As part of their positions, CGIS Advisors embark on site visits to visit students and ensure that our programs are the best they can be. Intercultural Programs Advisor Juliana Mesa recently traveled to Granada, Spain to visit students attending the Advanced Language and Culture in Granada, Spain program. She spoke with College of Literature, Science, and the Arts junior students Bridget Walsh, Sonya Love, Sarah Mitz, and Caitlyn Hocker.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Juliana Mesa: Why did you choose to study abroad on this program?

Bridget Walsh: I chose to study abroad on this program because I knew I wanted a more immersive experience. I really liked that it is an advanced language and culture program, and I can get a lot of the requirements done for my major. I also wanted to live in a smaller town or city, which would mean that I would get to speak a lot more Spanish.

Sarah Mitz: I was debating between Madrid and Granada. And I really wanted a host family. I'm really happy I got a host family. It's just nice to see an inside perspective of how the cultural norms of how a family works, and things like that. I really like coming home to host parents every day at lunch. And I feel like the program is really small so we're all friends with everybody in the program. We all know Granada really well now.

Sonya Love: This isn't a reason that I chose the program, but it's something I learned along the way. I would tell someone who was deciding whether or not they wanted to do Granada or a bigger program, I think the size is so special. In a lot of the bigger programs, you fend for yourself a little bit more. And I think this kind of smaller cohort and smaller staff has really supported me and I’m experiencing everything that the city and the school has to offer. I've just never felt so supported and had such a strong community, which was a pleasant surprise.

BW: Like Sonya said, the size of the program, honestly could not be more perfect, because everybody—all of the professors and all the teachers—just know the city so well and are so eager to show it to us. And the fact that we got to take a five day trip to Morocco and just do all kinds of things that are just with our program and are just so unique to our program, I think is the reason that I would choose this program again and again.

JM: What is something that you took away from this experience or a story that you'd like to tell? Is there something that you'd like to share with people?

Caitlyn Hocker: So Morocco was an amazing experience. I could say a million things about it. On the last day, we were planning on taking a ferry back and suddenly we found out that we had to wait three hours to take a different ferry back. We were all kind of bummed about it at first and just kind of moping around. But in those three hours, I would say the program really came together. And it became an incredible bonding experience. The program leaders brought us food to the ferry port and we ended up playing like a million games while waiting for the ferry. The attitude kind of shifted and honestly, when we got on the boat, there was a perfect sunset, and we were all listening to music and just dancing around. Everyone was just grateful to be there. It is a memory that I will never forget. And I feel like it definitely made us all a lot closer. And it was really special and it just made me appreciate the small aspects more.

SL: I can add more about Morocco. I can't even express what a special experience it was. I don't think it's anything that can be replicated with any other program. IES just has such amazing connections on the ground wherever we go, but especially in Morocco. And I think it gave us a truly once in a lifetime experience everywhere that we went. In addition to seeing the beautiful landscape, we walked around and talked with university students from Rabat and Tangier. We also had host families, which was for me the highlight of the trip, 100%. They were so kind and I just feel like it really, really expanded my worldview and I learned a lot. I think it's like one of the most impactful experiences in my life.

BW: We just do so much more than like the norm. We get to do all the normal touristy things that everyone gets to do when they go to a new city. But IES always takes it a step further and lets you have some time to explore the city by yourself. It is such a great opportunities to see a side of the city that you wouldn't normally see as just a regular tourist without any guide or anything. So I think that's one of the best things about the program, too.

SL: It's amazing to not have to plan all your own trips. We're all pretty locally focused and love being immersed in Granada. And then we also get these special trips around Andalucía.

Advanced Language and Culture in Granada students and Professor Juli Highfill smiling for a photo

JM: That's really great to hear that you're having such an amazing experience here. It makes me happy. I think you've already covered this topic a little bit, but why should students participate in this program? Is there anything you'd like to add about that?

SM: I went to my internship on the first day, and I was like, ‘This is gonna be the highlight of my experience.’ And there's a lot of highlights, so I can't pick one, but I love the school that I get to work at and I feel super connected to all the kids there and I can tell that they really appreciate that I'm there. I walk into school and seven different kids are like ‘¡Hola,Sarah! ¿Cómo estás?’ They're just super sweet. I feel really welcomed there. It's been an awesome experience. And something I had no expectation about when I showed up here. Like Sonya said, there are just so many great connections. I'm friends with all the teachers at the school now. And IES put me in these awesome classes that I get to teach, so that's really fun.

JM: So the next question is about considering your different identities that might resonate with you. Is there anything you'd like to share about how your identity has impacted your time abroad?

BW: I don't think there was anything that I wasn't prepared for.

JM: What do you think you will remember most about your experience abroad in 20 years?

BW: I would say that something I'm gonna remember is the people, more than anything. I think one of the things that's really special about this program is that you come in knowing that everyone else chose to come to a smaller town. Everyone could have gone to a bigger city. Everyone could have gone to Madrid and been in like a huge city with more big city things to do. But they all chose to come here to Granada so that they could really experience more of the culture of the country. The people on this program are what makes this program as amazing as it is. That's something I'll remember.

CH: Adding on to that about the people, and this is a more personal thing, but I feel in college, I kind of lost a little bit of who I was. Coming on this trip, I could be myself around everyone, which is something that I came to realize only a month after being here. I think it's really special that the people here allow me to do so. I think a big part of that is because we all have similar characteristics and that's what comes with choosing such an immersive and unique program that not a lot of people would otherwise.

SM: Caitlyn was saying this earlier, but I feel so supported by this program. Like, every single person who works at IES knows my first and last name, and there's 75 kids, and I feel like they all knew my name by day two, and they know everybody's name and they say hi to everybody. Professors I don't even have will say 'Hola, Sarah' in the hallways. I feel like I could come back in five years and visit IES, and they would remember me. That's really special. And I feel the same way about my host family and the other students on this program. I know everybody makes lifelong friends wherever they study abroad. But IES does such a great job of creating a cohort and helping us feel connected to each other and to Granada. We're all obsessed with Granada. We're so lucky to be here and I think IES has really helped foster that feeling.

SL: Another special thing, just building off feeling super connected and supported here, is the orientadores, who met us in Malaga when we flew in and supported us throughout. The orientadores are local students, mostly from the University of Granada, and they live with us in the residence halls. They've organized activities throughout the program, especially during orientation. They've been incredibly supportive.

I was also gonna say that, like, of course everyone has a little bit of culture shock and I was expecting for study abroad to become a rough and difficult transition, but truly, I barely felt homesick. I barely have major culture shock because, between the amazing fellow students, the orientadores and the staff, everybody just have had our backs from day one.

BW: There's such an amazing network of people here that are always ready to support you and I think that's what made this place feel like home and made the people feel like family so quickly.

CH: I think like the most, like the biggest aspect to what Bridget just said is IES. I really think they have made our experience the most special it could be.

JM: So before we finish, I do want to ask if you received any scholarship or funding for the program, and are you comfortable sharing which ones?

CH: Yeah, I received that LSA Study Abroad Scholarship and then my financial aid package carried over. It was a very easy process that I didn't have to do myself, so that was really nice.

SM: I applied for the LSA Merit Scholarship for people studying abroad in Italy and Spain, through the Romance Languages and Literature department. And I got it.

JM: Also, to add to this I want to say that we only ordered coffee and soda, today. But in Granada, it is customary that when you order drinks, you get free tapas.

SL: Granada is just really one of probably the most affordable and cheap places to study abroad. And the coffee is so good. Every single restaurant I've been to is so good.