GoAbroad Interview: Amy Ruhter McMillan of IES Abroad

IES Abroad logoToday, GoAbroad features an interview with Amy Ruhter McMillan, Assistant Vice President of Marketing of Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad).

IES Abroad is one of the oldest, private study abroad organizations in the United States.  As a former study abroad advisor, I know IES Abroad has a reputation as a quality academic study abroad provider. So what makes IES Abroad different from other study abroad providers?

We are a not-for-profit organization, which means that first and foremost (and as clichéd as it may sound!), we believe in how life-changing study abroad can be.  Our mission is to offer premier study abroad programs that are accessible to all students—not to make a profit.

With more than 60 years of experience, we’ve also seen it all, which means we know how to keep our students safe, have long-standing relationships with top-notch faculty and universities around the world, and have local, knowledgeable staff on-site (some of our staff have worked for us for more than 30 years!) that are dedicated to our students, their well-being, and their study abroad experience.

Do you measure cultural competency?

Our CORE™ orientation program is designed to help students explore and understand new cultures, as well as to maximize personal growth during and after studying abroad.   Students set personal goals during orientation and revisit those goals at the end of their time abroad.

IES Abroad also conducts program evaluations that ask students about not only their academic experiences abroad, but also about their cultural gains. We use the results of these evaluations to continually improve and hone our programming.

Since 1975, we have also conducted in-depth program reviews that assess and measure the effectiveness of our programs, and cultural integration opportunities is an integral part of that review process.

How important is it?

Getting involved in the local cultural is a cornerstone of every IES Abroad program—everything we do is designed to provide students with the opportunity to learn and live in a new environment while offering them the tools they need to succeed.

Students consistently tell us that opportunities such as living with a family or participating in an internship really made them feel like part of the local community, and for them that was one of the most rewarding parts of studying abroad.

How do you send students to Spain and expect them to speak Spanish, let alone immerse themselves in the culture?

IES Abroad Spain locationSpain is one of our most popular study abroad destinations right now. We offer a variety of programs in Spain based primarily on language level—this helps students tremendously so that they are with peers who speak at the same level as them.  This also challenges students to take their language skills to the next level.  For near-native speakers, the opportunity to directly enroll or take courses at some of the most prestigious universities in Spain is an incredible opportunity.  We also offer programs with no language requirements for students who really want to immerse themselves in learning a new language.

Our staff members in Spain work hard throughout orientation, as well as during the semester, to give students the guidance they need to succeed speaking Spanish and living like a Spaniard.  Opportunities such as joining local university student clubs and sports teams, participating in internships, living with a family or local students, and field study trips around the host city and to nearby cities help students experience Spain first-hand with a cultural context.

IES Abroad is well-known for its programming in Asia—why are you considered a leader in Asia study abroad?

In 1986, IES Abroad opened our first Asian programs in Nagoya, Japan, and Singapore, followed closely by Tokyo and Beijing.   Long-term experience in Asia has helped us provide top notch programs in China, India, and Japan today.

Dedication to language acquisition has been especially important in Asian countries where the cultural differences are much easier to learn about and understand if you can speak the language.

Students have the option to live with a homestay family, participate in an internship, volunteer, and participate in language intensive programming, all of which are integral parts of our Asian programs.

IES Abroad spends plenty of energy and time on assessment, what do you want to know about your students?  Your programs?

We do spend a lot of time on assessment! Ultimately, we ask students about their experiences on our programs so that we can ensure they received not only a top-notch education while abroad, but also felt they achieved cultural integration and understanding.

All the feedback we receive from surveying our students, their parents, and students’ home schools is analyzed to make sure all aspects of our programs are running according to our strict standards, as set by the IES Abroad MAP ©(Model Assessment Practice).  Based on the feedback we receive, we are continually refining our programming to make it the best it can be.

In 2010, IES Abroad also received the prestigious Quality Improvement Process (QUIP 2A) designation from The Forum on Education Abroad, in which we were recognized for substantial conformity with the Forum’s Standards of Good Practice (the highest standards in the education abroad field). The recognition reflects the high priority IES Abroad places on continually improving every aspect of our study abroad programs and services.

Are your programs for Ivy Leagers only? What type of students do your programs attract?

90% of our students come from the nearly 200 U.S. colleges and universities (Tier-1 and Tier-2, public and private) that make up our academic consortium. In general, our programs have a 3.0 GPA requirement which sets the academic bar high.  This requirement helps us attract students that will excel at the prestigious international universities in which they might directly enroll or take a course, or in the IES Abroad courses taught by local faculty.

Through our Diversity Initiative, we’re also actively recruiting underrepresented students—students who are members of a social or ethnic minority, first generation college students, economically  needy students, those who identify  as GLBT, and/or who have a history of overcoming adversity.

Our vision is to make study abroad accessible to all students, and we’re fully committed to the representation and integration of diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas within our programs. This is also why we give out $2.5 million in financial aid and scholarships each year.

What is your most unique offering?IES Abroad location image

One of our newest programs is based on the island of San Cristobal in the Galápagos Islands and offers unique study topics in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Studies, Marine Ecology, and Sociology.

The fact that students can live and study on one of the Galápagos Islands (which are under strict tourism limits) is really remarkable!

What is the one thing a semester abroad student should bring with them?

An open mind!

What is the one thing they should leave at home?

Arriving with an open mind means leaving behind any preconceptions you might have about where you’re going and the people you’ll be meeting.

Students consistently tell us that what they thought they knew about  where they were going and what the local people would be like was not what they expected—in a good way!  Keeping an open mind, without any expectations, makes integrating into a new culture much easier.

I think the beauty of study abroad is that it would be really hard to find a student who would say that the experience didn’t somehow change his/her life. How remarkable is that?

You can find out more about all the IES Abroad Programs on GoAbroad.com!

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