What is your favorite travel memory?
My favorite travel memory with ECI is the day our group reunites after separating out for a week to stay with our host families. As we join back together to travel south, we all start to share our host family experiences! We all share our favorite memories and laugh about our most embarrassing language learning moments. And, we also realize just how much we had bonded as a group after having been apart for a week. Furthermore, I'm always impressed with how much the students' language abilities have improved after just one week of living with a host family.
Which destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?
I would say that Madrid is the most underrated as it seems to always stand in the shadow of Barcelona. However, after having lived in Madrid for almost two years and having the joy of taking our group to Madrid for four days every summer, most students agree with me that Madrid is absolutely spectacular! Every district has something different to offer and it's as if several small Spanish towns with cultural nuances are what make this city grand! I honestly can't say that any city in Spain is actually overrated! I believe that all cities deserve a visit and if they happen to be heavily rated, then that means that they will most likely get a few more visitors and there is nothing wrong with that!
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
For ECI, I believe that we have been successful by offering quality language and cultural activities, but also being flexible to our students' hopes and needs. Every summer we have ended up adjusting the activities in response to requests from the group. For example, last summer was very hot, so we added in several more pool, paddle boating, kayaking, and beach days. Our group also made friends with another study abroad group from Ireland, so we ended up planning a large soccer (football) match on a Sunday afternoon.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I have further deepened my connection and appreciation for the Spanish culture and for the US teen culture. Before working with ECI, I worked for another high school study abroad program in Spain for several years. So, after taking high school students to Spain for the past eight years I have learned what part of the culture the tend to enjoy and what parts that may be surprising. From these observations and conversations, I'm able to better support our students as they immerse themselves in the Spanish culture.
What unique qualities does your company possess?
ECI has high quality support and program structure. With a US leader, local leader, and incredible host family coordinator; the students receive full support for their safety, health, and well-being. Furthermore, the program is very well organized with high quality hotels/dorms, University accredited language courses, engaging cultural activities, and quality volunteer host families! Plus ECI is one of the most well-rounded study abroad programs I've seen in terms of locations, housing, activities and types of traveling. In Spain we go from a big city (Madrid), to a university town (Salamanca), to a northern beach city (San Sebastian), and then to some of the best Southern sites (Seville, Granada, and Nerja). We travel by planes, trains, buses, and metros and stay in hotels, dorms and Spanish homes. The students learn Spanish through language, dance, soccer, art, cooking, horseback, bullfighting lessons, language partner sessions, and living with a host family....talk about a full immersion! ECIs high school study abroad program is one of a kind!
Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of your current team.
I felt proud when one of students came back to travel with us for a second year in a row! This said a lot about how much she had gained from our program. Plus, she was so motivated to further improve her Spanish after the first summer that she came back almost completely fluent for the second summer! This reminded me just how much our program can further encourage students to take their Spanish to the next level.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
Recently one of our students reached out to us that is now in college. She had traveled on one of our France programs. Because of our trip she is now applying for study abroad program at her University and feels that ECI gave her the courage to continue traveling and enhancing her language skills! Other students have similar stories and some have gone back again to visit their host family a second time. These stories keep me going back to Spain every summer!