the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, which awarded her one of 50 prestigious grants, worth $1,000 each, for study-abroad experiences. The honor was especially meaningful for Hameed, who said she would like to encourage more women and students of color to study abroad. Students of color make up only 17 percent of the student population from the United States studying abroad.
“I want to help open the door for students of color and women and let them know that this can be done,” said Hameed. “I’d like to serve as some kind of role model.”
Hameed is taking classes in psychology, Spanish and Mediterranean history at the IES Abroad Center in Barcelona, and one in international affairs at the La Salle campus of the Universitat Ramon Llull. She is living, with another American student, in the home of a retired couple in Barcelona. In a concession to the habits of their American guests, Hameed said, her hosts serve dinner at 9 p.m., earlier than is customary in Spain, where some evening meals may stretch into the next day.
She is also receiving a firsthand introduction to the cultural divides within Spain. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia. This fall, it has been the scene of rallies and demonstrations in the run-up to a non-binding referendum on November 9 on whether the region should seek independence from Spain. Hameed described the excitement of watching pro-independence speakers and performers in the city’s Plaça de Catalunya.
“It’s a historic moment, and it has been very cool to be a part of it,” Hameed said.
One month into her semester in Spain, Hameed is still looking forward to adventures to come; she has planned getaways to Madrid, Greece and Italy. But she admits that she has one complaint: She misses her Elmhurst pre-med classes. At Elmhurst Hameed works in the lab of Assistant Professor Stacey Raimondi, where she collaborates on investigations into the genetic triggers that make cancer cells grow more aggressively. She was part of a group of students that presented findings at the American Society of Cell Biology in New Orleans in 2013. Hameed spent last summer shadowing emergency room physicians at Delnor Community Hospital in Geneva, an experience that she says “confirmed my love for medicine. I’ve never looked forward to going somewhere more.”
So is she experiencing pre-med withdrawal during her science-free semester in Barcelona?
“Well, it’s been nice to have a break, but I’ve been so used to the pace of my science classes that now it almost feels like I’m not doing anything,” she laughs. Then she stops to wonder what would happen if Raimondi heard she was lamenting the lack of challenge. “She’ll probably send me some work to do, some articles to read.”
Then again, Hameed knows she’ll be back at her biology studies come Spring Term. She is already planning to return to Raimondi’s lab to continue her research experience there, upon her return from Barcelona. “Now if only there were a lab here,” Hameed says, seemingly only half-kidding.