ISA (International Studies Abroad) Reviews | Glassdoor

ISA (International Studies Abroad) Reviews

Updated May 29, 2018
74 reviews

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ISA (International Studies Abroad) CEO Rafael Hoyle Ph.D.
Rafael Hoyle Ph.D.
18 Ratings

74 Employee Reviews

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Pros
  • "Great people with a solid and overall positive work environment; people here really do care" (in 13 reviews)

  • "You will get to know great people and make friends at this job" (in 4 reviews)

Cons
  • "Starting pay is on the low end for entry-level positions" (in 6 reviews)

  • "low pay and few promotional opportunities" (in 5 reviews)

More Pros and Cons

  1. "Regional Director"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Director, Regional Sales Management in Austin, TX
    Former Employee - Director, Regional Sales Management in Austin, TX
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Great first job out of college. I learned so much and made my first friend circle in Austin.

    Cons

    Not much. It was a great place to work.


  2. Helpful (3)

    "Plan Your Exit Strategy Now"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    - I learned a lot about what it means to be both undervalued and underpaid,

    - You can truly learn what it means to be 'scrappy' and make some great connections along the way.

    - I was able to leverage this work experience to get me where I want to go.

    - More than anything, I know what kind of company I don't want to work for.

    Cons

    - I've held off for a while on writing this review for some time as I wanted to really step away from ISA and give it an honest review. Months later and I can firmly say that ISA is NOT your average work environment, and there is honestly nothing that I look back on and really miss.

    - I don't want to beat a dead horse - it's clear that everyone is underpaid..but we sort of know this going in to it. Lack of upward mobility is what I find most concerning. I switched departments and saw no increase in pay despite taking on significantly more responsibility in a department that sees no sense of normalcy. I asked on multiple occasions to take on more responsibility and was left with false promises from my team lead.

    - ISA traps young professionals in a 2 year non-compete clause (in ENTRY-LEVEL positions, mind you) that would take just about anyone out of the third-party study-abroad game should they choose to leave the company. I highly recommend you navigate your long-term professional trajectory before you take a job here. Most are qualified for higher education/administrative positions once they leave, but it can otherwise be tricky if you're not identifying both a pathway out and some transferrable skills.

    - I often describe ISA as a place full of recent college graduates who play professional. The lines between personal & professional are so blurred at this company, but when middle-management is mostly comprised of mid-20 somethings who are given no formal management training (or raises, for that matter), it's hard to establish workplace guidelines. People were often far more fixated on what time someone got in to the office than the work they were actually doing.

    - The negative undertones that run rampant throughout this company are toxic. On my first day, I was out for drinks with my new colleagues and they spent the entire time complaining about their jobs & the company as a whole. They told me that 'soon enough I'd be doing the same and no one really stays longer than 2 years'. This was my very first day.

    Advice to Management

    - You can't pick and choose when you want to be a higher-education institution or a for-profit company ; if you're going to have noncompete clauses of such length, you should at least have competitive wages.

    - Invest in middle management. Reassess upper management and their value to the company...some are literally just family and placeholders. You aren't a mom & pop business anymore.

    - The mean girl undertones have to go. There is so much badmouthing of colleagues, students, jobs, pay, etc. that it's overwhelming. My department was particularly toxic, and I honestly dreaded going in to work by the end of it. After this job I did some serious self-reflecting and was a bit nervous that I had no idea what professionalism was after ISA but I realize when a company sets the tone for a positive, inviting and professional work environment, employees thrive. Keep a real pulse on your departments and what is going on within them.

    - CREATE PATHWAYS OF UPWARD MOBILITY! I cannot repeat that enough.

    - Quit making impulsive decisions and focus on improving the systems you already have in place.

    - Realize how good of a workforce you have. I was as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as all your employees coming in. They believe in what they're selling... it's time to align your company values to the actual product.

    ISA (International Studies Abroad) Response

    May 31, 2018 – HR Business Partner

    Thank you for taking the time to leave feedback on your experience with ISA as we value any and all feedback. Since the WorldStrides/ISA merger, departments and processes have continued to evolve as... More

  3. "Working at ISA"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee

    I have been working at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time

    Pros

    Great job experience out of school

    Cons

    -low pay and few promotional opportunities


  4. Helpful (2)

    "No sense of urgency, poor executive direction"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee in Austin, TX
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee in Austin, TX
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time

    Pros

    Work environment is friendly and casual. Still, the relationships you have feel connected by the underlying bond that you are disconnected from your worth and are under-compensated.

    Cons

    There is little to no sense of urgency at ISA -- especially during obvious opportunities to improve or build upon ideas. Management has failed to recognize (or even identify) time and money-saving opportunities and instead frantically offer poor experiments that ignore any invitation for dialogue or discussion. The chain of command is so bizarre at times — you are better off avoiding approval for a project and implementing the ideas yourself.

 Oftentimes, the (undeserving) employees who receive praise are those that display obsequious loyalty rather than skilled leadership or contribution. Similarly, the employees that stay the longest are those whose maladaptive behavior has given them no opportunity elsewhere. The company culture ebbs and flows, but more often than not, it quickly becomes toxic and characterized by low morale.

ISA will exploit the labor of those employees whose quality of life suffers under low compensation. This is the classic example of being a cog in the machine and working to make your boss richer. Embarrassingly, employees often require a side gig to feel autonomous due to the cost of living in Austin. Not to accommodate their lifestyle, but simply to generate a decent savings. It would seem fitting to reassess this low base salary and find employees that fit the higher commensurate criteria all together.

 Most executive management have faked their leadership abilities when the company was small, and now that they have to report outside of the company, their unprepared behavior is being exposed. Needless to say, time is catching up with these individuals.

    Advice to Management

    If you are unprepared or unfit to be a leader, it would seem wise to start evolving or step aside.


  5. Helpful (1)

    "Sr. Graphic Designer"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Senior Graphic Designer in Austin, TX
    Former Employee - Senior Graphic Designer in Austin, TX
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    People and environment were great

    Cons

    Limited resources for creative work


  6. "Global Ambassador"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Global Ambassador in Remote, OR
    Former Employee - Global Ambassador in Remote, OR
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) part-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    You make your own schedule, you can really make this as often or as infrequent as you would like

    Cons

    Gets pretty boring, you are paid minimally,

    Advice to Management

    Increase the pay and send out cool stickers


  7. "ISA"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Program Manager in Austin, TX
    Current Employee - Program Manager in Austin, TX
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    Easy, great for organized people

    Cons

    Remedial tasks, data entry, difficult students

  8. Helpful (2)

    "This is a great place holder job until you find a job you really want."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    You will get to know great people and make friends at this job

    Cons

    I got hired on in one department where I like my work and my supervisors. With in a few months of being hired, we are notified the at the company has been bought out by World Strigheds. I was informed that my current position will be going away and if I mind taking a lower paying job that just became opened do to someone leaving the company. I told that I would take the job on one condition, That as soon as the hire paying position that I was qualified for is available that I be moved there. ISA agreed. I stayed in the position for over 6 months while they hired over three new people for jobs that I was more than qualified for. When I asked why I have not been moved yet, they informed me that they are having a hard time finding someone to fill the position I was currently in.
    So I started looking for a new job right after that meeting and gave them my two weeks noticed. They were able to find someone to fill the position right away

    No matter how much you like your co-works not be able to make enough money to live off of is a big issue.

    Also, there is no movement other than lateral. Let's be real that is not movement at all when there is no pay raise


  9. "Academic Records Coordinator"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time

    Pros

    Good environment and benefits with a solid team

    Cons

    No room for improvement, low salary


  10. Helpful (2)

    "A Valuable (yet Sisyphean) Work Experience"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Site Specialist in Austin, TX
    Former Employee - Site Specialist in Austin, TX
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at ISA (International Studies Abroad) full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    I studied abroad through ISA, which ended up being the single best academic and cultural experience of my college career, and is what ultimately led me to move to Austin for this position. ISA offers very solid, well-reputed study abroad programs that are operated stateside and onsite by extremely talented, empathic and dedicated staff. ISA programs are well-supported by an expert team of specialists, including an extraordinary Health & Safety department.

    ISA hires amazing people who have: a wealth of experience and knowledge, a willingness to work hard, and a natural empathy (for the most part). There is a camaraderie here like nowhere else I've ever worked. However, this company is not directly responsible for the incredible, long lasting bonds of friendship between said amazing people - these bonds are forged by similar individuals over shared experiences at ISA, both positive and negative, but the immediate bond often forms over what people are miserable about. Most of us can realize working at ISA is an experience that won't last forever - and that somehow we'll be better off for it on the other side.

    ISA can be a wonderful incubatory-like place to work, whether you choose to stay in international education or to move on from the field - there are endless lessons to be learned. I gained so much experience I wouldn't have if I worked a university advisor position instead, like communicating daily in a language for which I earned my Bachelor’s degree, or working in tandem with foreign consulates in the US.

    I learned too that I will not stay in this field, so the value in my experiences may be less direct than a person who leaves for a job within the international/higher education realm. However, the toughest experiences are usually the most universally applicable, and I'm grateful to have a few of those under my belt moving forward.

    Cons

    I don't want to completely rehash the cons that already exist on this page, so I'll expand upon the main points:

    • Low Compensation in Very High Cost of Living Areas:
    First, do not even mention in your job postings that you prefer a Master's degree if you are not willing to compensate for advanced education. Second, take the time to reflect upon the potential growth ISA could experience if your ground-work people were paid a decent salary - for example, a 10k increase for those paid under 45k (which sadly I'd estimate to be 60-70% of employees in your Austin, TX, office - a town whose COL grows by the minute each day) would be life-changing. By paying appropriately for the work performed  (taking into consideration that you've skated off easy with last year's overtime law being overruled, as you constantly have mid-30k salaried employees working 50-60 hours a week, free of extra charge to you),  you will see an immediate shift of attitude and a positive correlation in work output, because these employees would be less stressed about their ability to pay rent without donating plasma or some other fringe extra job, and more grounded in their environment to provide better work results for ISA as a whole. 

    • An Environment of Fear and Insecurity:
    Many days I felt the only motivator I had to do my job better was to avoid being called out by anyone in a higher position than me. This totally backfired for my productivity, as I felt constantly afraid that nothing I did was good enough. By incentive to work better, I don't just mean monetary - for me, a life-changing incentive would have been to know that my work was appreciated and that it wasn't done in vain or to satisfy the capriciousness of someone who would ultimately overlook the effort put forth. Beyond disheartening, it's exhausting to feel like your work means nothing, and it's what causes so much of the burnout/turnover. 

    In this job I felt like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the mountain only to be crushed, then having to repeat that task every day for the rest of eternity... if Sisyphus also had someone constantly over his shoulder telling him he's pushing the boulder incorrectly.

    • Confusing and Inconsistent Messages from Executive Management and Between Departments:
    Flexibility and room for change - without transparency and order - is a recipe for chaos. ISA is known for taking risks which is admirable and has taken the company far, but always scrambling to make something work last minute or halfway following through with a good idea, are poor business practices. In the Site Specialist position in particular, this happens so often where an SP will have to drop everything to work on a program they had no idea was going to run, or a last minute marketing effort - this is a huge stress, when instead you could bring every involved party into conversations from the beginning to develop a strategic plan on how to move forward. 

    • Disorganized and Disconnected Job Duties that Distract
    I can only speak from my experience as a Site Specialist, but I'm positive that in one way or another, other departments have experienced the same issues of being thrown a half-baked yet "URGENT" project that debilitates the capacity to perform any other task.

    The Site Specialist role needs to be elevated to something along the lines of "Academic and Cultural Advisor" and all front-line sales duties should be reserved for the departments you already have doing that work. There should be more focus on maintaining and improving the academic and cultural aspects of ISA program offerings, because a pretty poster can't cover up a rotten program (neither can cold-calls).

    Advice to Management

    1. Don't Squander the Brain Power that Already Exists:
    You have incredibly talented people working in every department, a good number of whom hold advanced degrees in International Education and related fields. These are the people who get burnt out and have to leave for better prospects. IF you can’t pay a proper salary, at least let your employees use their knowledge and varied experiences to help you find solutions to problems that come up over and over again. You have so much to gain as a company if you valued your employees more. I think when upper management hears the complaint “employees should be better valued” they automatically think “oh they want a pay raise.” Yes salary is an incredibly important part of this, but what “being valued more” also means is recognizing the particular skills and knowledge an individual is offering you.

    Also by squandering brain power, I am referring to the loss of information from employee to employee after someone leaves the company. I know that when someone leaves abruptly, it is a heavy burden for their colleagues to pick up the slack in addition to their own daily work. Find a way to make more sustainable systems for maintaining information across employee transitions.

    Treat your people better and you can work smarter, not harder, with better results.

    2. Improve Internal Communication Between ISA Departments, ISA Upper Management, and Worldstrides:
    There is an incredible amount of disconnect between all of these parties. Random congratulatory emails from the CEO may be coming from a nice place, but they are inconsistent and vague. One idea could be having an ISA-wide quarterly newsletter (for internal use only) in which each department could provide a short summary in their own words of what projects are in the pipeline, new employees to the department, etc. This would be more helpful (but far less entertaining) than pep-rally style all-office meetings held at inconsistent times throughout the year (and no one remembers anyone else's achievements after their 30-second update is over).

    Take the time to know what each department contributes to the company as a whole. It would be nice for the CEO and other executive management members to get in real face time with their people, and less time in ivory towers.

    3. Be Proactive, Not Reactive. Be Responsive, not Reactive:
    It takes a lot of courage to actually face your flaws and shortcomings in an honest, productive way. Personally, this is the hardest lesson I learned at ISA - but I know the value in taking honest self-inventory and how it can allow for growth.

    By being proactive in program development and maintenance, and by having more strategic ways of promoting ISA programs, you can avoid stressful last minute/short-sighted efforts to reach students for an upcoming term (see above “squandering brain power”). 

    Being responsive instead of reactive means cultivating the patience and willingness to absorb negative feedback, to really consider how you can be the company you want to be. Depending on the same ideas that may have worked in the past, or worse - superficial and short-sighted ideas that fail before they’re even launched - is not the approach you should be taking if you want to stay a leader in this field. 

    4. You Are Not Your Parent Company:
    Worldstrides sells short-term programs that they can still call “trips.” I’m not here to get into their selling tactics because there’s a lot I don’t know.

    Likewise, there is so much about ISA that Worldstrides chooses to overlook or ignore, and instead forces a model that does not work. ISA provides study abroad programs for college credit, and even one month of studying abroad means something - college is not cheap nor not a decision to mess around with, and neither is studying abroad. High-pressure sales tactics and impossible goals for enrollment increases for every site does not work, as it may at Worldstrides.

    What has helped ISA reach the kind of success they have is reputation and word of mouth - there is a certain authenticity that is associated with ISA, an authenticity that will surely shrivel up and die if you continue to push aggressive sales tactics. 

    5. Remember Who You Are as a Company:
    You are ISA, the bright friendly charismatic study abroad provider who promotes a genuine agenda in increasing the number of university students who go abroad. You are loved for providing excellent customer service and peace of mind for thousands of students and parents. You have great programs around the globe (“The sun never sets on the ISA empire”) and incredible onsite staff who make a student’s experience abroad so special and memorable. This is why you have so many returned students become Global Ambassadors and also future ISA employees. You have an incredible international network of people.

    I would like to address Rafael Hoyle, CEO, by first saying that I admit I do not know the nature of your work or what is discussed in closed door meetings, so I will try not to make too many assumptions but rather offer some advice - you know what makes ISA a wonderful study abroad provider. I think deep down you may also know that those values and ideals are breaking down as you feel the growing pains of the WS acquisition. I can’t imagine what your conversations with WS are like, but I hope that you can convey the “spirit of ISA” to those executives and encourage them to learn about the company from your point of view. You can make it clear than certain WS systems or protocol will probably NOT be fruitful for ISA for xyz reasons. You know ISA. Don’t let this incredible network of people and students worldwide fall apart to cheap selling tactics & corporatized education. Yes, being a business who “sells” academic experiences is messy, but I truly believe that you can do so (and with more success) by focusing on people first. I guarantee that by strengthening relationships with universities here and abroad to create more academically-sound programs will help you go much further than a disorganized heavy-sales approach.
    --
    You may answer this review or not, but before posting a canned response, I encourage you to sit with this feedback and think about the direction the company is going.

    I write everything here with nothing but truth and authenticity - there is no room for pettiness or holding a grudge. My time at ISA was filled with incredibly low moments, but I say with confidence now that I am a better and stronger person for learning how to own up to my mistakes, but more importantly, how to take all sorts of criticism and examine it for the truth - these are hard lessons.

    My wish for ISA would be for them to take the initiative to learn the same lessons because this company has the potential to have a very bright and prosperous future if they choose to self-reflect, grow from within, and properly invest in their (not-yet crumbling) infrastructure of employees and programs.

    ISA (International Studies Abroad) Response

    Jul 13, 2017 – HR Business Partner

    Thank you for taking the time to leave us feedback. As pay is a common concern across the board with any company, WorldStrides and ISA has made strides to ensure that competitive and livable wages... More


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