Kelly studied abroad with us in Granada in 2004 and now works as the study abroad coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. Even if you don’t go to Spain, she thinks you should go abroad. Read why:
Why did you choose Granada?
I majored in International Business Management and Spanish, and wanted to focus on a location that gave me the opportunity to live with a host family and take courses in Spanish. Granada is also a medium-sized city, so I expected a lot of Spanish speakers and more immersion opportunities.
AIFS provided an all-inclusive, fully supportive opportunity for a semester abroad. I had never traveled internationally before and my parents and I were serious about the investment, but needed guidance. For a student new to study abroad, AIFS offered support from start to finish both for myself and my parents, and provided travel opportunities and various excursions on top of the academic and living experiences.
What courses did you take when you were abroad?
Business Spanish, Politics of the European Union, Culture and Civilization of Spain, and Islamic Culture in Andalucia (and let’s not forget the grammar class). After an intensive month of coursework and a placement test, I was thrilled to be in courses where I would be taught exclusively in Spanish. At my home institution, my Spanish language courses had been taught this way, but I was really interested in broadening my vocabulary in subjects like business, politics, history and others. Being taught by native speakers with a keen interest in sharing their culture with others was a unique opportunity. I enjoyed each course, but was particularly taken by the Culture & Civ class where our professor would sit down and explain all sorts of cultural intricacies about Spain, from the pageantry of bullfighting to the purpose of La Feria with a sparkle in his eye and that beautiful Andalucian accent in his voice.
What is one of your favorite memories from abroad?
The entire experience of living with my host family is without question my favorite memory from my semester abroad. After years of hosting students, my señora knew exactly what I needed before I did. I laughed at her table, practiced dances in her hallway and cried on her shoulder. My host sister adopted me in a way that I have not forgotten, even all these years later! My semester abroad would have been completely different had I not been assigned to that family, and I am forever grateful for that twist of fate that continues to pay me back even today.
How do you feel study abroad impacted you?
Study abroad has become my career. After returning to my undergrad institution, I became a peer advisor in my campus office. I turned toward higher education and pursued a masters degree in international education, while working at a university. I accepted a position as an auxiliar de conversación in Andalucia and returned to the country of my heart for a one year teaching contract. Today, I am sharing and re-living my experience every day with students at Eastern Illinois University, as a Study Abroad Coordinator. Regardless of how many words I use on a daily basis to describe my experience abroad, I can still be rendered speechless by just how important those six months were to me. Studying abroad reinforced my independence, broadened my Spanish skills and opened my mind to the world outside of Pennsylvania.
What advice would you give to students considering going abroad? Preparing to go abroad?
Go. I am hard pressed to identify other experiences in a student’s life that would make the impression that study abroad can make. All the cliches are true! You won’t know until you go and make the journey for yourself. Seek the advice of peers who have gone before you, research like crazy and believe that even if it seems terrifying, it will be worth the investment far beyond those few weeks abroad.
Practice pack! Don’t mess around and try to pack the day before you board your plane. Pick the right bag for you – comfortable, durable, secure. Don’t forget your favorite hoodie or t-shirt, it will surprise you what’s comforting when you’re having a rough day. Do not leave home without a journal, a camera or the intention to blog. You will want to remember “that one time in the plaza” many years from now.
Remember that study abroad is not a singular experience, or a simple before-during-after. It will affect you for the rest of your days, from home to work to school. Take the time to reflect not only when you come home, but during your time abroad, even if you’re writing on a napkin!