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Programs and Reviews
Their Roots: IES Abroad was co-founded by Paul Koutny, an Austrian student who had moved to the US on a Fulbright scholarship in 1950. While there, he envisioned a future built on a peace that grew from the lessons learned while studying abroad. He rallied 21 other friends and the crew hopped on the SS Volendam headed for a year of studies in Vienna. Feeling inspired by their own experience in Austria, IES Abroad alums Clarence and Alberta Giese immediately began helping send future groups of students abroad. Before they knew it, 60 years had passed, and IES Abroad remains a longstanding and exemplary study abroad option for students today.
Their Quest: "IES Abroad strives to provide premier study abroad programs for U.S. students that deliver the highest quality education while simultaneously promoting development of intercultural competence."
Program: IES Abroad - Study in Rome, Italy
What position do you hold at IES Abroad and what has been your career path?
Michael: I am the Associate Vice President for College Relations. I knew I wanted to work in the field of study abroad from the day I returned from my first study abroad experience. It took me a few years to get into the field. I started out working in college admissions and enjoyed that. Eventually I did some international admissions work, then went to grad school at the Monterey Institute. Right out of grad school, I worked in business development for IIE in their San Francisco office. All of this led to my work with IES Abroad and I've been here nearly 11 years.
Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Michael: I spent my junior year at Aberdeen University in Scotland on a program through the Great Lakes Colleges Association. It was a direct enrollment program that required you to be there for a full year. I truly loved it. I don't think one particular thing inspired me to go.
As a kid I was always fascinated by far away things, starting with the kids on the other side of town. That fascination grew to make me want to know about people on the other side of the planet. My family heritage goes back to Scotland so I targeted it as my first international experience. I had a second study abroad experience in graduate school where I spent a summer studying and working in Russia.
What is a setback for students, and how can they overcome it?
Michael: Money seems to be the biggest challenge for students. I think that can in some ways be overcome when they select an undergraduate institution. They should carefully explore study abroad options and try to understand the financial support a school will provide when they study abroad. Many schools have generous financial aid policies that really incentivize going abroad.
Describe a situation where you felt proud to be a part of the IES team.
Michael: The folks at IES Abroad are all thoughtful and hard-working people. They are truly student focused and our decision making is based on high academic standards and a commitment to the health and well-being of students. One of the things I am most proud of about working here is the way we handle crisis. I am a member of the crisis management team and over the years we have been tested by international events such as earthquakes, flu viruses, and nuclear accidents. When called on - the team responds with thoughtful decision making and execution of our plan that always puts students' safety and well-being first, along with constant communication to parents and to schools. This is a result of good preparation and communication.
What is the biggest struggle facing the study abroad industry today?
Michael: I think study abroad faces the same struggle that higher education in general faces - the cost of attendance. The cost of higher education has grown faster than the rate of inflation for years and that is a problem for our society. IES Abroad has worked hard to be able to provide high quality, academically rigorous, study abroad programming at a cost that delivers value to students and the schools that send them on our programming. We've also developed customized programming for schools that want to provide shorter term programming in order to make study abroad accessible to a broad range of students.
We had the chance to chat with Amy Ruhter McMillan, the Assistant VP of Marketing for IES Abroad. A fellow Valpo alum (Go Crusaders!), we chatted over our shared experiences in undergrad study abroad - she, while originally planning to study abroad in southern Africa, changed her mind last minute to instead participate in the Cambridge program (while I did the exact opposite!).
What separates IES Abroad from other study abroad program providers?
Amy: One of the biggest things that sets us apart is our non-profit status. Our focus is not about making money but instead to provide top quality, life-changing study abroad programs to students. IES Abroad is also extremely dedicated to students' safety while overseas - many organizations have used our Crisis Management Plan as a model for their own, especially after our response to the 9/11 tragedy, where we quickly executed our plan and prioritized communication with our students and their families, as well as the students' schools. We always want our students to feel taken care of.
What does the future hold for IES Abroad? Any exciting new programs to share?
Amy: In the fall of 2012, we're excited to launch our first program in Central America. In this Costa Rica program, classes will focus on social and environmental change in the region, and will be a perfect fit for those looking to complement their Spanish studies. Or, if students prefer to primarily focus on improving their language skills, Costa Rica will also have a Spanish immersion program.
We are also offering a new comparative health program in London and Oxford. After learning about socialized medicine from a British perspective for the semester, students will cap off their trip with a week long seminar in Jamaica, allowing them to examine first-hand these very different approaches to medicine.
What about the future of the industry? How do you think international education will change over the next 10 years?
Amy: This is a tough question to answer given the economic situation of the country. On one hand, I find that students are thinking more and more about the world we live in, but on the other, students are having trouble financing their schooling in general. College education is already a luxury and being able to study abroad is a luxury of that luxury. The desire is there but the reality is what people can and cannot afford.
But if there's a will there's a way -- while study abroad can be costly, many financial aid options and scholarships exist specifically for these experiences. At IES Abroad alone, we offer over 2.5 million dollars to students in an effort to defray their costs.
A recent report suggested that up to 50% of incoming freshman intended to study abroad during college, but the reality is only 3% actually do. What's going on here?
Amy: This is a topic we are constantly discussing. A lot of students work very hard to be able to go to college; they arrive, they meet their friends, get involved with activities, create comfort zones, and then never want to leave! Students hear of those "life changing experiences" overseas, but how do you speak to that student who never even thought study abroad was possible for them?
We've recently launched a marketing campaign called [Redefined], which aims to better showcase that that "life changing experience" is real, relevant, and possible for a typical student's academic experience. Picture your walk to class, but [redefined] -- instead of relying on your old tennis shoes, why not ride a camel? Why eat another meal in your dinky cafeteria, when it can be [redefined] to a small, French bakery you thought only existed in the movies?
Amy seemed very excited when discussing the opportunities available for students even after they've returned from an IES Abroad program. To continue their overseas experience, students can serve as volunteer ambassadors for the organization and speak with prospective students - there are currently over 700 IES Abroad ambassadors. "There's no better voice for what we do than people who can speak first hand about their study abroad experiences."
No matter what your economic situation is, where you're from, or what you believe, you deserve to study abroad.