Alumni Spotlight: Greta Banks

Greta is a Senior at The University of Alabama, where she studies public relations, economics and history. She studied abroad with AIFS in Barcelona during the spring of her sophomore year of college.

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Why did you choose this program?

Once I had narrowed my choices down to my location, I looked at all of the different programs that were affiliated with my school. AIFS offered the most comprehensive, inclusive program for the lowest cost, and that was really important to me.

I loved that AIFS had a flight package and lots of excursions. I also really liked the range of courses they offered; I was easily able to take a full course load, all of which directly applied to my degree.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

AIFS assisted me with just about everything! I had an admissions officer who answered all of my application questions and even handled securing my visa for me. I chose the optional flight package, so AIFS booked my flights to and from the U.S., and then they picked me up from the airport and took me to my apartment when I arrived. Our on-site staff was incredible; they arranged loads of activities (welcome and farewell dinners, tours, cooking class, dance class, etc.) which were no additional cost, and they helped with any maintenance issues at my apartment, registration for classes and even booking a doctors appointment when I needed one.

The only thing I really organized on my own was the trips I took on weekends without my program. Even then, my on-site staff was always available to help give me some guidance if I ever needed it.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Pack light, and bring a travel backpack! When you're going on weekend trips, you'll do a lot of walking, and it's so helpful to be able to just carry a few belongings on your back, rather than rolling around a small carry-on suitcase.

I would also recommend looking up information on your location so you can prepare as best as possible. AIFS has a great blog with all kinds of info from students who have been on the programs before. You can find things on what and how to pack for your location, restaurant recommendations, culture tips, trip recommendations and so much more.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An typical weekday in this program involves grabbing some breakfast or coffee from a café, going to class for a few hours, then hanging out in the city or on the beach for a bit. Spending the afternoon and evening on the beach after class was very popular among my classmates. There's also loads of parks, shops and restaurants to hang out in as well.

In the evening, my friends and I would either cook dinner in our apartment, or go out and try a new restaurant in one of Barcelona's many neighborhoods. Barcelona has great nightlife, so when I wasn't catching up on sleep, I might go to a bar and catch a football (soccer) game, or head down to one of the dance clubs on the beach.

Weekends were frequently spent exploring another city, as it was so cheap and easy to fly out of Barcelona. When I stayed in town, I usually explored a different neighborhood, museum or site in Barcelona with my friends. The hiking in the Bunker Hills is great.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was terrified that, not knowing anyone and being so far from home, I would be lonely. But with all of the activities that AIFS organized it was SO easy to make friends very quickly in my program! We had a Facebook group that we joined a few months before we even left, so many of us were able to get to know each other a bit and make some travel plans for the first few weekends before we even got to Barcelona.

Once we arrived, we had a lot of introductory activities (a welcome dinner, walking tours of different neighborhoods, sightseeing tours) for the first few days, so I managed to find my people right away, and we were able to make plans and travel together all semester.

As far as homesickness goes, I was so busy having an amazing time that I didn't have time to get homesick. Even after my semester was up, I wasn't ready to go home.

How did you afford to study abroad?

I didn't realize how affordable study abroad could be until I looked into it. My scholarships and financial aid that I use to pay for school now were all able to be applied to a study abroad program. My AIFS program was also about the same cost as a semester of my school fees, so once I applied all of that, the only leftover expenses were flights, extra food (whatever I ate on top of my AIFS meal allowance), shopping and trips.

I was able to get an additional $1000 scholarship from AIFS, so that paid for the majority of my flight costs. After that, I just stuck to minimal shopping, budget flights and hostels to avoid racking up a massive credit card bill. I learned tricks to save money like finding walkable routes to avoid taxi costs or packing a picnic to avoid eating out. In the end, I spent less on study abroad than I do when I'm at school in the U.S., and I took 12 weekend trips around Europe!