Guest Post: Why I Chose to Study Abroad with International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Blakely Grimm is a student at Louisiana State University and an ISA Alumni Guest Blogger. Blakely studied abroad with ISA Salamanca in Spring 2012. This post originally appeared on her blog La Visa Española and is being republished with permission.

study abroad spain 1
Blakely with ISA Salamanca Resident Directors Carmen, Bea, Sofia and Roberto.

It’s been 18 days since I left Spain, so that makes me an authority on all things study abroad related, right? After all, I am an alumni which makes me sound fancy and sophisticated. Okay, maybe not, but I do know a lot more about study abroad than I did five months ago! Before I studied abroad, I was a mess of uncertainty and did endless amount of research blog stalking to make sure that I picked the right country, city, and program for my experience. I am certain that my decision would have been 100 times harder if I didn’t have the internet. How did our parents survive?! To pay it forward, I decided to provide some information that will hopefully help someone out there who is as desperate as I was. So here it is…. why should YOU study abroad with International Studies Abroad (ISA)?

Beach volleyball with ISA.

1. The Staff
Not only is the site staff incredible, but everyone on the staff at headquarters in Austin is incredibly amazing, talented, smart, wonderful, and patient. I am almost positive that I called Lindsey Wineholt once a day, and had Martha Ledesma as my back up when Lindsey wasn’t available (which was almost never, by the way). To say that I had a lot of issues before departure is an understatement. I had problems obtaining my Visa*, I had to switch my program at the last second, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was my Spanish even good enough to survive Salamanca? There wasn’t a problem that the ISA staff couldn’t solve. I’m pretty sure that they are all headed for sainthood.

I love my ISA friends.

2. The Support
There’s probably nothing scarier than going to a country with a completely different language and culture, and if you’re like me… going alone. Upon arrival to your new host country, ISA greets you at the airport with smiles, hugs, kisses (on the cheek….it’s the culture!), and open arms. I remember grabbing my luggage and walking out the sliding glass doors at Madrid-Barajas Airport and thinking, “okay, now what?”. Two seconds later I saw the smiling faces of Theresa and Rodrigo who bounded over to me (after seeing my confused face, I’m sure) and said, “Are you looking for ISA?”  They immediately introduced themselves and showed me the way to the buses where I met the other ISA kids. I made friends instantly and immediately felt comfortable. In Salamanca, I always had the ISA Office to go to when I needed a printer, a quiet place to study, somewhere to hang out in between classes, questions that needed to be answered, etc. I never felt too alone or lost because I always had the support of ISA. Sidenote: Also, before departure ISA will send you multiple packets with more information than you’ll ever need to know in your entire life. Seriously, I promise that you won’t have any questions after reading that packet. It’s incredibly detailed and tells you absolutely everything that you need to know. I printed it out and read it like five times… maybe a little excessive.

3. The History
ISA has been around for over 25 years, so they’ve had a lot of time to sort out anything that could potentially go wrong. I promise you that once you are accepted into the program, you are in safe hands. They are extremely concerned with the student’s safety and take all the necessary precautions. The site staff gives everyone a card with all of their phone numbers and emergency contacts, and will be there for you at any time of day if needed. When you go on excursions with ISA (we went to Madrid, Toledo, El Escorial, Lisbon, Sevilla, Granada, and Segovia), everything is planned out and extremely organized. The whole program is run very efficiently and professionally.

4. Activities
ISA plans activities for their students ranging from beach volleyball matches, intercambios, soccer games, cooking classes, free tours of museums and movie nights (with peanut butter! a rarity in Europe). They can also set up a volunteering job for you during your stay which is a great way to culturally immerse yourself and give back to the country that’s hosting you!

5. Friends
Without ISA, I wouldn’t have met some of the people who I now call my best friends. They live all over the United States, but we still keep in touch and I know that whenever I visit Colorado, California, Tennessee, Utah, Arizona, etc. I’ll have a place to stay. I wouldn’t have been able to meet these people if it weren’t for ISA, and I am eternally grateful that this experience brought us together.

Okay, enough with the sappiness… I’m sure you can all tell that ISA really helped make my study abroad experience worthwhile, and if I had to do it all over again I would still choose ISA. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me! I’d love to help.

*ISA does this GREAT thing where you can pay $100 and they will get your Visa for you. I chose to opt out of that and soon regretted my decision. Did you know that consulates are the number one cause of headaches and high blood pressure in the United States?