“Growing up in a town of 36 people, the idea of traveling to Europe seemed like a distant dream,” says Kole Lappe (center back). (Courtesy photos)

From Montana to Spain: First-Gen Abroad Program Preps Kole Lappe for International Travel

By Becky Kramer

Kole Lappe grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana, but realized he wasn’t cut out to be a cowboy in his pre-teen years. Instead, he was drawn to cities and distant places he saw on the news.

“I was 11 or 12 when I stopped competing in rodeo and told my parents I wasn’t interested in riding horses anymore,” Lappe says. “I started to really think about what I wanted my future to be.”

Kole Lappe in Seville

With career goals that include traveling for work, Lappe is majoring in international business with a finance concentration at the Carson College of Business. He took his first extended trip out of the country through WSU’s First-Generation Abroad program last summer, spending four weeks in Spain.

“Growing up in a town of 36 people, the idea of traveling to Europe seemed like a distant dream,” says Lappe, a junior. “Studying in Spain taught me so much about other cultures. Not only did I meet new people and see beautiful scenery, I learned a lot about myself and what I want out of life.”

Removing barriers

First-Gen Abroad helps remove barriers to overseas study for first-generation college students. Donations from WSU alumni subsidize students’ travel costs. They also take a 1-credit course that covers what to expect in their host country, cultural values and bias, how to get a passport, and what to pack.

Lappe says he appreciated having a class tailored to first-gen needs.

“As first-generation college students, our concerns are usually a lot different than other students,” he says. “Most of us are low-income. No one really knows how to use financial aid for study abroad or take out a loan, so having an advisor to walk us through the process was helpful.”

Lappe also enjoyed spending time with a cohort of other first-gen students. In high school, he often felt like he was preparing for college alone, relying on what his friends’ parents were telling them.

“Being first-gen, we were all in the same boat,” he says. “It was nice to be with people who could relate to that experience, whether it was troubles with school or not having your parents to assist you with your college career. Not because they don’t want to, but because they’ve never experienced college.”

Spanish history and culture

In Spain, Lappe lived with a host family in Seville, a metro area of 1.5 million known for its history, architecture, and flamenco dancing. His classes, designed to meet WSU core requirements, focused on Spain’s post-civil war history and popular culture.

One of his class assignments was to visit a pub multiple times to get acquainted with the employees. He wrote an essay about contrasting cultural norms.

Carson College alumni Gary Schneidmiller (’71 Busi., ’73 MA Agribusi. Econ.) and Chris Navan (’13 Intl. Busi., ’14 MBA) made generous contributions to 2022 First-Gen Abroad to help defray student costs for the program.

“American-style pleasantries and small talk aren’t as common in Spain,” Lappe says. “You don’t hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as much. People are more abrupt, which can come across as rude to Americans.”

That’s also true in eating and drinking establishments, where servers don’t work on tips. “They aren’t constantly asking you how your food is,” he says. “If you need something, you ask them.”

But after several visits, Lappe says the staff warmed up, and he started to feel like a local in the neighborhood pub. “It was cool to see how much more personable they were as they got to know you.”

Students also explored Seville’s history and culture with visits to museums and even a flamenco workshop. “It was like a beautiful chaos,” Lappe says of the Spanish dance form.

Spain’s afternoon break also made an impression on him. During the hottest part of the day, offices and stores closed while workers took an extended lunch break and nap. “It was time you spent with family and friends,” he says.

Traveling solo

After his time in Spain, Lappe traveled solo in Europe for a couple of weeks before ending up in England, where he joined a WSU friend.

“It was a difficult decision to go off on my own, but I knew it would force me out of my comfort zone and make me a lot more independent,” he says. “I’d really have to talk to people.”

Language barriers were a challenge, Lappe says. “You didn’t know if people spoke English, and you didn’t want to come across as rude by expecting everyone to speak English.”

But engaging strangers in conversations was also rewarding. “The simple question, ‘Where are you from?’ can lead to such long conversations,” Lappe says.

During spring semester, Lappe will take business classes at the University of Liverpool for his international business major. First-Gen Abroad was a good introduction to overseas study, he says.

“It affirmed my decision that this is what I want to go into,” Lappe says. “I love being in an airport, going someplace new, and meeting new people. That really, really appeals to me.”