GoAbroad Interview

Antonio Villasenor - Diversity Relations Manager

Antonio Villasenor - Diversity Relations Manager

Antonio works closely with the marketing, recruiting, and advising teams of IES Abroad in his role as Diversity Relations Manager. He earned his bachelor's in international business and Spanish from St. Ambrose University. While working as a graduate assistant for the Admissions Office and International Student Services Office, he earned his MBA. Antonio then moved to Japan to teach English in Fukushima-Ken for a year, before returning back to Chicago, where he now works for IES Abroad.

Fukushima-Ken sectional English speaking competition participants

My students placed first, third, and sixth in the Fukushima-Ken sectional English speaking competition.

Tell us about your background in international education and how you originally got connected with IES Abroad.

As a graduate student I had the opportunity to work for the International Student Office, which is paired with the Study Abroad Office, at my alma mater St. Ambrose University. This office is where I got my first glance at what study abroad really was. By the time I was a sophomore I was ready to travel to world, and Barcelona would be my new home for four months. I enjoyed it so much that I was an advocate of study abroad on campus. I did it without being paid or asked to do so, it just became natural to me. My time abroad was so captivating I wanted everyone to experience it.

However, working in the International Student Office, I was on the opposite end of sending students abroad. Instead, I was helping foreign students come to study in the United States. Nonetheless, I saw the same growth, gratitude, and fulfillment I saw in myself when I studied abroad, and thought if this could be a career, I would do it.

Upon coming back from living and working in Japan, I thought how anybody could live without going abroad. I began researching different study abroad companies. When I ran across a position at IES Abroad, I could not pass it up! Some of my high school friends had used IES Abroad and said nothing but great things. To put the cherry on top, the position was to help recruit and advise underrepresented students, just like me!

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

I wish I could say there is a typical day in the office, but truth is, things are always changing. One day you may find me on my headset, assisting a student with questions he or she might have about what it will be like to live in X city with their unique background. The next day you might find me visiting schools, sharing resources, scholarships, or facts to students, staff, and even some faculty. I guess it all depends on the day and what is in store for me.

Volunteers at dinner with their host parents in Barcelona, Spain

Last family dinner in Barcelona with my host parents and roommate Ricky

Can you tell us a little bit more about IES Abroad’s Initiative to Diversify Education Abroad (IDEA)?

The ongoing Initiative to Diversify Education Abroad (IDEA) project is a great thing to be a part of. IES Abroad strives to make studying abroad a learning experience accessible for all students, which is a concept that might sound easy. But, if it was so easy, why wouldn’t everyone do it? Most people often believe that studying abroad is just a luxury and that only the rich, white, privileged students can do it. This is where most people are wrong! The IDEA concept is a reminder of just the opposite. Anyone who wants to study abroad can and should!

IES Abroad is committed to making study abroad more accessible for all students, so much so, that a portion of the $2.5 million total financial aid and scholarship fund goes to support underrepresented students. Can you share a bit more about the diversity scholarships that IES Abroad offers?

We give a number of diversity scholarships, for example: The HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities) IES Abroad Scholarship, The Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) Scholarships, The David Porter Diversity Scholarship, The Merit-based Scholarships for Underrepresented Students, and lastly The Diversity-Based Personal Statement Topic Scholarship. Students need to be aware of what is out there, because lots of times the students don’t take advantage of our scholarships.

Exploring Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Exploring Siem Reap, Cambodia in 105 degree weather

Racial relations and the LGBTQ community are a large focus of U.S. media coverage today. What types of support services are provided to these groups of students when they are interested in studying or interning abroad?

Along with support from our trained on site staff, one of my main tasks is to have and share as many resources with our students before they embark on their time abroad. We have a diversity resource page on our website with country and even city specific resources for students. We also take calls if students still feel uncomfortable with the certain situations specific to themselves. I may not always know the answer off the top of my head, since they are very individualized questions, however, I will do some research and find the best answer for them.

IES Abroad hosted a Think Tank back in 2008 all about diversity. What has come about over the last seven years because of that discussion?

Many great ideas came from the Think Tank in 2008. One decision was to hire and dedicate a full-time staff member to diversity. Along with a full-time employee dedicated to diversity, the Think Tank brought up the point that an initiative on diversity needed to be implemented. This is when the Initiative to Diversity Education Abroad (IDEA) came about. Another idea was to offer scholarships to students who are underrepresented. To say we saw an increase in diversity is an understatement.

Student diversity has grown more than 40 percent since IES Abroad began devoting sustained resources to diversifying the student body.

IES Abroad is one of the only third-party study abroad program providers to employ a full-time Director of Diversity Recruiting and Advising, and now a Diversity Relations Manager. Why are these roles so important at IES Abroad?

I can’t speak for other providers, but here at IES Abroad diversifying higher education is a strong belief and studying abroad is a part of it. With that said, the growth of our diverse population has been consistent in 2014 and 2015. Although amazing and good at what she does, Gretchen had been doing so much already, it was time to add someone to the team and support her efforts; I was happy to join her!

2009 champions league championship in Barcelona, Spain

Camp Nou is a must when living in Barcelona - Champions league championship 2009

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is not being able to communicate with every student. I believe that everyone has a little sense of adventure and truly wants to study abroad. Yet, due to certain circumstances they can’t or don’t know that they can. Exposing them to what study abroad truly is can really open their mind and leave an impact on them forever. Getting to every student and sharing the resources is challenging.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in your role so far?

I am still new to IES Abroad, however I am very proud of getting our country/city specific resources up to date and revamped. There is a lot of information and resources out there, it was just hard for students to find them. If I am able to make the process less strenuous for students by just putting them together, not only is it an accomplishment it is fulfilling as well.

What is the most fulfilling part of working for IES Abroad?

Working with a student from start to finish. I have only been at IES Abroad for seven months, and I have now nearly seen a student go through the entire study abroad process. I can remember her standing in front of me on the third week into my job, telling me she wanted to study abroad, but did not know how to go about it. Now she is in her last week of her summer program, having the time of her life, according to her blog.