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AIFS Study Abroad
Programs and Reviews
Since 1964, over 1.5 million students have traveled abroad with AIFS. With more than 45 years of experience, we have the resources and experience to provide what our students want and need in a study abroad program, and to safeguard their welfare around the globe. Our program fee is all-inclusive, making it simple for you to study abroad and experience all that the world has to offer.
Programs are available in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, as well as multi-country programs. AIFS offers Gap Year programs, along with internships and volunteer opportunities abroad. With locations throughout the world, AIFS College Study Abroad is able to offers high-quality, college-level courses in subject areas as diverse as Islamic Studies, French Cinema, business and engineering.
Program: AIFS Study Abroad in Florence, Italy
What position do you hold at AIFS? What has been your career path so far?
Rosanna: My role with AIFS is that of Resident Director of the Rome Programme. I have been in this position since 2001. I started my collaboration with AIFS, totally by chance, in the early 90s'. I was living in Florence at the time and I was a teacher of Italian Language L2. I left a copy of my CV at the AIFS office and the moment I stepped in they were desperately looking for someone available to accompany the students on a day trip the next day. They asked if I would be availabe and I accepted, so that's how I started.
After that daytrip I got a summer job working in the office and helping with social & cultural activities. One day the cook was sick and no one was availbe to substitute her, so I brought the students to my place and taught them how to make spaghetti al pesto and bruschette al pomodoro. t was so much fun! After that I finally got to teach Italian language classes. But it didn't last long as the following year they asked me to work in the library. In 1995 I was hired with a full time contract as Coordinator of Social and Cultural Activies and Director of the Summer School, Volunteer and Internship Programs.
Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Rosanna: I studied abroad several times for periods of different lenghts in the UK, France and Spain. My first experience was in London, I was 16yrs old and had not travelled anywhere without my family before.That summer provided me with the most empowering and life changing experience of my adult life. I was the single child of two teachers, grown up in a small town in the mountains with a very traditional education. Studying abroad in London was the trigger of a never ending appetite for new challenges, ideas, comparisons. The taste of freedom, first of all. The excitement of making new friendships, discover different ways of living, eating, dressing and being able to go back home and bring a all this richness with me!
Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?
Rosanna: Language is the key to understand a culture. Learning a second language means acquiring a second way of thinking, a second way of living. Words shape reality, it is only when we are able to name feelings, objects, impressions that we know them. How can you translate the Italian "bella figura" without acquiring an understanding of the Italian obsessions and idiosyncacies for appereance and form. And how could one live, do business, socialize successfully in Italy without being familiar with these words and concepts?
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
Rosanna: The best story I have to share is about an Italian family that was looking for an American student to tutor their daughter - a teenager in open conflict with school. It's an Italian family with strong catholic, conservative values. I ask around and post a note on the bulletin board and the only student interested is a tall, big guy, with tatooes and piercing like a rock star. I deem the match impossible and tell them both no. But the family insists and the student is so eager to take advantage of the opportunity, that I give up, introduce each other and let things go. I go on vacation, and just before leaving my student tells me that he's going on vacation with the family for a month in southern Italy. I have nightmares the entire summer and feel responsible for all sorts of threats for the little fragile naive teenager girl. Until Fall semester starts and I discover that the big American guy and the little teenager with her Italian family have had a great summer together. The girl retook and passed succesfully her English exams, her schoolmates stopped mocking her and a long lasting friendship was born and still continues via skype.
What does your home-country's culture value that is taught in your program?
Rosanna: Students in our program learn to appreciate and include beauty in their everyday life. They get used at the incomparable pleasure of living among masterpieces of art and architecture that time has gently harmonized, layer over layer, century after century. They learn that it is possible to reach a destination walking through many different paths, and they also learn that sometimes it is not waste of time to stop, and change direction, and look up. As by doing so they discover new jewels, new perspectives on landscapes or skylines and see the same city under a different hue, or a different perspective.
How do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?
Marketa: Cultures around the world are more interconnected than ever before and this includes students who are studying abroad. Over the next ten years the study abroad industry will continue to expand; students will come from an even greater range of countries and will chose to study in an expanding range of destinations. Students choose to go abroad for many reasons; some want to improve language skills, while others want to completely immerse themselves in another culture. In the future the numbers of students looking for a more specialized experience, which directly relates to their field of study or future career, will increase.
Which study abroad destination is most underrated?
Marketa: "You get out of it what you put into it," the saying goes. This is holds true in study abroad, and so whether a study abroad experience is overrated or underrated lies completely with the student! The most important thing is for students to identify their expectations and choose a destination as well as a program that promises to best meet them. For those who wish to experience complete cultural immersion and are willing to forgo domestic familiarities, Asia, the Middle East and Africa have a lot to offer. The traditional European destinations still have plenty cultural diversity, but one may have to get away from the beaten path a bit to experience complete immersion. Prague is unique because one can access the best of both; there is plenty of western comfort as well as the opportunity for complete immersion, provided one can speak the language.
Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?
Marketa: If the eyes are the windows into one's soul, then language is the window into a culture. There are two reasons for learning the local language. First, it's crucial if one wants to obtain more than a superficial understanding of the culture; often it is the phrases and concepts that cannot be translated well into one's native language that provide the most insight into the foreign culture! The second reason is much more practical and self serving; people need to be able to understand and interact with the world around them in order to maintain their independence. Spending an extended period of time in a country where one has to rely on others for simple, daily tasks can knock one's confidence and in even lead to depression. The sense of accomplishment one gets by mastering the day to day task in a foreign culture is very valuable.
What changes would you make to the study abroad industry?
Marketa: As more students from more countries than ever before are choosing to study abroad, a wealth of exciting opportunities exist for universities as well as for study abroad providers to expand, diversify, and specialize their programs. Students may require more from their program beyond a cultural immersion, which is already a valuable experience on its own. However more options in location, field of study, possibilities to study with a greater variety of other nationalities, as well as experiences students can use in their later professional careers allows students to be more selective.
Andrew recently "sat down" with Paul Watson from AIFS Study Abroad to learn more about this great organization. Paul has been working in international education for over 24 years and we're excited to share some of his expertise with our community.
Let's start with a brief introduction. What is your position at AIFS and what has been your career path so far?
Paul Watson: My position is Senior Vice President and Executive Director of AIFS Study Abroad. I have been in this position for almost six years. Prior to coming to AIFS for 18 years I was Director of Enrollment Management at the Institute for Shipboard Education, which operates the Semester at Sea program. I began my career working at the University of Pittsburgh in Student Registration and Financial Services. So, my career has been exclusively in higher education, and obviously international education/study abroad.
Did you study abroad? If so, where and what impact did this have on your personal and/or professional development?
Paul: I did. I studied abroad for a year in Kobe, Japan. It had a profound impact on my personal and professional development. It was no doubt the most academically rewarding experience of my undergraduate education, and it led me to ultimately choose international higher education as a career. I went there to study Japanese language and business, thinking it would lead to me to international banking or business of some kind, but I quickly realized how much I enjoyed being involved in higher education.
AIFS was founded in 1964 making it one of the oldest study abroad organizations in the world. How has AIFS evolved from its early beginnings and how do you stay relevant in an increasingly competitive industry?
Paul: Having only been part of AIFS for a short period in its history I have not witnessed firsthando its evolution. However, I think the organization first and foremost has stayed true to its core principles: To offer the highest quality academic and experiential programs, proving students with everything they need in order to maximize the learning opportunity that study abroad affords. AIFS has continued to offer strong programming in the traditional study abroad destinations, while at the same time have expanded program offerings to meet the needs of students looking to opportunities outside the more traditional locations. I believe we have sought to meet the changing needs of our partner institutions in the US who are very involved in the administration of study abroad on their respective campuses.
At Go Overseas we're all about reviews. On what basis do you think study abroad programs should be assessed to properly reflect their overall value?
Paul: Not an easy question. There are many things that can be considered. Being tried and true - having a long history of successful delivery of study abroad programming, should be considered. Wide acceptance by colleges and universities is a factor as well. AIFS has over 300 affiliated institutions and additionally receive students from many more schools. The reputation of an organizations partners abroad and the quality of the programs offered are important. Experience and level of service provided by on site staff (Resident Directors) is key. Student satisfaction; parent satisfaction; What is included in the program/fee are valid metrics. Price can be misleading. A lower priced program may not actually turn out to be a lower cost program for the student depending on what out of pocket expenses they have to incur. The level and quality of support that is provided to students applying to and preparing for study abroad is a factor as well.
What do students look for in a study abroad program these days and how does AIFS address these needs?
Paul: Students have diverse interests and needs and not all are looking for the same thing. We focus on high quality academic experiences; all inclusive programming; high level student/customer support; health and safety.
How many students does AIFS send abroad each year? Which destination is the most popular?
Paul: Upwards of 5000 including our customized, faculty-led programming. Europe continues to draw the most with Italy and the UK attracting larger groups than other destinations. However, programs in Russia, Czech Republic, South Africa and India, among others, which offer something a little different, are growing as well.
What does the future hold for AIFS?
Paul: We will continue to look for new opportunities destinations and academic programming that help to draw students from diverse interests and majors to study abroad. Hopefully study abroad will continue to grow. It remains the exception rather than the norm with only a small percentage of students deciding to include a study abroad experience as a part of their undergraduate education. In an increasingly interdependent world, students need to have the skills to thrive in a global environment. Study abroad is one way to help develop those skills.
Famous last words?
Paul: Not mine, but attributed to Mark Twain. As I said above, study abroad is one of the things that many students intend to do but for myriad reasons most ultimately do not.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.
In my view, there will never be a better time for a young person to experience the world, and study abroad will have a lasting and often life-changing impact.