Meet Erin Sorensen

Erin Sorensen at Great WallErin Sorensen started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in September 2003.  She’s held a number of different positions at the firm throughout the years and is currently a Vice President in the Operations Department, developing and booking programs and managing trip logistics.

Erin at AAA holiday partyWhat is your hometown?  I moved every two to four years growing up, around the country as well as some time in England, but I now call New York home.  I’ve lived here much longer than anywhere else!

What is your favorite travel book?  Hmm, I could never have just one.  I love to read!  I organize our office book club, for which we read books set in or about different parts of the world.  Some of my favorites of the books we’ve read are:

Agent Zig Zag – Ben MacIntyre

The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway

Country Driving – Peter Hessler

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler – Jason Roberts

A couple of years ago I decided to read some Scottish books in preparation for a trip there and discovered I love Ian Rankin’s detective novels.

Erin Sorensen Easter IslandCity you most recommend to friends Vienna. I’ve only been there once, but it seems to have something for everyone – art, music, architecture, design, food, shopping. The countries I often recommend are Chile and Jordan, because they are amazing but underrated.

City you would drop everything to see I currently have two: Barcelona and Istanbul.  I can’t believe I still haven’t been to either, but it’s only a matter of time…

Erin in ArlesWhich AAA programs do you enjoy working on the most? Land programs with specialty themes (like the Mozart and Jane Austen programs planned for 2014). I can learn a lot about a specific subject or person as I work on the itinerary and organize the visits, and we get to take people somewhere they may have been before but with a different spin that keeps it new.

Special skills I love to cook and bake and have a good memory for useless pop culture facts.  I also speak French and hope to someday learn another language or two.

Your most visited websites  Probably Google Maps, Expedia and The New York Times for work purposes.  And NYPL, NPR and Amazon for other needs!

Something about you that surprises people I’ve lived in Madagascar and Mauritius. And I am left-handed.

Three things you can’t travel without A book, my camera and some kind of plan for my trip.

Number of trips traveled on  I’ve traveled for AAA about 25 to 30 times – either with groups as a tour director, or for inspection trips and travel conferences.  It’s a great learning experience every time. I also try to take an international trip as vacation about once a year if I can.  Travel is good for the soul!

Erin in Goa

Meet Indra Purmale

Indra Purmale started working as an Assistant Tour Coordinator at Academic Arrangements Abroad in August 2010. She later became Co-Manager of the entire Tour Coordinator department and then advanced to become Manager of Tour Operations and Development.


Riga, Latvia. I actually just got back from a wonderful vacation there with my friends and family.

Indra in LatviaI was also able to attend the famous Song & Dance Festival that occurs there every five years. It has taken place since 1873 and is a way for our small nation to develop and strengthen our identity. UNESCO has recognized this unique event as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity!

City you most recommend to friends:

Barcelona, Spain. However, after my recent trip to Colombia I find myself recommending Medellín more and more!

City you would drop everything to see:

Tokyo, Japan. I’m a very detail-orientated person, and the Japanese are all about the details, from their fashion and interior design to their anime and food creations!

Which AAA programs do you enjoy working on the most?

Indra in tallinnHonestly, I enjoy working on all of them, but I have a special place in my heart for our Baltic programs since I often get to work with our partners in my native Latvia.

I also enjoy all of the South America itineraries I’m currently working on. There always seems to be something new I discover or learn!

Special skills:

My secret Latvian language abilities. I am actively trying to get back to the Spanish fluency I had in college. I’m very involved with the trips we offer to Cuba and other Spanish- speaking destinations, so it is a useful language to have on the job!

Most visited websites:

The New York Times, Facebook, The Sartorialist, Travel + Leisure, Kayak, and Oanda (Currency Converter)

Something about you that surprises people:

I am the Vice President of the American Latvian Youth Association! Or perhaps that’s not so surprising… So I’ll divulge another one: I want to write a book someday.

Three things you can’t travel without:

An iPad mini (movies, magazines, books, news, all in one place!), iPod nano (music is mandatory!), and a comfortable pair of shoes that are also chic (gotta look good while doing lots of sightseeing!).

Number of trips you’ve been on:

Indra in HelsinkiI’ve been a Tour Director on several of our firm’s programs, but have been on countless trips throughout my life.

Growing up, I traveled extensively with my family, which inspired me to continue traveling as I entered college and eventually made my career choice, which landed me here at AAA!

As Susan Sontag said: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

Who would play you in a movie?:

Ideally one of my best friends because she would be able to portray me best, through her perspective and interpretation of me of course! If asked to choose a celebrity, I would be honored to have Charlize Theron play me in a movie. I think she’s extremely talented AND beautiful!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I love quotes and aphorisms, something I inherited from my late grandmother.  Here’s one of my recent favorites to share with you today:  “I don’t want to be the one who says life is beautiful.  I want to be the one who feels it.”  – Marty Rubin

Meet Marisa Swope

Marisa in MiyajimaMarisa Swope began working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in September 2007. She started as an assistant tour coordinator before moving into program operations.

“I actually am just about to transition to our Sales Team,” says Marisa.  “It’s nice that there’s room for change and growth here.”

Hometown: Winchester, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.  It’s a wonderful small city, though I’m biased!

City I would recommend to friends: I just got back from Tokyo and loved it, so that is at the top of the list now.  I also spent several months living in Buenos Aires, which is an amazing city, so that usually is recommended too.

City I would drop everything to see: I’d love to see Budapest, Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Marrakesh, and Lisbon. The list goes on.  If I haven’t been, I want to go! (with a few exceptions)

Who would play you in a movie? I’m thinking. Stay tuned!

Marisa Luxembourg GardensWhich Academic Arrangements Abroad programs do you enjoy working on the most?

The ones that I also get to travel on as a tour director!  Getting to see a program come to life — so to speak — is very rewarding.  We spend a long time developing itineraries and coordinating all of the tour details, so it is satisfying to see the final product.  I also love getting to meet our travelers, and of course to see the incredible places included on our programs.

Marisa and Sarah Viera in CubaSpecial skills:

I’m working on them!  I’d like to be fluent in Spanish and Italian. I am not yet there in either, but traveling to Cuba for work and weekly Spanish lessons are helping!

Most visited websites:

New York Times,, Refinery29 and Facebook

Something that surprises people: I’m afraid of riding bikes, and I have a major sweet tooth

Three things I can’t travel without: Earplugs, an eye mask and my iPhone

Marisa with her sister in Costa RicaNumber of trips: I’ve been a tour director on 14 tours with Academic Arrangements Abroad. I can’t begin to count my independent travels!

If you like these photos of Marisa, please check out other images of staff members on our “Faces of Arrangements Abroad” Pinterest Board.

Meet Ute Keyes

Ute KeyesUte Keyes started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in April of 2012. As Manager, Tour Operations & Development, Ute helps to operate and develop exciting new travel programs for the firm. She has an M.A. in art history and previously worked as an administrator at a small but prominent New York museum.

Hometown: Duisburg, Germany

City I would recommend to friends: New York (!), Quebec, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin and Heidelberg (have a sweet spot for the latter…my alma mater)

Quito_cathedralCity I would drop everything to see: Quito, Ecuador

Who would play you in a movie?: No idea! I guess I wish it would be Meryl Streep…

Special skills: Arts and crafts. I’m also a specialist in turning the smallest places into pretty and usable spaces

Most visited websites: The New York Times, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Suedwestrundfunk.

Ute at RodeoWhich Academic Arrangements Abroad programs have you enjoyed working on the most?: Currently, I’m enjoying working on “In the Footsteps of St. James: El Camino de Santiago.” It’s a totally new program I have developed and which was suggested by my dear colleague Elizabeth Kester; it brings back a lot of good memories of my medieval art history studies. Also, “Berlin; Tear Down this Wall.” I was in Berlin during the actual fall of the Wall (1989), so it is a program dear and near to my heart!

Something that surprises people: I love to ride my red bike in New York City (and I am not scared).

Marisa Ute on camel in front of treasury_email-2Three things I can’t travel without: Black dress/skirt, my multi-color pearl necklace, good old-fashioned Moleskine notebook

Number of trips: I guess around 50 (if my extensive travel within the United States counts). Around 35 within Europe, Africa and Asia.

Floating Through The Golden Ring

By Anastasia Mills Healy

KizhyA September 2 New York Times article on Russia’s Golden Ring — a group of historic, picturesque towns northeast of Moscow — enchants readers with its descriptions of fairy tale-like monasteries, brightly painted cottages and white butterflies flitting through the forest. But much of this story is devoted to how challenging – even for Russian-speaking travelers – it was to make the trip by car.

There were trucks on narrow roads, ubiquitous potholes and “Mostly there were no signs, or they were confusing or of little use, sometimes coming after the turn off.”

Volga Dream in MoscowNo wonder, according to the author, that the Europcar desk at Russia’s second-largest airport only rents 14 cars a week. And that most people who want to get their fill of spectacular onion-domed churches nestled in sleepy villages next to meandering rivers or tranquil lakes, board a riverboat.

June 2013 is our next trip to the fabled Golden Ring, aboard an elegant, five-star riverboat. Begin in Moscow, where we take a backstage tour of the grandly restored Bolshoi Theater prior to an evening performance, see the treasures of the Kremlin before it’s open to the public and enjoy special access to historic artifacts related to Prokofiev, accompanied by a foremost authority on the composer.

PeterhofAn optional postlude in St. Petersburg includes visits to Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace, a performance at the Mariinksy Theater and a tour of the Hermitage when it is closed to the public.

We’d say that beats dodging potholes, idling in traffic and constantly stressing about directions.

Learn more about our trip, “Waterways of the Tsars”:

Read the New York Times article “Old Russia, Reclaimed”: