Each week we will be featuring interviews with ISA staff members as part of our 25th Anniversary. This week we’re talking to Jennifer Acosta, Executive Vice President of Enrollment Management. Jennifer has been with ISA since 1996.
What do you do here at ISA?
As Executive Vice President of Enrollment Management, I oversee Admissions at ISA. I work with a team of nine Program Managers, and each Program Manager is in charge of the day-to-day management of anywhere between 1-6 ISA programs. We work closely with the Site Specialists to serve as a resource to students before they study abroad. In addition to this and my duties on the Executive Management team, I manage ISA’s Barcelona program. Last year over 6,000 students studied abroad with ISA, so I keep pretty busy!
What’s your study abroad story? Tell us about your international experiences, and how you came to ISA.
I studied abroad in Mexico City and in Sevilla, Spain, and fell in love with the Spanish language. I started working at ISA while I was finishing my Master’s [in teaching Spanish]. After a short while working in the Austin office, I was sent to Sevilla to help out with our first Customized Program and that is when I met [Executive Vice President of European Operations] Chicho Eguilúz Pacheco for the first time. It was an incredibly busy and intense month, but I have so many wonderful memories from it.
ISA has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 25 years. What are we doing right?
Customer service. Parents, students and study abroad advisors know that their students are in good hands with ISA. We receive so many resumes from former students who want to work for ISA. To me, that is evidence of a great organization.
Barcelona is ISA’s largest and most popular program today, but that wasn’t always the case. How has student demand changed over the years – specifically with regard to our programs in Spain?
Students today are savvier and, yes, more demanding than they were 10-15 years ago. They now expect their study abroad to have all of the comforts of home, and can sometimes be more resistant to adapting to the host culture and traditions. Students used to shy away from Barcelona because they were afraid of Catalan, and thought they wouldn’t learn Spanish. In 2000, ISA opened our program in Barcelona when it was still relatively under the radar. Today, of course, it’s very well-known as a study abroad destination. The reasons are obvious: its location makes it desirable for students hoping to see the rest of Europe, and its position on the coast makes it popular for summer terms. The city is a popular not only for it’s nightlife but has become a hotspot for foodies as well!
In what other ways has the field of international education changed in the past 15 years? What are today’s study abroad students looking for?
ISA’s oldest sites are located in Spain and Latin America, and started out as primarily Language and Culture programs. Most of our students were Spanish majors or minors. Since 2000, though, students have been looking more and more for what we call “content courses” taught in English. After 9/11, International Relations and International Studies became popular majors, and most of these students want to take their classes in English. Business classes have always been popular, but before we were only offering them in Spanish. Now many universities are requiring that Business majors, as well as International Relations and International Studies, study abroad. Additionally, ISA has I think done a good job responding to student demand by offering internships, service-learning and volunteer programs in addition to traditional study abroad.
How has ISA adapted to these changes?
We were no longer sending only foreign language majors abroad, and ISA had to adapt. We resisted this at first, as we didn’t want to negatively impact the students who were there to learn Spanish, but ultimately decided it was our job to create offer programs that would appeal to all types of students. We still work to strike the perfect balance of English vs. Spanish on-site. For example, we used to operate under a “Spanish-only” philosophy except in the case of emergency. For most sites, though, this is no longer practical. That said, we continue to have many Spanish majors and other foreign language students enrolled on ISA programs and almost all sites in Spain and Latin America offer both traditional “Language & Culture” tracks, as well as content courses taught in English. We do not want students who study abroad to learn Spanish or another foreign language have their experience diluted by their English-only peers. That is something I have to credit our Resident Staff with. Most of our Directors are veterans, and all are masters at setting up an environment conducive to all types of learning. Many of them will hold their meetings in both English and the language of the host country to ensure that all students get the most out of their time abroad. Another perhaps related change is the shift away from homestays. While a large majority of ISA participants continue to live with host families, more and more of our students today are opting for apartments, residencias or dormitories. Ten years ago there were no apartments and today we offer them in almost all ISA sites.
What do you like best about working in Admissions at ISA?
The constant flow of new students. We get to experience their awe and transformation firsthand. The thank you notes and emails from students and parents at the end of a semester make it very rewarding.
What’s your favorite place to travel? What’s the strangest/tastiest food you’ve enjoyed during your travels?
Italy is my favorite place to travel and cow brain my strangest food. I was in Spain and didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was delicious!