Each week we will be featuring interviews with ISA staff members as part of our 25th Anniversary. This week we’re talking to Lizette Arredondo Castillo, Director for ISA Chile Programs. Lizette has been with ISA since 1996.
What do you do here at ISA?
I am the Director for ISA Chile Programs. I oversee all ISA operations within Chile and supervise a staff of six based out of the beautiful twin cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.
What’s your study abroad story? Tell us a little bit about how you became in international education, and how you came to work here at ISA.
Unfortunately, when I was student at university here in Chile (some decades ago!), the idea of studying abroad was much less common than it is now. It was not cheap and scholarships for study abroad were not as common then as they are now. But since I was studying to be an English teacher, I was eager to get to know English-speaking people and learn more about the cultures in which English is spoken natively. Therefore, I tried to get to know the few exchange students who were studying at Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso (PUCV) so I could practice my English, and also helped them practice their Spanish. I ended up being hired by the International Programs Office of PUCV to help exchange students during the first weeks of orientation and through the semester. I also specialized in teaching Spanish as a Second Language at the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. I started working for ISA a few years later in 1996 as the first Resident Director in Valparaíso, and I’ve loved every minute of my job since.
You have been with ISA since 1996 and have been Director of Chile programs since the program’s inception. What do you think makes Chile stand out as a study abroad destination?
Chile definitely stands out for its geography. You can find desert, geysers, salt lakes, volcanoes, fjords, glaciers, forests – everything so close from each other. You can be at the beach and then four hours later you can be skiing in the Andes! I hear from my ISA students that Chileans are great; we’re kind, fun to be around and welcoming to foreigners. Chile is also a safe place, has a stable political organization and economy, which gives peace of mind to parents and study abroad advisors back in the U.S.. Chile is also recognized as having a high-quality education system – one of the best in Latin America – despite the protests that have been in the news recently. Chilean students want even better and free education, and it is good to see that they feel comfortable asking for it.
What is one thing about your program that few people know?
When they arrive in Chile, few of our students arrive in Chile knowing that Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are “university cities.” There are several universities in the area, including the PUCV and the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (UAI) where ISA students study, and therefore we have a large population of young people who come from all over the country (north and south) to study here.
ISA Chile programs have continued to grow. From your perspective as a Resident Director on the ground, what is the secret to ISA’s success?
I would say that the secret is to understand what students are looking for when they study abroad – why they go. From the University Relations Representatives who students meet at study abroad fairs in the U.S., to Site Specialists and Program Managers at ISA headquarters in Austin, to Resident Staff on-site, we’re there literally every step of the way. On-site we strive to find the perfect balance between helping the student have the best experience possible and at the same allowing them their independence. We’re there when they need us – from classes, tutoring, excursions, cultural activities to emergency support 24/7. But studying abroad is about personal growth, and for some students that works best when they learn independently.
What things do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to read, watch movies, swim, and learn to dance tango and salsa. I love spending time with family and friends, and have been known to enjoy a glass of wine with friends and talk for hours. And I travel whenever I can!
Finally, what do you like about working here at ISA?
I love the fact that I belong to a huge family like ISA, with colleagues all over the world. I get to meet my colleagues from other countries every now and then, and all of us at ISA truly love what we do and are able to share experiences and ideas to learn from one another. Most of all, though, I love my students and being part of such a beautiful learning and growing process that is study abroad. It is so rewarding to see how different and mature they leave our country at the end of the program, compared to when they arrived. They will never be the same after their study abroad experience, and how awesome it is to be a part of that process!