Shirley has always considered herself a cultural bridge-builder. Whether it was translating for Spanish-speaking peers at her school or volunteering for Latino advocacy organizations as an adult, she’s been fostering connections long before coming to EF Education First.
“I realize now it’s kind of a superpower,” says Shirley. “To help people from vastly different walks of life grow in their understanding, acceptance and respect for one another.”
Now, as the Vice President of EF Tours for Girl Scouts, Shirley and her team help Girl Scout troops across America discover more about themselves, the world, and their place in it through international tours. Raised by a single mother in a low-income household, she holds this mission close to her heart.
“We are relentless about optimizing our tour portfolio to ensure these educational experiences are available to as many young women as possible,” she says. “For our customers, the number one barrier to educational travel is not affordability, but rather awareness and accessibility. Even the most economically disadvantaged communities are represented among our travelers. We intentionally tailor our business model to reflect extended planning periods, a range of payment options, and unique money-earning ideas.”
For Shirley, the collaboration between EF Educational Tours and Girl Scouts of the USA is a fitting one. The Girl Scouts’ mission is “to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.” EF also prides itself at being at the forefront of the gender equality movement, especially with a workforce that consists of more than 60 percent women.
“International travel is a life-changing experience for these girls,” Shirley explains. “Their tours are a result of their own hard work. They gain a deeper understanding of other cultures and encounter unfamiliar situations that help evolve their perspective on the world. They grow more courageous and bold, yet also more tolerant and empathic.”
When one of Shirley’s friends (who is also the co-president of the Harvard Business School Latino Alumni Association) was contacted by “Forbes Magazine” to be interviewed for a feature, she sent them knocking at Shirley’s door.
“They were looking to tell the stories of trailblazing Latinas in business and entrepreneurship,” Shirley explains. In her feature, Shirley shares what it was like being raised as a first-generation American and how she navigated the conflicting cultural norms of her life in the states and her parents’ home country of Colombia.
“Despite having been born and raised in the U.S., Spanish was my first language,” says Shirley. “I spoke English with an accent and struggled to memorize rules for accent marks in Spanish. As a child, having to navigate two cultures was often frustrating. Today, I see it as a huge blessing. I couldn’t be more proud to be 100 percent Latina and 100 percent American.”
Shirley was too young to realize the benefit of her cross-cultural upbringing at that point, but now she’s grateful for those experiences.
“I couldn’t grasp it at the time, but those moments were the seeds of how I ended up at EF and why it’s such a great fit for me as a company,” she says. “I’ve found the perfect marriage between my passion for educational access, my drive for delivering business results, and my love for language and travel.”