GoAbroad Interview

Lee Frankel - Founder

Lee Frankel founded Academic Studies Abroad (ASA) in 1999 with the desire to help more college students see the world.  ASA aims to create study abroad programs that are small in size, but mighty in experience and support. Today, he travels the world visiting the ASA program sites and scouting for new ones, as well as travels to U.S. colleges and universities to talk about the ASA programs. When not on a plane, Lee lives in Boston with his wife and two children who all, thankfully, also love to travel. Hear what Lee has to say about travel, hot topics, and ASA’s programming!

Visiting Cusco, Peru posing with a Peruvian child
Lee enjoying a visit to Cusco, Peru a few years ago.

You grew up in New York City, what triggered you to venture abroad to Salamanca, Spain while in college?

I also grew up in Amherst, MA, so I had experienced both big city life, as well as small town life. Salamanca seemed like it was somewhere in between the two, which attracted me. A very close friend from NYC had also studied there and he encouraged me to go. I have absolutely no regrets about choosing Salamanca, and am hoping to take my wife and kids there soon.

What advice would you give to other young men from NYC as to why they should study abroad?

My advice would be to all young men, not just ones from NYC, because men are severely lacking in study abroad. Many of our groups are 80 percent female or higher, which is improving in some cities, such as Barcelona where the numbers are more even, but our overall numbers are not 50/50, which I would like them to be. Everyone in the field has a theory about why more women study abroad than men, and there’s probably some truth in every theory, but the fact remains that there is no legitimate reason that most men can give me for why they don’t study abroad.

You’ve traveled to over 20 countries, which has been the most impactful, and where would you most like to visit next? 

All of the countries I’ve visited have a place in my heart, but I’d have to say that Spain had the greatest impact on my life. I suffered from panic attacks during high school and college, so didn’t like to travel for fear of having an attack. Going to Spain on my own, having not taken a Spanish class for the three years prior, was a big deal for me at the time, and really boosted my confidence and inspired me to want see as many places as possible. I’ve been to a lot of countries, but there is still a very long list of places I haven’t been to yet, such as New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, and Tanzania.

What was the impetus for you forming Academic Studies Abroad?

I wanted every college student to have the same opportunity that I did. It’s very easy in college to create a comfort zone and just stay in it for four years. My goal was to show college students that they didn’t have to take that route and had another option available to them.  Was I naïve about how hard it would be to convince students? Absolutely! But this job has allowed me to meet, work with, and become friends with some amazing people who have amazing stories. I’m not sure there’s any other field that embraces peoples’ differences quite like this one. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of.

What does a typical day look like as Director of Programs for ASA?

There is no typical day at ASA! Every day we face something new, which can be both exciting and scary. Every single person at ASA wears many hats, so I sometimes feel like we should all have about 20 different job titles. There are days where I might spend the morning reviewing a contract from one of our partners, followed by a phone call to a parent to put their mind at ease, followed by packing boxes to ship to our affiliated universities here in the US.

You play in a band in Boston and enjoying surfing. How do you incorporate opportunities to experience music/arts and adventure into ASA’s programming?

First, let me say that while I enjoy surfing, I am an awful surfer. My son got to go to surf camp a few years ago and I was incredibly jealous of him. One day I hope to be able to take some time off so I can devote the time needed to improve. Ok, back to your question. We are incredibly lucky to have amazing site directors who are all adventurous and love showing our students their home country. Each site director is responsible for not only taking their students on excursions, but keeping them aware of events going on in their host city and country. Some of the excursions may help the students better understand the new culture they are living, while other excursions might be more for the adventure aspect.  

Your son and daughter have traveled with you and your wife before. Which ASA program would you send them on?

The decision will be all theirs. My kids (ages nine and six) have both been to quite a few countries and they love to travel, so when they are in college they will have to decide which country interests them the most. They may also decide to attend college in the UK, as both are dual citizens, so are lucky to have that opportunity available to them.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your role as Director of Programs for ASA?

I love hearing from our students that their study abroad experience changed their life. We have students who come from every imaginable background, so for each of them the experience means something different. Many of the students who went abroad with us during our first few years are now married and have kids, and I love seeing the different paths they each took after college. Some of those alumni have also gone on to do some amazing things, like Luke Winston who studied in Barcelona with us, who started a non-profit in Chile helping children living in poverty.