Each week we will be featuring interviews with ISA staff members as part of our 25th Anniversary. This week we’re talking to Raquel Ramírez Cervera, Spain-U.S. Liaison for University Relations. Raquel has been with ISA since 2002.
What do you do here at ISA?
I am the University Relations Representative for NAFSA Region VIII (Virginia, West Virginia, DC, Delaware and Maryland). I have just completed my M.A. in Public Relations and Communication from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB) in Spain. Additionally, ISA is giving me the opportunity to put in practice what I have learned, as I have most recently become part of the Communications department.
What’s your study abroad story? Tell us a little about your background and the path that led you into international education and, more specifically, to work for ISA.
I have always been in love with the English language. When I was 20, I went to London for a month. When I was 21, I spent a month with some friends in upstate New York. That is when my accent changed noticeably! With my degree in English Language and Literature, it was kind of expected that I’d teach – and so I did for a couple of years. But I really wanted a more stimulating job that would put me in closer contact with people and the English language. ISA met all those requirements.
Given your experience as Resident Director, you bring a unique perspective to ISA’s University Relations team. How has your time leading ISA programs in Málaga influenced the way you approach your current position?
When advising students – whether at a table, at a fair, over the phone – I put a lot of emphasis in assuring them that ISA will go out of its way to make sure they have the best time. Because I have seen first hand what we do. Also, I can’t help but being a little biased towards such an amazing city and like to steer students towards ISA Málaga.
Spain is the third-most popular study abroad destination for U.S. students according to Open Doors – and continues to grow. What trends in Spain have you observed over the years?
Definitely Barcelona has become very popular in recent years, which I think is kind of a mixed bag. It is a great city, but Spain has so much more to offer and I hope in the future other cities like Valencia and Bilbao become more popular. The variety of programs and cities that ISA has to offer is incredible, and Spanish culture is so different all over the country
ISA started out in the college town of Salamanca, but with 10 cities and over 60 full-time Resident Staff in Spain alone, we’ve certainly spread our wings. What’s the secret behind ISA’s success in Spain? What are we doing right?
Salamanca was a great model from which to follow. I would bet it has something to do with having the Eguilúz brothers in that country! Also, many Spanish universities already offered the necessary infrastructure to cater to demand from foreigners. In many cases, we are talking about a division within the university devoted to the teaching of Spanish for foreigners.
Having been with ISA for almost 10 years now, you’ve witnessed a lot of changes – on both sides of the Atlantic. How has ISA as an organization changed in that time?
We have grown so much! It is amazing how far we’ve come. Yet the dedication to the student remains the same. The capacity to put ourselves into the student’s shoes to understand where they come from and help them the best way possible.
What do you miss most about being a Resident Director?
I miss seeing students fall in love with my country. To see a monument for the thirtieth time, and feel like it is the first by watching my students. I miss seeing them grow, change, mature and leave as a completely different person.
Málaga is a great location to study abroad. As opposed to Barcelona or Sevilla, Málaga is not that popular in the States yet, which of course means that there are far fewer American students in my city than other places in Spain. I would add the size of the city and how comfortable it is to move around, the amazing climate and food, and obviously, the welcoming Malagueños!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Even though I travel a lot for work, I love to travel in my free time. To be a foreigner and learn about new cultures, meet new people, languages, food and new sights is priceless. I love good food and wine shared with family and friends. And to laugh as hard as I can!
Finally, what do you like about working for ISA?
I love that my colleagues all have international experience of some sort, and intuitively understand how much study abroad can change your life. As a foreigner myself here in the States, it does help a lot to share the work space with people that can understand cultural differences.