Each week we will be featuring interviews with ISA staff members as part of our 25th Anniversary. This week we’re talking to Rachel Rogers, Program Manager for Argentina, Costa Rica and Peru. Rachel has been with ISA since 2005.
What do you do here at ISA?
I’m in my 7th year at ISA! Currently, I am the Program Manager for a couple of our Latin America sites. I process applications, forms and payment. I love it because I’m very detailed-oriented, and I like working with students to ensure they have completed all their steps to be able to study abroad. I love being a part of these programs because I have had wonderful experiences in all three locations, and I love working with our staff abroad.
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.
As a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, I felt inspired to study abroad for my field, Anthropology. I decided to participate in an archaeological dig through my university to receive upper division credits towards my major. The summer of my junior year I traveled to the jungles of Belize, where I spent a month doing archaeological field work. After this experience, I knew that I wanted more! I joined the U.S. Peace Corps after college, and my assignment led me to northern Peru. I spent two years as a health volunteer working with my community on various projects including vegetable gardens, leadership opportunity for youth, health talks for pregnant and nursing women, and working with my counterparts to determine in what ways to benefit the community as a whole. I then spent my entire second year working with a nearby village to build latrines for their community. Having had these experiences in Peru, I knew that I wanted to work for a company where I could empower others to have similar experiences.
What was the most challenging aspect of being a Peace Corps volunteer? The most rewarding?
I think the most challenging aspect was finding my niche and developing my Spanish to the extent where I could work with the community. I remember spending hours in my room studying Spanish, and then practicing it with my Peruvian housemate. It wanted to break me a few times, but I got through it! The most rewarding aspect would have to be the moment after I had worked on a latrine building project for almost a year. I was walking along a mountain with my counterpart to attend the inauguration ceremony for the community where we helped to build 47 latrines. I knew in that moment that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and it felt incredible seeing how I had made a difference in an entire community’s life, and how much of an impact they had on my own life.
As a Program Manager for Peru, Argentina and Costa Rica, your students are able to take advantage of opportunities through ELAP (Experiential Learning Abroad Programs), ISA’s service learning and intern division. Why do you think experiential learning is so important?
I think that every student should have this experience! Experiential learning is going out in the community and learning by doing. It’s so important to add this component to studying abroad, especially if you want to immerse yourself in the language and in the culture, and really get a feel for what it’s like to be a part of the community. You learn so much more than just sitting in a classroom, and you really learn the most about yourself!
You work with ISA students going to Peru, Argentina and Costa Rica. What’s the role of a Program Manager in shaping a student’s study abroad experience?
I try to make everything as seamless as possible. Sometimes this means that I have be hard on students so that everything is in on time, but mostly I’m just here to help them in any way that I can. I view my role as being the person that students can turn to when they need help, and I pretty much go out of my way to help them in any way possible. I feel fortunate that I’m in this position, because I’m not sure that every person would look at this job in the same way.
I understand you returned to Peru last year to hike the Inca Trail. Tell us a little bit about what that was like – and how it felt to be back in Peru.
Every time that I’m back in Peru it somehow feels like I have never left, but there are so many wonderful and new additions each time I go back, and they are always positive. But, I love being back in Peru! I enjoy speaking Spanish, and it feels incredible knowing so much about another culture that it feels like a second home. I knew that I wanted to hike the Inca Trail ever since I visited Machu Picchu for the first time in 2004. Eight years later it felt incredible to return with my husband and accomplish something that we both wanted to do. The actual hiking of the Inca Trail was not easy! Day one we decided to carry everything on our backs including 5 lbs of water each, so the easiest day became the hardest day. Day two we had the help of a porter which was very fortunate because we hiked 6 hours (1000 meters) up the mountain, to the highest point of the Inca Trail, called Dead Women’s pass at 4200 meters or 13,000 ft. When we descended upon Machu Picchu on day 4, it was an unreal experience; a lifelong journey that we completed together. It felt incredible! There really are no words. It was definitely the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I followed my heart in every aspect of my journey. Without these decisions I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I feel very blessed. I am welcoming my first child at the end of this year, and I couldn’t feel more proud of my decisions in life that brought me to this point.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to exercise, or go outdoors and get some fresh air. Living in Austin, there are so many wonderful hiking trails and other ways to be outdoorsy.
Finally, what do you like about working for ISA?
I really like the environment and the people here. It makes coming in to work fun. There’s always something exciting happening! I also love being able to be a resource for students who are yet to have these experiences. It feels great knowing that they are about to have an amazing and life-changing experience abroad like I did.