Katrina Laffoon - 2014 Program Participant

What is the story behind your decision to study abroad?

My parents were missionary kids; my mom grew up in Japan and my dad in Tanzania. I grew up hearing stories of their adventures, and I knew that traveling the world was something that I was going to do when I grew up. In 2011 and 2012, I had the amazing opportunity to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student for 11 months in Quito, Ecuador. It was a very challenging year, but it was very rewarding and one of the best years of my life. When I got back, I tested out of 14 hours of college Spanish credit, and I decided to add Spanish on as my second major. This gave me the excuse to study abroad again and to experience Spain's Spanish and culture authentically.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

In front of the Alhambra in Granada

Why did you choose AIFS?

At the beginning, I was mostly looking for the program that would give me the most credits for going in summer (logistically, summer was the only practical option for me). Most programs I looked at only offered three to five, but through the AIFS program in Granada, Spain, I earned 10 credits in six weeks, for roughly the same price. There are many more reasons why I'm glad I chose AIFS, but that was why I did initially.

What did you enjoy most about living in Grenada?

Granada was a wonderful place to live. It was very quaint there, and there are lots of old and and historic nooks, shops, and restaurants to explore. The food was amazing, and in Granada you get a free tapa with the purchase of a drink (alcoholic or not). There was an Arabic tea place that had the best tea I had ever tasted that was off the beaten trail. The gelato was great, as well. Spain has a very interesting and rich history, and Granada is an important city in the history. I loved hearing about it all from their point of view.

How was your study abroad experience different from the typical study abroad trip?

I don't care much for the taste of alcohol, and thus I don't care too much for the party scene. This makes my pretty different from most other students who study abroad. However, I still had an amazing time, and found things to do and explore that made my experience memorable. For example, when my friends and I went to Madrid for a weekend, we did a five-hour walking tour.

International students with their host mom in Spain

Our host Mom

How did local AIFS staff take care of participants during their stay?

The resident directors were wonderful. Every few days, they would take us on an optional cultural field trip around the city, and they were very knowledgeable. They were always open to questions of any kind: logistics, culture, how the best way to get to the beach was, and so on. They were there whenever we needed them, but they gave us as much independence as we wanted and treated us like adults. They helped us and encouraged us to travel around, even to other countries. I can't imagine better resident directors.

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

There is not much I regret or would have done differently in my experience in Spain. After I came back from Ecuador, there were a few things I wish I had done differently, such as being more adventurous and taking more risks and exploring more on my own or with friends. I also wished I hadn't been so concerned about money, that I would have spent a little more to experience the culture more. I did a lot better in these areas in Spain, and I was a lot less up-tight. This made this part of my experience abroad much better.

How was your typical day in Granada?

I lived with a host mom and two other American girls. My classes started a little later than my roommates', so I would eat breakfast by myself then walk 20 minutes to class. The first class I had in the morning was a class that looked at how Spanish was spoken differently around the world. The second was a Spanish culture class. Both were very interesting. When they finished, I usually went home to eat lunch, which was always enormous but delicious. After lunch, I had to go back to school for my final class, a Spanish grammar class (in which I learned so, so much).

When that was over, there would be about three hours until supper time at 9 p.m. My friends and I would meet up and explore the town until then. We would walk all over and every day do something new. At 9 p.m., we usually went back (although sometimes we will tell our host mom we were eating out that night), ate a lot of food, and went to bed exhausted and full.

Flamenco performance at the University of Granada

Flamenco at the University of Granada

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

We went to several different museums around town and enjoyed just walking around and seeing what we would find. On days when it was really hot, we would get gelato or go inside and get tapas (or both). I enjoyed going to see movies in Spanish and meeting up with some Spanish college girls we met to practice my Spanish. Several nights a week, AIFS would plan an outing, and I always loved going to those as well. When they hadn't planned something on the weekends, we went to Madrid, the coast, or hiked in the mountains. I also had the opportunity to go to Austria for a weekend to visit one of my friends I met in Ecuador.

What was your accommodation like?

I loved in a homestay, which I shared with one of my good friends and another girl. Julia, our host mom, was very sweet and fixed us a lot of authentic, delicious Spanish food. She was very chill and was pretty easy going. I didn't get super close to her, but it was nice to talk with her and spend time with her.

What recommendations do you have for future participants?

Make sure you keep a diary (even if you usually don't) and write in detail what happened. You will be so glad you did in the future, when memories start to get hazy. You don't want to forget your time abroad.

Also, bring good shoes that let your feet breathe, are waterproof, and don't take forever to dry. You will probably be walking a lot, so this is the most important thing to bring. 

Finally, make an effort to experience the culture as much as possible, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone and/or costs a little money. Go to the places of the city where tourists usually don't go, and don't be afraid to try new food. If your program provides optional cultural field trips, make every effort to attend.

Drinking Arabic tea in Spain

Arabic Tea

How did your experience in Granada change you?

I have grown as a person and as a scholar. I am a lot more independent and confident. It has helped shape my future goals; I am hoping to return abroad at some point to live and work.

My experience has not only helped me see the world more completely, but has helped me see the States differently as well.

Would you recommend AIFS’ Granada program to others?

AIFS was an amazing provider, and I would recommend them to anyone. The price was similar to other programs; my total price included airfare, insurance, visas, a stopover for two days in London, cultural excursions, ten college credits, and room and board. Everyone involved was very professional and available to answer any questions before, during, and after the program, and were there to give support whenever needed. They were very knowledgeable about the program, city, and country, and they took care of the logistics beautifully.