While studying abroad in Granada, Spain, Ashley Simmons (IES Abroad Granada, Spring 2016 | Brandeis University) fulfilled a childhood dream and became strongly rooted in her self-identity. Five years later, once an IES Abroad Correspondent, she is back as a Brand Coordinator for IES Abroad, now contributing to other students’ study abroad experiences.
We caught up with Ashley to hear how this IES Abroad Scholarship recipient’s study abroad experience allowed her to combine her skill and love of writing to help future students study abroad.
IES Abroad: As a student at Brandeis University, what led you to study abroad in Granada?
Ashley Simmons (AS): The reason I chose to study abroad with IES Abroad Granada has an interesting backstory. It connects to the reason I feel so empowered to do the work I do today as a Black woman and being representative of the dynamic capabilities an individual has to author their life’s story. When I was in the fourth grade, I watched "The Cheetah Girls" travel to Barcelona, Spain in their second movie. I was so inspired to see a Black girl go to Spain and experience joy and culture that I decided at age nine I would also do the same. I took Spanish classes throughout middle and high school and into college to prepare for the trip so many years later. I chose Granada over Barcelona because of the intimacy of the city and the smaller-sized program.
IES Abroad: You were the IES Abroad Blogger of the Year 2015-2016. Why did you choose to share your study abroad journey with so many people?
AS: I remember receiving the email about blogger opportunities while grocery shopping with my mother where it shared that a "Blogger of the Year" award was even a thing for a student. I turned to her as she pushed the cart down the aisle and showed her the email, distinctly saying, “They have blogger opportunities! Ma, I think I can get this award.” And her response, “Go for it.” I don’t know where that self-faith came from, but I decided to just write. I originally decided to become a blogger to remain accountable with my writing and documenting my journey while studying abroad. I found that my blog did reinforce this accountability, but it also gave me an eternal “digital journal” to hold onto and share with others having similar experiences. I could put into words the reality of studying abroad as a low-income, first-generation, Black woman and uphold my own story as one of value. I think that’s what any of my writing is really—valuing my story to help others value their own.
IES Abroad: What impact did the IES Abroad Scholarship have on your career path and journey to where you are today?
AS: My IES Abroad Scholarship gave me the opportunity to help make my nine-year-old dreams a reality. The importance of philanthropic work has been resounding in my life’s compass of “paying it forward” which coincides with creative or financial means of supporting future generations. As a low-income, first-generation college student, my reality was that study abroad would be costly, but it was made affordable with the help of my scholarship. There are many scholarship opportunities for students with IES Abroad and I’m happy to now work as the IES Abroad Brand Coordinator helping highlight those opportunities and more with the Marketing team.
IES Abroad: Tell us about your current role at IES Abroad as a Brand Coordinator. What is a typical day like for you?
AS: As a Brand Coordinator, I’m working on the Marketing team and doing all things with Customized & Faculty-Led Programs and IES Internships, working with the Advancement team, and partnering with the Diversity Relations team for initiatives there. I love most that I’m not only able to return to work now with an organization I value so much such as IES Abroad, but also that this role fulfills my desires as a writer, creative, executive coach, and organizational consultant. I am able to tie in my skillset and educational background in a way that feels authentic and uplifted by my team members. A typical day will include writing featured posts or news stories, curating content for social media, brainstorming content, or ideating opportunities for growth and advancement within Marketing overall. Five years later, I am doing work I love that allows me to pivot between my skills and find joy in contributing to other students’ study abroad experiences.
IES Abroad: How did studying abroad in Granada help prepare you for your career?
AS: Studying abroad in Granada helped me see myself as a dynamic Black woman. While living in a new country for four months, I had to both learn and create who I was. This space of creation gave me the freedom to navigate my career with curiosity about what I wanted and why. Even if I didn’t have the answers immediately at 20-years-old, I had the beginning of an idea, and I could see that as enough. The IES Abroad Granada program was also both rigorous and enriching in a way that broadened my cultural toolkit and revealed the beauty that I could be just as multi-faceted and global as the world.
IES Abroad: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?
AS: I want any student thinking of studying or interning abroad to know that this is your life’s story to hold onto and create fully. There are going to be times where you don’t feel like you are the author of it, naturally. I’m reminding you now that you are. You get to choose where it goes, where it starts and stops, what chapters are longer or shorter and how they fit into the saga of it all. You also don’t have to know everything to take the first step, you are not alone and have so many resources within IES Abroad staff and faculty, IES Abroad Ambassadors, Correspondents and more. It’s a journey that is truly beyond worthwhile and will stick with you forever. If you want to know what it’s like to really live life to its fullest, go abroad. You will thank yourself five years later and beyond.
The “Five Years After Study Abroad” series features alumni who received an IES Abroad scholarship, and explores how studying abroad shaped their life and career. How will study abroad shape your career? Explore more benefits of studying abroad. Make sure to read Ashley’s blog from her time in Granada.
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