Gabrielle Pillert - 2015 Program Participant

A view of Granada, Spain

The view from the terrace of IES Abroad Granada in Spain

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I knew when starting out my college career that I wanted to study abroad in a foreign country. I’ve always loved to travel and knowing that I could spend one of my eight semesters in a new cultural setting was enticing. Studying abroad turned out to be one of the best semesters of my life and the experience will without a doubt continue to hold fond memories and important lessons for the rest of my life.

Why did you choose IES Abroad?

After a lot of research, I reached out to a few students who previously studied abroad and tried to decipher which program would be the best for me. I chose Granada for its size, as it was not overwhelmingly large but also would provide enough space to explore. I found the city to be the perfect size, so as a foreign student you could find your own rhythm and feel completely comfortable. I also found the class choices in the Granada program to vary in subject matters and have interesting themes that helped students to learn about the city itself and the culture of the people. I’m extremely glad I chose Granada and would definitely recommend it to others looking for a similar abroad experience.

What was your favorite part about Granada?

Apart from the amazing IES Abroad staff and incredible people I met during this experience, the city of Granada definitely stole my heart. The history of the city alone speaks volumes to the beautiful architecture on every corner and the interwoven cultures that occupy the city. The people of Granada have their own flare and lifestyle that is extremely different from other parts of Spain itself. The culture and way of life is something I try to carry with me as I immerse myself back into my American lifestyle. Granada will always have a special place in my heart and I hope to go back as soon as I get the chance.

A street shop in Chefchaouen, Morocco

A shop on a street in Chefchaouen, Morocco

What made your program unique?

I would wholeheartedly recommend my IES Abroad Granada program to other students. The staff members were some of the most helpful and understanding in their role as guides to help us navigate through transitioning into a new place. With the program being in a non-English speaking country, it was important to have teachers that could help students feel confident in their language abilities while also providing a challenging learning environments to further our education and growth.

I think our program director Javier as well as the members of the IES Abroad Granada staff fostered an environment that not only made us all feel comfortable and safe, but also let us explore our freedom and adventure through the new life experience we were lucky enough to receive.

How supportive was the local staff throughout your program?

The local staff was extremely supportive as I stated before. The way they were always available to our every need and made us feel completely comfortable was very helpful to the transition. I thank them for their help and am so grateful that they were the guides I was given for this unforgettable experience.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I felt that I was very open to the new experience, but I think I could have thrown myself into the culture more with language and activities around the city. I think this may have given me a stronger language challenge and also helped me meet many more Spaniards.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I would have classes start at either 8:30 a.m. or 9:50 a.m., so after having breakfast with my host family, I would walk a 20 minute walk to the IES Abroad center. I would attend my classes and then return home for lunch at around 2:30 p.m. After lunch with the family, I'd have an hour or so to catch up on homework or rest during the siesta time. Then I'd have another class in the evening and meet up with some friends for tapas at night!

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

I loved the day trips and sometimes weekend trips we took outside of Granada. As much as Granada was my favorite city, the trips we went on not only helped me appreciate more of the Spanish culture, but also gave us as students a way to get to know each other and the program leaders. We were able to speak with other Spanish students and practice what we learned in the classroom in the outside world.

La Alhambra in Granada, Spain

La Alhambra, a fortress in Granada, Spain

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I lived with a host family a little outside the center of the city in Granada. I requested this family as a friend had stayed with them previously and had nothing but positive experiences. My host mother was one of the kindest women I have ever met, and her welcoming and openness toward me made my transition into Spanish life in Granada that much easier. Every lunch conversation and coffee chat helped me not only improve my Spanish but also create a relationship with a family I now am able to consider myself a part of.

Now that you're home, how would you say studying abroad has impacted your life?

I think the biggest shock I found in leaving Granada was how much I would miss it. It’s crazy to think that you can live in a place for four months and find yourself not wanting to leave when the semester comes to a close. I think I’ll always miss Granada and the people I built relationships with and I hope the reverse culture shock won’t hit worse later on!