IFSA | November 17, 2020
In celebration of International Education Week 2020, we are proud to profile one of IFSA’s Resident Directors, Sandra Rodriguez Pareja, who leads the IFSA Spain programs.
A Passion Sparks
Born and raised in Sevilla, Spain, Sandra was the youngest of three girls. An active young girl, Sandra learned early in life that she was passionate about language and culture. She loved studying English, and due to her hard work and academic talents, she earned scholarships to study in England and Ireland during summers between years of high school. This experience sparked a passion that would be life changing. Sandra said, “During my summers working and studying in the UK and Ireland, I met so many people and my vision of the world opened so much that I just wanted more.”
Following high school, Sandra attended Universidad de Sevilla, completing her undergraduate degree in English Studies. While there, she applied for the ERASMUS program and spent a year at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, furthering her love of travel and culture.
Sandra earned a Fulbright Scholarship, and this brought her to the U.S. for the first time. Placed at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Sandra worked as a TA for a year. Sandra said, “I always pictured I would be an English teacher in high School, but when I experienced being a TA in the U.S., I knew I didn’t want to just work in a Spanish high school teaching English. I wanted much more, so that is why I decided to get a master’s degree in Spanish and thanks to that, I had the chance to move back to the U.S. with another scholarship.”
By this time, Sandra had lived in many parts of Europe, and though she could identify differences in the cultures, living in the U.S. felt very different. “I worked with other European students, and we all agreed that there was something that the European countries shared, and even though we couldn’t pinpoint what it was exactly, we definitely felt that we were in a very different culture [in the U.S.],” Sandra said. Not surprisingly, Sandra found the portion sizes in the U.S. to be huge, but she also found great humor in the phrase “What’s up?” and that Americans rarely waited for a response.
Turning Study Abroad into a Profession
That return to the U.S. took Sandra to the University of Michigan where she studied and worked as a Spanish teacher in nearby schools as well as a tutor for the language department where she was a master’s student. Sandra also served as a study abroad coordinator for Granada and Salamanca, launching her career in study abroad.
Taking an opportunity to work in Cuba, Sandra worked as Center Director for Academic Programs International (API) for two years before returning to Spain and assuming a role as Resident Director for CIEE’s Business and Culture and Economics and Culture Barcelona programs.
A study abroad student herself, Sandra knew first-hand the value and impact of the experience, and she incorporates this into her role as a study abroad leader. “I believe study abroad changes one’s perception of the world and opens new perspectives. It enriches you in ways you can’t imagine and that is why I believe everyone should have the opportunity.”
Coming to IFSA
Sandra first encountered IFSA while working in Cuba. “I believe everything happens for a reason and everything is connected somehow,” Sandra said “I met some IFSA staff, including IFSA’s co-founder Tom Roberts, and they showed me the great organization IFSA was and is, so when a position opened in Spain, I knew I had to apply for it. I knew I had to be part of IFSA to open new opportunities in Spain and expand the programs here.”
In May 2019, Sandra officially joined IFSA as the Spain Resident Director. The IFSA semester program in Barcelona had just undergone a complete overhaul, rebranding as Design Thinking, Business, and Liberal Arts. Sandra hopes to help students immerse themselves in the Spanish and Catalan culture while exploring everything Spain has to offer. She has already helped to expand the program by extending the host institution offering available to students. Sandra said, “I would also love one day to be able to offer programs in other locations in Spain to be able to show students the diverse and rich cultures within Spain.”
Despite the pandemic, Sandra is optimistic about international education. “We are providing students with a unique opportunity that will change their life and will allow them to have a more open perspective and view of the world we live in. I believe that helping individuals became more interculturally agile will help build a better world,” she said.
Though Sandra is passionate about her travels and experiencing other cultures, she is equally passionate about her home city of Seville, her culture, its customs, and festivities. She said, “If I could, I would wear my flamenco dress 365 days a year!”