Each week we will be featuring interviews with ISA staff members as part of our 25th Anniversary. This week we’re talking to Carmen Abanades Cruz, Resident Director for ISA in Salamanca, Spain. Carmen has been with ISA since 2001.
What do you do here at ISA?
My position in the company is ISA Resident Director in Salamanca, Spain. There are seven of us here, and I oversee day-to-day operation of the office.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you came to work for ISA as Resident Director in Salamanca. Did you study abroad? If so, please elaborate.
Although I am originally from Cuenca, I moved to Salamanca in 1994 to study Art History at the University of Salamanca. After that, I worked in the Cursos Internacionales department at the university for a couple of summers. Those collaborations were very useful in my experience and knowledge with foreign students. I was familiar with ISA , as I had occasionally worked for ISA while doing my Ph.D., and joined full-time in 2001. I worked in the ISA Salamanca Office for the next several years, and spent a few months working at ISA Headquarters in Austin in 2005. I continued on in Salamanca until 2007, year when I moved to the north of Spain to work as ISA Santander Resident Director, where I had the opportunity to work at the opening of our programs in Bilbao and in San Sebastián. Finally, I returned to Salamanca as Resident Director where I am today.
As you know, Salamanca is ISA’s flagship program location. Why do you think ISA chose Salamanca as the site of the first program back in 1987?
Undoubtedly, Salamanca is one of the best cities in Spain to learn Spanish. There is a certain prestige and tradition that has over the centuries developed around the university. In fact, many of the professionals who have developed a methodology for teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, work in this university. Moreover, due to its location in the Castilla y Leon community, the castellano spoken here is considered to be one of the “most correct” in the country. Salamanca is a medium-sized city, so it is really easy to encompass the city and you can walk everywhere without problems. At the same time, it is a very dynamic city since thousand of students come here each year and the cultural offering is huge, and all this makes Salamanca the perfect young city. As an Art Historian, I cannot stop saying how wonderful it is to walk around this city discovering works of art at every step along the way.
Semester after semester, you consistently receive extremely positive evaluations from ISA Salamanca students – perhaps more so than any other ISA site. What are you doing right?
There is no secret. If you dedicate yourself to this work it is because you love working with students, teaching them your culture, your language. I love my job, and the best reward is every time a student returns to the U.S. after study abroad and says that something changed his/her life.
You’re actually a graduate of the University of Salamanca, and later worked at the university. How does this experience help you to guide your students to successful semesters?
I’m able to explain to ISA students what the University of Salamanca is expecting of them and help them be successful academically. At the same time, my many years of experience working with American students has informed me so much more about our students’ needs, and about home universities. One of my most important duties as Resident Director is helping students identify what their goals are for studying abroad, and to help achieve them.
How has study abroad in Salamanca evolved over the past 25 years? What changes have been made to accommodate more international students?
Undoubtedly the ISA Salamanca changed quite a bit since 1987. I always like to say that ISA is “alive,” and constantly changing. The world changes, as do the needs and preferences of U.S. students (and universities do as well), and at ISA everyone collaborates to adapt to changing times.
ISA Salamanca recently expanded to include volunteer and internship placements through ELAP. Tell us a little bit about ELAP, and the role you think experiential learning has in study abroad.
We realized a few years ago that many of our students were interested not only in attending classes, but also have the opportunity to pursue an internship as well – and in different areas. We signed an agreement with the Salamanca City Hall whereby our students have internships in education, economy, music, tourism, social work, etc. We think that these internships can complement the experience abroad for our students and they also can be much better prepared for their future employment. They also can transfer credits for some of these internships once they return to the U.S.
What about your program are you most proud of?
As I said before, every time a student comes back from being abroad and says that something changed their life. I am not necessarily proud but satisfied when a student achieves his or her goals. Not to mention, I can’t say enough how lucky I am to be working with a great team both her in Spain and at ISA Headquarters in Austin.
Tell us a little known fact about yourself.
Well, it may not be “little-known,” but I like learning, participate in new projects, etc. I love reading, traveling, watching movies, or spending time with my friends in my spare time.
Finally, what do you like about working for ISA?
It is not an easy answer because working in ISA covers a wide range of different functions, duties and responsibilities. I am lucky to work in such a complete program. Anyway, if I had to choose one single thing, it certainly would the daily interaction with the students.