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A Life-Changing Summer in Spain

by AIFS Study Abroad
AIFS in Granada Alum Talks About Her Life-Changing Summer Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS Alumni

We caught up with AIFS alum, Anna Dunn, who had a summer study abroad experience with AIFS in Granada, Spain back in 2014. After spending her summer in this Andalusian city, she caught the travel bug, going on to pursue additional international education experiences and volunteer opportunities overseas. 

How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?

My experience in Granada I feel was crucial to my career development. This was where I first fell in love with traveling, and more importantly with the Spanish language and all the cultures that surround it. I studied abroad the summer after my freshman year when I was still unsure what I even wanted to study. However after coming back from Granada, I knew I wanted to continue bettering my knowledge of Spanish language, literature, and culture.

I ended up graduating from the University of Georgia with three degrees: International Affairs, Spanish, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies and I have to accredit much of that success to my first study abroad experience. It really fostered my passion for learning and helped focus me educationally.

Finally after graduating college, I was accepted into the Peace Corps in Panama. I am currently working as a Sustainable Agriculture Systems Volunteer, living in the remote jungles of Panama with a community of 100 people helping a producers group to better their coffee production and sales, as well as working to improve sex education. Though it is a far cry from gallivanting around the lovely streets of Granada, my passion for this sort of work started there.

Opening my eyes to different cultures and different languages created within me a desire to see and learn all that I could. Now in addition to using Spanish daily, I also speak the indigenous language of the people: Ngabere and have been able to adapt to their lifestyle and integrate into their community. I honestly have no idea what the future holds for me in terms of my career, but I do  know that whatever I do it will involve travel and working in impoverished areas to bring resources and assistance to people in need.

How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?

Study abroad gave me life long friends, a home to always return to in Granada, and has made me a more open and curious person. Being so far out of my comfort zone for the first time and having to speak Spanish in the home with a host family was really shocking and challenging, but prepared me for a lot of what I would face later on in life.

Once getting out of my comfort zone for that first time, I found I like being outside of it because that allows you to learn all the more and have incredible adventures while you’re at it! I find myself saying “yes” to more things and not being afraid to give new stuff a try.

Coming to Peace Corps Panama and being sent to my community with no cell phone service, no running water, and no electricity is definitely far out of my comfort zone, but as a result I have had some wild adventures and made myself a home among people that are vastly different from me. Without that exposure and such a warming first experience in Granada, this would not have seemed remotely possible to me!

Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?

I have returned twice to Granada since studying abroad there. My junior year in college I studied abroad in Madrid, and during that time made two trips down to Granada. Once I went with some friends, and returning to all my favorite tapas bars, clubs, parks, and just wandering the streets in my favorite districts brought back such beautiful memories. The second time I went back, I brought my family. Being able to show them where I lived, taking them to the Alhambra, and showing them the majesty and beautiful history in the streets of Granada was really special. I feel that no matter when I return to Granada it will always feel like a home to me, and remains to this day the most beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on.

Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?

I still maintain friendships with many of my friends I made from study abroad. After I close service with Peace Corps Panama, I hope to take a road trip across the US and plan to stop and visit some of these friends along the way!

Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?

I can’t say that I maintained too many traditions from my time abroad, but I did bring back a lot of the food! I make a lot of tortilla española, sangria, and even tried making a paella once! Food is easily the best part of traveling to new places, and I brought back a lot of my favorite dishes!

What are your top destinations for future travel?

In the future, I hope to travel extensively throughout Latin America. Once ending service here in Panama, I plan to explore Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador before I head back to the US. The place I most want to go in the world is Cuba, though I haven’t yet figured out when or how.

Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?

Do it! Studying abroad is not only an incredible way to travel, but it opens your eyes and broadens your perspectives. Experiencing other countries and learning new languages is a truly special opportunity that not everyone gets. It can definitely be a challenge living away from family and being far out of your comfort zone, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of good that challenge will do for you in terms of personal growth and opening doors for your future.

Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?

Keep up with your friends that you made while you were abroad, try making some of your favorite dishes from abroad at home, and start planning your next adventure!

Are you an AIFS Study Abroad alum looking to reconnect with classmates? Join our alumni Facebook and LinkedIn groups!

Interested in studying abroad in Granada? Learn more about our summer, semester, January term, and academic year options.

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