Connecting with alumni is a fantastic way to learn more about a study abroad program or location!
There’s nothing like getting the inside scoop from someone who has already been through the experience! We caught up with AIFS Alumni Ambassador, Greta Banks, a recent graduate of the University of Alabama who spent her Spring 2017 semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain at Universitat Autònoma Barcelona (UAB).
Why did you choose AIFS and your specific study abroad program location? How did you learn about it?
I knew that I wanted to go somewhere in Europe, because I wanted to have the proximity to all of the other European countries and be able to travel a ton. Barcelona was the perfect mix of big city amenities, great weather and the classes I needed to stay on track.
What was your major at the University of Alabama and was there a connection to your choice of study abroad program location?
One of my majors was economics, so UAB was great because they have a huge business program. A lot of what led me to Barcelona was all of the classes I could get there. I had my choice of 300 and 400 level courses within my curriculum, which was really important to me because I didn’t have any gen-ed or elective requirements left to fulfill.
What are the strengths and unique features of the program and about Barcelona?
Having the classes take place where they did was a huge bonus. UAB has two class buildings within the city, and they’re both is great locations. One was within view of La Sagrada Familia, in a beautiful, historic building, and the other was very close to a lot of the major shopping. I also think that Barcelona is really special in that you get the city, mountains and the beach all in such close proximity. There were days where I began with a hike, meandered through the city and shops and ended on the beach; it was perfect! The on-site staff in Barcelona were also some really incredible people—they really made the whole program that much more special and fun, and they took care of all of the challenges that came up with such warmth and grace. I loved the optional excursions offered for Barcelona; I went on the Interlaken and Morocco trips, and they were far and away two of my favorite weekends! Having Morocco as an option was especially great, because it’s somewhere that I would’ve been less comfortable trying to plan and arrange all on my own, so getting to go with my whole AIFS squad and not worry about figure things out was fantastic.
Was there anything you did not expect?
I didn’t expect my living accommodations to be so great. My apartment was recently renovated, really clean and comfortable. It was also in the most perfect location—just a few minutes’ walk from La Sagrada Familia and one of the class buildings. I also didn’t expect how many great group activities would be included. The on-site staff arranged some form of a tour or experience just about every single weekend, and they were always really fun! The farewell dinner and show were one of my favorite memories, and the weekend trip to the Pyrenees was some of the best hiking I’ve ever done.
How did you learn, grow or change by studying abroad?
I became so much more adaptable and independent when I went abroad, and I am so much better for it! I learned not to rely on the internet so much because I didn’t have data when I traveled, so things like directions or looking up a restaurant had to be done in other ways. I also fell in love with the lifestyle I developed living in Barcelona, so it helped me realize a lot of what I was looking for in my own life. Being abroad definitely also opened up my mind and gave me a lot more perspective, so that I started thinking more in terms of being a global citizen rather than simply inside the contexts I’d grown up in.
Do you have any advice for future students in your study abroad program location?
To everyone studying abroad: don’t over pack! You probably need about half of what you’re planning to bring, and it will only weigh you down. If you’re getting ready to study in Barcelona, get ready for an amazing experience! Take advantage of everything the location has to offer—do some hiking, see the architecture, eat all the food, and go to the each every once and awhile! It’s tempting to go to a new country every weekend, but there’s so much in Barcelona, so try not to miss it. I would definitely also visit Montserrat. It’s a little ways outside of the city, and one of the day trips included in the semester. It was honestly the most breathtaking thing I have ever seen, and I have plans to return and make an entire trip out of that place alone. Don’t miss it.
Would you recommend the AIFS in Barcelona program to other students?
Beyond a doubt, I would recommend this program to anyone thinking about studying abroad! Every single aspect of it went so smoothly and came together to make the entire semester fantastic. AIFS made the process simple from start to finish and provided me with so many comforts so that Barcelona really became home. The quality of the course work was great and I was able to seamlessly transfer it all back and apply it to my major. If I could do anything differently, I’d have gone for a full year!