We’re continuing the series introducing the team behind AIFS Customized, who create faculty-led study abroad programs for hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the US.
This week, we spend a few minutes chatting with Kirsty Isherwood, Vice President, based in our London, UK office.
What do you do for AIFS?
I am one of the Vice Presidents and oversee programs in Europe and Latin America – France, Italy, Argentina, Costa Rica, Germany to name a few. I work with our Resident Directors and Program Coordinators in each location designing programs and then making sure they run smoothly.
How long have you worked for AIFS?
It will be 25 years in January. Where did the time go!
What roles have you held at AIFS before your current one?
I have worked through a few different roles at AIFS. I started as a Student Advisor in Paris. I was the person at the airport with a sign greeting all the students as they got off the plane. Then, I would take them on all their day trips and excursions. Later I was a Program Coordinator, so I was managing different programs in France, Italy, and London. Now, I am one of the Vice Presidents and I oversee many different programs in Europe and Latin America. I travel quite a bit visiting each location to check in with our students and staff. I don’t spend as much time with the students as I did when I was a student advisor but it’s still great to meet them and see how they are enjoying the program. It allows us to get feedback to see how we can improve things in the future.
Where would you study abroad if you could do university all over again?
I studied French at university and as part of my degree had to spend a year at a French university. I went to Strasbourg and studied Lettres Modernes. It is a beautiful city and I really enjoyed my time there. If I could do my time again I might go somewhere a little further afield. Despite traveling a lot in my free time and with AIFS for work I have spent very little time in Asia. It is a huge continent, but I would like to get to know it better. From my own research and listening to friends who have lived there, Japan is a country that really intrigues me. The culture there is so different from western Europe and I love the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. A year at a university in Japan would have been amazing though I’m not sure my Japanese language skills would be up to it!
Tell us about your favorite spots in the cities you have lived?
I’ve lived in a few different cities due to my own studies and my work with AIFS.
Paris was the first place I moved to when I was 18 years old and then I was lucky enough to move back there with AIFS. It is a stunning city with many amazing areas but my favorites are a little off the beaten track and don’t attract too many tourists. Firstly, there is the 19th arrondissement in the north east of the city. That is where I first lived. There aren’t any famous museums or monuments there, but it is a great area to stroll through with cobbled streets, small town houses instead of the usual large apartment buildings and green spaces such as Buttes-Chaumont. Another great area is the Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th arrondissement. I was lucky enough to live there when I was working for AIFS. It is an area that has a village feel to it even though it is in Paris and close to the metro with some great cafes, bars and restaurants.
As a Program Coordinator with AIFS I also got to live in Florence, Italy . It is a beautiful city but like Paris, the best places are always the areas where the tourists don’t go. I really like the Oltrano area of Florence which is the other side of the river to the main tourist sites and in particular San Niccolo.
What are the elements of a successful CFL program? What is the magic ingredient?
What is the magic ingredient for a successful Customized Faculty Led program? The clue is in the question – Faculty!! At AIFS we do our best to create amazing programs and experiences for students and faculty. At the end of the day they are all academic programs and the person teaching the courses is the key ingredient. Our visiting faculty work with our staff to really make the most of the location they are visiting and to turn the city into their classroom. Who needs slides and textbooks when you have the real thing on your doorstep and great professors who want to share it with you?
Is there a location you think is overlooked in terms of what it can offer to CFL groups? Or an area of study you would like to see more of?
There are so many locations and areas of study it is difficult to know which to pick. I think central and eastern Europe have a lot to offer and are still “undiscovered” for many U.S. students. But I also think that the “classic” locations like the UK, Spain and Italy are important. People are always looking for different and more exciting locations, but for many students a CFL program will be their first trip abroad so going to London is just as exciting to them as anywhere else.
For subject areas I think people often believe study abroad is dominated by the humanities. Modern languages, history, art history, etc. It might have been like that in the past but not anymore. If a faculty member is from the science department, business, engineering, health sciences and others, we can create a program that will work for them, and we have done so in the past.
If you didn’t work in the Study Abroad / International Education sector, what do you think you would be doing?
I would have a doggie daycare!! I love animals, especially dogs, but with all the travel I do it wouldn’t be fair to own one. But one day I will hang up my carry-on case and when I do it would be great to work with animals. Though, I might have to have a side business involving knitting. It’s not very rock and roll but I can often be found in the evening knitting a sweater while watching TV.