Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here
CIEE

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

CIEE Alumni Blog

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

October Alumni Update

 



NEWS THIS MONTH

Thank You For Supporting J-1 Visa Exchange Programs

Thank you to everyone who participated in the #SaveJ1 advocacy campaign last month by sharing photos of your J-1 experience on social media, sharing stories about why J-1 visa exchange programs matter, and calling your elected officials. Your voice was powerful in spreading the word about helping others see how important this program is for global diplomacy. In fact, this campaign, conducted by CIEE as a part of a larger advocacy effort by Americans for Cultural Exchange, has reached over 5.7 million people! Thank you for being a part of this amazing effort. As of now, the J-1 program has not been eliminated and CIEE will continue efforts to advocate for and protect this program. Follow us on social media @cieealumni for more updates on the outcome of this ongoing advocacy work.

Enter to Win A Free Destination TEFL Course

You’re going places. TEFL can help. Ready to go abroad again? CIEE Destination TEFL combines our 130-hour online TEFL Certification course with a 2 week practicum abroad in Barcelona, Rome, Bangkok, or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Get certified to Teach English as a Foreign Language – a valuable credential to add to your resume and skill set to add to your back pocket – and then spend 2 weeks practicing your teaching skills and gaining work experience abroad. Plus, if you win, you could do all of this for FREE. Enter Now.

CIEE Study Abroad Alumnus Wins Emmy Award

CIEE Study Abroad alumnus and producer Jason Kane, who studied in Cape Town, South Africa in 2006, won an Emmy Award on October 5 for his work on the series "The End of AIDS?" - a six-part broadcast and digital series on worldwide efforts to lessen the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Keep your eye on the CIEE Alumni blog next month for an interview with Jason!

 

Alumni Meet in St. Petersburg for an Anniversary Celebration

Program faculty and staff, CIEE Study Abroad alumni, and current students recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of CIEE’s Study Center in St. Petersburg, Russia during a series of celebratory events in September. From watching a Russian ballet to experiencing famous opera arias at their own costume ball and learning how to dance the Russian folk dances, the weekend was packed with cultural events. During the opening reception at the Grand Hotel Europe, opening remarks were made by CIEE President & CEO Jim Pellow; Mary Kruger, 1969 and 1970 CIEE Study Abroad alumna and the former U.S. Consul General in St. Petersburg (2005-2008); and Thomas Leary, the current U.S. Consul General in St. Petersburg. The anniversary celebration also featured a keynote presentation by John R. Beyrle ’76, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, as well as panel presentations with Britta Bjornlund ’88, branch chief, U.S. Department of State; Jill Dougherty ’69 ’71, former CNN correspondent and Moscow bureau chief; Mark Teeter, columnist at “The Moscow Times"; Eric Naiman, Professor of UC Berkeley and alumnus of 1978; and Larry Sherwin, Deputy Director of Communications at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and alumnus of 1975. Learn more about the anniversary, read the DW news feature, and hear alumni stories from St. Petersburg.

Scholarships, Fellowships, Awards, and More!

From supporting scholars to receiving awards, CIEE continues to show commitment to increasing access to international exchange opportunities and providing extraordinary experiences for people around the globe. Here are a few highlights of what CIEE has celebrated in recent months:


UPCOMING EVENTS 

Stay up-to-date with alumni events by:

Read about the most recent CIEE Alumni Local Chapter events on the blog.

 

 


 

ALUM OF THE MONTH 

The Alum of the Month for October is Alyssa O'Connor. Alyssa taught English in Chanthaburi, Thailand in 2013 to first, second, and third grade children through CIEE Teach Abroad. She is about to embark on her next journey abroad as a girls' health management project leader in Kenya, providing educational workshops and sanitary products to empower girls to make healthy decisions for their bodies. Read her story.



Do you have your own story to share? Email us: alumni@ciee.org


ALUMNI VOICES

Excerpts from recently published alumni stories:

"This exchange experience has been life changing for us. It helped us be more independent and shaped our personalities for the better. We were able to take the good examples of the United States and bring and implement them in our country." -Guxim & Grese (CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2016)

"...I value travelling more than anything, it’s a great way to learn about the world you live in. There is no way they [university teachers] would teach you how people behave themselves in the U.S. and why they are always friendly... you have to go the country by yourself and figure it out. ONLY then you will be able to understand life in another country." -Nikita Bazhenov (CIEE High School USA 2012, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017)

 


@CIEEALUMNI 

From left: CIEE High School USA alumnus and current CIEE Work and Travel USA participant shares his adventures across America through vlogging; #SaveJ1 trends on social media as alumni and other supporters share photos from their experiences on exchange programs in the U.S.; alumni and guests show off their name tags at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the CIEE Study Center in St. Petersburg, Russia.

On social media? So are we! Follow us on Twitter or Instagram @CIEEalumni, and join over 20,000 alumni on our LinkedIn group

Don't forget to update your information to receive important communications and alumni news!

 

Interested in working with us at CIEE? Browse our open jobs.


ALUMNI NEWS  |  EVENTS  |  CHAPTERS  |  CONTACT US

300 Fore St. Portland, ME 04101  |  1.207.553.4000  |  ciee.org/alumni

If you wish to be removed from this group's mailing list, click here

FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO COLLEGE LIFE IN GHANA

*A version of this post originally appeared on the CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, Arts & Sciences program blog

by Kaylee Haskell, a Junior at University of Tampa who is studying this Fall '17 semester on the CIEE Ghana Arts and Science program. She is also an Alum of the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program in Ghana in 2013.

Small towns produce two kinds of people- those who sit comfortably in their familiar, safe environments and those who crave to find what’s beyond, following their curiosity and need for something new and different. I will always be grateful for growing up in Vermont, but it was definitely beneficial and necessary to explore new, different cultures.

When I decided to go to Ghana in 2013, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was finishing my junior year in high school and I had never left my mother, aside from 3-day field hockey camp, but I felt like I needed a change of scenery. 

1003897_10201556638380248_939940271_n
Kaylee (2nd from left) with some of the High School students and Programme Leaders

CIEE made the planning and traveling process as easy as possible for my family and I. The Leadership Academy prepared me more for what was to come in my life than anything in my prior 17 years. I had little knowledge about Ghana before I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, but I could tell instantly that this place would have an impact on me.

I was very homesick for the first week that I was in Accra. I had convinced myself before I left that I would be fine and not miss home, but it seems somewhat inevitable when you’ve never left home before, and now you’re 5,000 miles away. However, the homesickness didn’t prevail and I quickly settled into this new culture and let it open my eyes to people, places and things unknown.

 Our small group of 6 high schoolers spent our weekdays volunteering at Future Leaders UCC, and then returning back to the University of Ghana campus to take Twi language classes and group leadership lessons. On weekends we would participate in excursions and escape the city life of Accra to more rural places that took us deeper into the roots of the culture.

My four weeks in Ghana felt more like a taste of the culture than an actual immersion. The days flew by and when it was time to leave, I wanted more. Despite taking language classes, I could only comfortably say '3te s3n', '3y3' and 'medaase', which was sufficient for the 30 days I was there, but I found myself wanting more, and I knew I would eventually return.

1082560_10201571902881851_1193460635_o
At the Cape Coast Castle

My experience in Ghana shifted my college and career path. I chose to move from Vermont to Florida to be around more, diverse people. I also started my college career as a journalism major, but quickly added an international and cultural studies major to that to allow myself to dive into different people, where they come from and the roots of their cultures.

I decided that I would return to Ghana for the fall semester in 2017. Because CIEE has helped me so greatly before, I didn’t look to any other program because I knew they would ensure that I had the greatest abroad experience.

I arrived on the Legon campus on August 10th, and have now been here for 36 days, a little over the time that I spent here before, and it has flown by. My experience from the Leadership Academy prepared me greatly for the semester ahead. I feel as though I am more comfortable with intercultural communications and am more accustomed to the everyday norms that differ from those in the US. I have been able to make friends with locals, travel comfortably outside of the capital, confidently board and trotro and make connections throughout the country that I never could have done otherwise.

I decided to focus my studies for this semester on gender and culture within Ghana and the issues that surround it. I am enrolled in 5 classes, including another Twi language course, I’m determined to carry a conversation, an intercultural communication course and 3 classes surrounding issues within gender roles, religion and Ghanaian culture. Even with some prior knowledge, it is interesting to indulge in conversations with locals and see what norms are still prevalent in everyday life today.   

The most interesting lesson that has been the topic of discussion in more than one of my classes is the role of women in Ghanaian society and how it is calculated, or not calculated, into the Gross Domestic Product of the country. The GDP is measured in the public space, which doesn’t account for any services that are provided in the private space. This leads to a high rate of unemployment within the female population of Ghana, because a majority of the country promotes strict gender roles, keeping the women’s work in the household. These women are considered “not working” while they are the first to rise, maintain the household, prepare her husband for work, her children for school, clean while they are all gone, run errands, cook and clean when everyone returns home, wash and maintain the house while they are asleep and repeat these steps every day. Women’s roles in Ghanaian culture are crucial to the function of the society, but never measured on the big scale. 

1002162_10201556499496776_1503043045_n
Kaylee learning how to Tie Dye

This has stood out to me the most so far, but we are only 5 weeks in. I am forever grateful for the opportunities CIEE and Ghana have provided me with and am looking forward to the next 3 months in this vibrant, evolving country.

21463372_10214065161045497_3306888336540305584_n
Kaylee with some of her local Ghanaian and CIEE friends

 

CIEE Teach Abroad Alum Leads Girls' Health Project in Kenya

The Alum of the Month for October is CIEE Teach Abroad alumna Alyssa O’Connor. After graduating from Cornell University, Alyssa taught English in Thailand in 2013 to first, second, and third grade children in Chanthaburi. She now looks back on her experience as a time of growth and cultural immersion as she is about to embark on her next adventure abroad.

Alyssa with students in Thailand
Alyssa with students in Thailand

“Looking back, teaching English was the best decision I could have made for myself and I am so grateful for this organization. I enjoyed the chance to live and work abroad, immersing myself in another culture versus just traveling through it. At the end of my program, I found myself asking, 'Did I come to teach? Or did I come to be taught?' I learned so much from my kids, as well as my fellow Thai teachers, that I knew working internationally was the direction in life I wished to proceed. Taking the confidence and skills I gained from CIEE, I started working on my next opportunity to go abroad and am so happy to share this project with you.

"In January, I will be going to Kenya for three months as a menstrual health management project leader with Cross World Africa, a non-profit dedicated to ending inequality in East Africa. All over the world, menstruation persists as a taboo subject that is not discussed within the home and is largely skipped over in school. When girls reach puberty, many are left confused and scared about what is happening in their body. To make matters worse, many girls can't afford sanitary products and resort to using improper materials, like mattress stuffing and old newspapers, which leads to infections and missed school. Lack of education on menstrual hygiene management, as well as lack of access to sanitary products, are just two parts of a vicious cycle that negatively affect girls who already face enough barriers to their education and empowerment. This summer, Cross World Africa secured a partnership with Ruby Life Ltd., a socially-minded, menstrual health company that makes a product called Ruby Cup. Working together, the goal of this project is provide educational workshops and a menstrual cup to empower girls to make healthy decisions for their bodies.”

In just a few short months, Alyssa will be traveling to Kenya to lead the three-month-long project - Ruby in the Rift - in the Rift Valley. Though it will be a challenging time for Alyssa with new language barriers and cultural barriers to overcome, she has already developed the skills to adjust through her CIEE Teach Abroad experience in Thailand. Alyssa is ready for her next teaching experience abroad on a new continent - a great new adventure. Learn more about the project and read the CIEE shout-out on her project leader page!

Three CIEE Study Abroad Alumni to Participate in IIE Summit as Generation Study Abroad Voices

This year, three CIEE Study Abroad alumni were invited to participate as Alumni Voices in the 2017 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in Washington, D.C. from October 1-3. The Summit is part of the Institute of International Education (IIE)'s Generation Study Abroad initiative, of which CIEE is a partner, that aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by 2020. The theme for this year's Summit is "Navigating a Changing World: Building Talent with Global Experience." Studies show that graduates with an international experience find employment faster and are more prepared than those without it, yet less than 10% of U.S. college students graduate with global experience. The Summit will bring together leaders and practitioners from education, business, and government for discussion on global workforce readiness to spark new ideas and creative collaboration to work towards expanding study abroad participation.

As a Generation Study Abroad Alumni Voice, these three CIEE Study Abroad alumni will be contributing their experiences, thoughts, and ideas as individuals who have gone from a study abroad student to a member of a global workforce. Combined, they present skills in photography, advocacy, business, marketing, writing, editing, and more. Click on their bios below to learn more about them, what they plan on contributing to the Summit, and what access to study abroad means to them:

RACHEL MALONE

Rachel

STUDIED IN:
Dublin, Ireland

EDUCATION:
B.A. in Travel and Hospitality, Minneapolis Business College

CURRENT POSITION:
Brand Ambassador, Sand Cloud

BREANNA MOORE

Breanna

STUDIED IN:
Legon, Ghana

EDUCATION:
B.A. in International Relations and African Studies, University of Pennsylvania

CURRENT POSITION:
Founder and CEO, LaBré

THOMAS ROSE

Tom

STUDIED IN:
Lisbon, Portugal

EDUCATION:
B.S. in Professional Writing, Champlain College

CURRENT POSITION:
Freelance Writer & Editor

 

 

 

IIE Summit Participant: Rachel Malone

Rachel Malone

CIEE Study Abroad in Dublin, Ireland, Summer 2016. CIEE/MIUSA Access to the World Scholarship. Minneapolis Business College graduate.

Rachel is a strong advocate for disability rights with insatiable wanderlust and goals to compete in the Paralympics someday. She has put her degree in travel and hospitality to good use by travelling to more than thirteen countries using a wheelchair. She also studied American Sign Language and is an award-winning, exhibited, and published photographer. Rachel is an advocate for disability civil rights and works closely with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) related programs in her hometown community in Minnesota. Her experience travelling abroad has offered a unique opportunity to compare and contrast accessibility in other countries. A true global citizen, Rachel has a strong sense of wanderlust and adventure that is sure to take her on many more travels to come. Her globetrotting experience offers great knowledge for the international education community in learning about accessibility differences worldwide. Learn more about Rachel:

IMG_0180
"Myself and paralympic wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden in front of her image on the stairs of the National Portrait Gallery, during ADA 25/40 celebrations.Washington, D.C."

What made you interested in studying in Ireland with CIEE?

I attended the ADA 25th Anniversary celebrations in D.C., and when I returned home I saw that there was a scholarship being offered to 25 students with disabilities from MIUSA and CIEE called "Access to the World," so I applied and received it. I was asked where I'd want to go and why, and I said Ireland because I have part Irish heritage and my disability is most prevalent in Ireland. So, I wanted to see what life would have been like if I had been born with my disability in Ireland had my family not created the Irish colony where I am from in Minnesota.

Where else in the world have you traveled?

I've mostly gone on cruises, but in total I have been to 13 countries and 32 states – Jamaica, Haiti, England, France, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, Italy – to name a few.

What does being a global citizen mean to you?

Learning about others’ beliefs and customs and respecting our differences. Contributing when you feel you are able to offer something of value, and being open to trying different things.

The Summit revolves largely around making study abroad accessible to everyone. What are your thoughts on this?

As a person with a disability who has an educational background in travel and hospitality, I took the difficulties I faced in my study abroad in Ireland and our Intercultural Comparative Experience (“ICE”) weekends in Spain and Germany, and it made me want to look for ways I can contribute to making the lives of Europeans with disabilities, and lives of others like families and caregivers, easier where I see significant flaws. The trips made me want to find ways to make their lives better, which would in turn make the lives of everyone with a disability better. Seeing the difficulties that they face and that I don't deal with in the U.S. made me want to meet more of them, to look for a possible committee on accessibility, understand if they see a change being needed, and to offer them ideas or advice which I think may help.

Jux1
"A photo of the ADA Legacy Tour Bus, during ADA 25/40 celebrations, as many of us with disabilities marched with NCIL, from the Grand Hyatt a rally at the U.S. capitol. Washington, D.C."

What thoughts are you excited to contribute to the IIE Summit?

How better accessibility and removing barriers would greatly improve the quality of life for their citizens with disabilities in Ireland, and give those citizens more opportunities to shine. Better access for the country would mean a greater tourism boost and a better economy. Disabled visitors to the country would be able to get a better understanding of the Irish, their history, and the country itself. If accessibility needs are understood and barriers are removed, everyone would benefit; more people with disabilities would be able to travel independently in the country, and more citizens of the country would become self-reliant rather than potentially feeling like a burden or charity to caregivers. Quality of life for not only the disabled but those around them would be greatly improved with access. Europe has great adaptive equipment inventions, and if I were to run a country with that distinction, I would want to have people with disabilities front and center showing off our achievements.

IIE Summit Participant: Breanna Moore

Breanna Moore

CIEE Study Abroad in Legon, Ghana, Spring 2014. Michael Stohl Research Scholarship. University of Pennsylvania graduate.

The immersive experience of living and studying in Ghana exposed Breanna to the vibrant artisan communities, stunning Ankara fabrics, and traditional Kente cloth that inspired her to create her own clothing line – LaBré. LaBré is a fashion-forward West African-inspired clothing company that employs Ghanaian designers, seamstresses, and tailors, who are primarily women, to create African-inspired, modern products for exposure to the international market. Her entrepreneurial pursuits aim to increase economic growth in the country through job creation – supporting those who are often disenfranchised. Based in Philadelphia, Breanna continues to grow the fashion line and build on the large, preexisting network of African-focused organizations in the city. Breanna’s semester in Ghana represents the powerful intercultural connections and economic development opportunities that are found through exchanging our world. Learn more about Breanna:

FullSizeRender

What made you interested in studying in Ghana with CIEE?

The summer prior to studying abroad in Ghana with CIEE, I studied abroad for one month at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology through the International Development Summer Institute where I taught mathematics to elementary and middle school students in Adanwomase, Ghana. That experience motivated me to come back to Ghana and explore the country through a semester-long program with CIEE.

Where else in the world have you traveled?

I have traveled to South Africa, Togo, Barbados, and Grand Cayman Island.

What does being a global citizen mean to you?

Being a global citizen means not being confined by political, man-made borders. It means accepting people from other cultures as your human family, knowing that "foreign" is only one translation away from realizing we all share a common experience, culture, and bond.

The Summit revolves largely around making study abroad accessible to everyone. What are your thoughts on this?

I agree wholeheartedly that it's vital for youth to have the opportunity to travel, learn, and expand their mind. Traveling teaches you not only about other people and their cultures but also about yourself. It's necessary that steps are made to prohibit financial or other disadvantages from hindering youth from getting the life-changing experience of global citizenry through travel.

How do you think study abroad prepares young people to become global leaders?

Once you realize, through travel, that the world is bigger than your street, your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country, you'll able to care more about how global systems affect people everywhere. You will be able to lead being driven by the motivation to have a positive impact on all communities and not only try to find solutions to issues that affect you and your community directly because you'll realize that we are all connected and until everyone in the world is from free oppression then there is no progress.

Gh

How has your study abroad experience shaped who you are as a person and leader?

Studying abroad in Ghana caused me to pick up better values and treat people better. I loved certain parts of the culture and adopted it into my own. I began to share more with people. I asked people how they were and how their family were with genuine care. I talked to people more directly. I became more relaxed, appreciative, and less stressed. I listened more and grew from being in and observing the culture.

How did study abroad equip you to be a part of the global workforce?

Studying abroad allowed me to make connections with people who I desired to do business with. I learned more about the market and fashion industry that I now participate in. I learned the importance of international travel and international business. Studying abroad equipped me to become an entrepreneur.

What thoughts are you excited to contribute to the IIE Summit?

I'm excited to contribute to the IIE Summit how studying abroad can, and will, impact you past the tone experience – how you can take what you learn and use it to propel you towards your interests and passions.

IIE Summit Participant: Thomas Rose

Thomas Rose

CIEE Study Abroad in Lisbon, Portugal, Spring 2016. Champlain College graduate.

Thomas Rose spent spring of 2016 exploring the culture of Lisbon, Portugal – analog camera in hand. During an art history class, he befriended an Austrian creative with a bold idea to document the culinary wonders of their host city. The result? “Salt & Wonder” – a passionate print magazine exploring the culinary startup culture of Lisbon. They have proudly released their first issue and Thomas returned to his study abroad team in Portugal to share in celebration. He continues to serve as the editorial voice for the magazine while back in the United States. Thomas’ study abroad experience is an example of the unique, life-changing opportunities that studying abroad offers to intimately discover a new city, country, and culture. Learn more about Thomas:

Photo credit: Tim Waltman
Photo credit: Tim Waltman. "Tim's photo was taken during my return to Lisbon a year later for the Salt & Wonder Release party. Here, facing Lisbon and the Ponte 25 de Abril from across the mighty Tejo River, (from left to Right) Me, Chris, and Anna review one of Chris's photos while Luca takes another photo. Traveling with four photographers is quite meta, as exemplified by this photo of someone taking a photo of three people reviewing a photo just taken."

What made you interested in studying in Portugal with CIEE?

My father's side of my family came off the boat from Portugal a couple generations back. I wanted to explore that heritage, and I also wanted to choose a less traveled study abroad destination. Dublin, Rome, Montreal, Barcelona, and London all seemed very popular for study abroad at the time, and I like to be different, so Portugal was perfect.

Where else in the world have you traveled?

In high school I did a week-long exchange program in the Italian alps, based out of a city called Cles, but I stayed in a small mountain village called Rumo. That was my introduction to travel. In high school, I played drums for a band that saw some underground success. Through that I was able to tour with the band down the East Coast twice, as well as around the entire United States during the summer after my freshman year of college. Finally, during my semester in Portugal I took three trips: an Easter break backpacking adventure through Amsterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Prague, Auschwitz, Krakow, and Paris; a weekend trip to Dublin; and another weekend trip to the Azores, specifically the island of Pico, where some of my great-great-grandparents came from.

Photo credit: Thomas Rose
"This photo is taken during my weekend trip to the island of Pico in the Azores. My friend Avi and I had just hiked down from Pico Mountain after being turned away from the summit, which was too dangerous to climb that day. Here, A woman walking her dogs stopped to let them play in a tide pool. In the background you can see Faial, another of the Azores Islands."

What does being a global citizen mean to you?

Being a global citizen means I can go anywhere in the world and not just survive, but learn, appreciate, and enjoy the setting and the people who call it home.

The Summit revolves largely around making study abroad accessible to everyone. What are your thoughts on this?

The more people who are able to travel, the better. One of the biggest downsides of attending any multiple-year program at any school is that you have to stay there, and usually at a time in a young person's life when they should instead be seeing and experiencing as many things different and new as possible. Study abroad is one remedy to that. Uprooting from home and discovering a new place and its people grants perspective, from which derives understanding. In order to be a leader, especially on a global scale, you need to not only understand your own people, but all people. The wild thing about going to another place and experiencing its culture is certainly the differences, but it's also the similarities. People are people wherever you go. Everywhere people dance. Everywhere people sing. Everywhere people work, and everywhere people struggle. To travel and share these experiences is how we can learn as a globe. I believe that's what they call cultural exchange, and that's why study abroad should be accessible to everyone. Personally, study abroad allowed me to test myself – to learn how to interact in a place where I was fresh, knew no one, and couldn't speak the language. Consequently, I was able to meet some fantastic people, have some incredible experiences in far-off places, and make connections between places that are still granting me opportunity to this day.

What thoughts are you excited to contribute to the IIE Summit?

I'm excited to offer my voice as one who was bettered immensely by my time abroad and explore how it's possible to give more people that opportunity.

Photo credit: Thomas Rose
"This photo was taken in a small bar in the Barrio Alto district of Lisbon. The bar is called Vou de Camões, after the famous Portuguese poet. I stopped in for a drink after riding into the city and was lucky enough to get this shot. Lisbon is a very romantic city, this shot captures that."

Stories from St. Petersburg: Celebrating 50 Years

23230_Study Abroad_St Petersburg_St. Petersburg_RLP_RASP_Catherine_s Palace _Fall 2006_

This year marks 50 years of international exchange in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1967, CIEE contracted Soviet Union representatives and negotiated the first educational exchange that ever took place between the two nations. Since then, thousands of American students have participated in eye-opening exchanges in St. Petersburg to practice Russian language, learn about Russian history, and foster mutual cultural understanding.

To celebrate 50 years of exchanges, the CIEE Study Center in St. Petersburg is hosting an anniversary program from September 21 to September 24. CIEE Study Abroad students, alumni, staff, partners, and friends will enjoy a long weekend of Russian cultural events including trips to the State Hermitage Museum, a 'Swan Lake' ballet at Mikhailovsky Theatre, a Russian-themed costume ball, and an excursion to Peterhof. A number of distinguished alumni will speak at the event including a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, a former CNN correspondent, and a columnist from "The Moscow Times."

Throughout history, CIEE has adapted to change, in this region and beyond, to remain true to their founding mission while embracing new challenges in international education. CIEE is dedicated to providing the highest level of academic and intercultural programs for students from the U.S., and around the world, for generations to come. This anniversary represents 50 years of providing opportunities for Americans and Russians to learn together, exchange ideas, and study language to better communicate across cultures. The experiences of generations of study abroad students in Russia illustrate the impact that these exchanges have had on cultural understanding and the beauty of finding a second home in a world that was once inaccessible for American students. Read these thoughts and memories from alumni to get a glimpse of what exchange in St. Petersburg, Russia has looked like over time:

1967

Exchange programs between the United States and Leningrad, Russia begin.

1969

“[…] Being in Leningrad University, so old, so famous, so prestigious, was thrilling. And then, when we started attending classes, we had two teachers, whose names I still remember, though incompletely. They were Robert Eduardovich Nazarian and Inna Sergeevna, whose surname I unfortunately cannot recall.. [...] And they were the best teachers. They were incredible. They were so dedicated and so effective; they were so technically good at teaching us Russian. And it was so interesting. I remember that Robert Nazarian assigned us a paper about art—specifically about modern art, which is kind of interesting, in the Soviet Union. I wrote my paper about Picasso. […] We had such wonderful conversations with our teachers about really interesting things. And then, privately, we’d go and listen to music with our friends, and talk about life. It was a really fabulous experience.”

-Jill Dougherty (’69, ’71)

  1970

“Having grown up in rural America, I arrived in Leningrad with little exposure to high art and culture. I drank it in. Whether it was watching Mikhail Baryshnikov perform as a rising ballet star, or visiting a different room of the Hermitage each day to do homework, art became a passion. To this day, I am an avid balletomane and always go through the Hermitage when in St. Petersburg to say hello to my favorite paintings. They are like old friends.” 

-Mary Kruger (’69, ’70)

1971

“Because the standard of living was so much lower in Russia than it was back in our home, I learned to get along with very little. I also learned to appreciate what we had. I believe that we all learned to be flexible and to realize that each person has his own set of beliefs. Also, one quickly realizes that when speaking to a person from another cultural and linguistic background, one has to anticipate what that person is really trying to express, in other words, not to take each word in one’s own language at face value, but to try to grasp what the person is actually trying to say. So tolerance would be another skill which one acquires when living and studying abroad. Also one realizes that if things are done differently, then perhaps that particular approach has established itself in response to a different environment. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” 

-Pamela Dougherty (’69, ’71)

1975

“We were grouped into five levels of Russian-language ability based on a detailed written and oral test given at the university. All courses were in Russian and revolved around language, grammar, phonetics and literature. It was serious, intensive language study for hours each day [...]. Classes were long and expert, teachers excellent and disciplined, and we all learned a lot.”   

-Larry Sherwin (’75)

1976

“Leningrad was the first Soviet city I ever saw and the first big city after Washington DC and New York that I knew and ever lived in. It was simultaneously very similar to and very different from Washington, both post-imperial capitals, both military capitals with a lot of military objects and statues of war heroes and a lot of people in uniform. The city was a город-музей, with the 18th-19th century architecture—and was run-down like museum. I have visited Vienna, Paris, and other imperial capitals and I think Saint Petersburg is still my favorite imperial capital. Theaters and museums made me a much more cultured person. The change of season from winter to spring was dramatic. Even now, I often compare cities that I visit with Saint Petersburg.” 

-Mark von Hagen (’76, ’80)

1979

“We had classes in the morning, but after that we spent practically every waking moment with Vasya, Irina, and their circle. Our activities included: throwing a frisbee, hanging out at their tiny communal apartment, cooking and eating, exploring what seemed like every single corner of the city, riding the metro and trolleybuses, going out to the beach on the Gulf of Finland, going to museums, playing guitar and singing in public parks.” 

-Sharon Lee Cowan (’79)

1981

“Two things struck me particularly during my stay. One was the warmth and hospitality of ordinary Soviet/Russian people in private settings; the other was the fact that Russians seemed to know much more about the United States and American culture than most Americans knew about Russia. Russians were much friendlier and more welcoming toward Americans than Americans were toward Russians at the time. Russians did not take the Cold War personally or view us American students as responsible for our government’s policies.” 

-Adrienne Lynn Edgar (’81)

1983

“The summer I spent in Leningrad in 1983 completely changed my life. It was my first trip abroad, and it was the experience that set me on a professional path that I have been on ever since.” 

-Michael McFaul (’83) [Read his story]

1988

“My eyes wide open, I grew in courage and confidence. It’s then that I decided that to learn a language is to transmit knowledge. But what would I transmit or bring to the world? And it was back then that I decided to return to the US to get a medical degree. I subsequently became a surgeon and worked in Africa. To quote the good doctor, [Anton] Chekhov, ‘Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.’” 

-Matthew LeMaitre (’88)

1994

“The quality of language instructions was very, very high, and it has not changed. The teachers were very genuine. I was always treated with a lot of respect by the instructors and the administration. The teachers really cared about the students. I am sure they are still like that.” 

-Darin Menlove (1994–95 Resident Director)

2000

“After studying abroad in Russia, I had a richer, fuller, more real impression of Russians. I learned about their bottomless generosity and strength of will. I learned about their reverence for high culture (poetry, ballet, fine arts) and pride in military accomplishments. But overall I learned that the Russian people are extremely complex.” 

-Jarlath McGuckin (’00 student, 2006-13 CIEE resident staff)

2001

“Living in St. Petersburg, everything was right there before me. Russian history? Choose one of the hundreds of museums. Russian arts? Pick a museum or theater–you won’t even come close to getting to them all. Russian orthodox religion? There are cathedrals to tour and believers to talk with. […] But I have to say my best memories came from a hobby I picked up on a whim. I bought an old Russian camera and started messing with it trying to take pictures of St. Petersburg (this is before digital cameras were really a thing). I went everywhere and photographed everything I could: not terribly artistic, but it made for great memories. It gave me something to work on while I was seeing these amazing places like the Summer Gardens, Smolnyi Cathedral in the fall, the Summer Palace, and the Art Institute. I took a particular interest in night photography because I thought the buildings around St. Petersburg were so beautiful, especially lit up at night. My photographic skills were not great (a remote shutter would’ve helped immensely), but walking around St. Petersburg at night and seeing these things in the dark and covered with snow made an already-magical place even more so—and created magical memories as well. I also had the chance to meet people and just talk with them as best my language would allow, and learn more about the city and its residents. Probably it was not the best idea wandering around at night by myself, but memories like that you cannot make any other way.” 

-Andy F. (’01)

2002

“I loved exploring, and St. Petersburg is a city that lends itself to getting deliberately lost along canals and in back alleys. I enjoyed walking with friends through the almost desolate nighttime streets of Vasilievsky Ostrov (where I lived), exploring smaller sites such as the Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad. We also enjoyed the perks of student life, such as getting student prices at the Mariinsky Theater.” 

-Matt Burke (’02)

2003

“In the winter of 2003, four CIEE Russian students set out from St. Petersburg to explore the Caucasus. It was great that the CIEE program gave students a week’s vacation from class in the middle of our program, allowing us to travel farther than our organized excursions to Moscow and Tallinn. Some students went to Poland, Ukraine, or back to the Baltics. Others went east to Lake Baikal. Our foursome decided to go south, visiting Volgograd, Piatigorsk, and Dombai. Armed with a borrowed Lonely Planet guide book, we made our way down to Piatigorsk, asking locals on the train how to get to Dombai. The simple answer was, ‘Don’t get in a taxicab or private car.’ Upon arriving in Piatigorsk, we encountered friendly people telling us about Lermontov’s city, and police officers who took our passports and wanted three hundred rubles in return. We hopped on buses going further south, finally reaching our terminal point with public transportation: a bus stop on the outskirts of Teberda, whose lone occupant was a cow grazing in the lot. With thirty kilometers to go, we took a taxi, against the advice of all the people on the train. Our cab driver drove us up the snow-covered roads, warning us that the ski resort was off-season, and insisting, ‘If we make it only to Dombai, you haven’t really been to the Caucasus.’ We were lucky to have his help, as he found us a place to live with his brother’s family, where we rented a spare apartment. We were able to spend only two days in Dombai, but they were memorable. We went on a four-hour horseback riding trip that took us close to the border of Georgia, and spent the rest of the time eating shashlyk and kharcho at the one open cafe in town. On the way back, we met a youth wrestling team from Dagestan. We arm-wrestled on the train. We also spent time with a soldier who was on leave to return home for his father’s funeral. Our trip was memorable in so many different ways, from vast beautiful landscapes to the countless friendly people whom we met along the way. It was the highlight of my semester in Russia with CIEE.” 

-Andrew Chapman (’03)

2005

“During my program, I stayed with a family of three in an apartment complex on Bolshoy Prospekt. Most of my days were spent riding the metro system to school, with visits to the Hermitage or other landmarks or museums in the afternoons. The family I stayed with was very helpful and for better and worse, they spoke English rather well when I struggled with the Russian language.” 

-Fred O’Hara (’05)

2008

“I think about Inna and Zora [my hosts] a lot when I come up with my lesson plans. The words I learned from them were right in front of me as they showed them to me–immediately useful and necessary: matches, traffic, towel, butter. I try and give my students words that they’ll need and use, rather than vocabulary that has nothing to do with their lives.” 

-Lauren Nelson (’08)

2010

“I really appreciated getting to stay with a host family and to live immersed in the ‘real Russia.’ It allowed me to see what life was like for ordinary people in Russia, to see beyond the perceptions/propaganda we might have been exposed to through the news or other stereotypes.” 

-Lindsay Daniels (’10)

2012

“The most valuable part of my experience was my homestay and interacting with our native teachers. Living in a working-class home in St. Petersburg was very educational and my host’s stories about the country in the early years after the Soviet Union brought my knowledge of the country to life and humanized the issues faced by the rapidly changing nation. Interacting with locals, however, was also the most difficult part of living in Russia. Having been able to read and write in Russian far better than speak or listen, adjusting to living with a host family was probably the most difficult aspect of the program. I often did not understand locals, but quickly learned to find other ways to communicate through hand signals, sounds, and broken sentences.” 

-Will Bezbatchenko (’12)

2013

“Because my first encounter with Russian culture came through the works of Tolstoy, I pictured Russia as an elegant and high societal culture—an expectation I carried with me as I first set out for Petersburg. Though my expectations differed from reality in many ways, I was pleasantly surprised by how steeped in tradition Russia remains, as well as by how much their literature runs deep in the parlance of modern people. While in America, it’s a challenge to find someone able to quote Hemingway or Frost, in today’s Russia, it is harder still to find someone unable to recite Pushkin, and I think that is one of my favorite characteristics of the Russian people.” 

-Rebekah Olson (’13)

2014

“The CIEE had a nice array of classes that complemented my studies of U.S.-Russian relations. Taking classes like Russian politics and Ethnic studies (in Russia) enhanced my degree and gave me a better understanding of the country than I could have received in the U.S. I believe it really made a difference that the professors were locals. They often shared stories of their own Russian experiences while simultaneously answering any questions or concerns we had from what we heard in our media.” 

-Ella Berishev (’14)

2015

“[...] being able to explore the city through a series of excursions was a big advantage of this program, as it provided me with an opportunity to get to know Russian society from all of its angles… My life in Russia revolved around fully exploring the local culture, local museums, parks, watching operas and ballet, etc. I miss being able to simply stroll around the city after classes and admire the beauty of the architecture. I am really grateful for my host family who introduced me to many of their friends and allowed me to become a part of their family celebrations and events.” 

-Dagmara Franczak (’15)

2016

“[...] The city, although different in appearance and in time, is still the same city in which Dostoevsky lived. Through the opportunities given to us by the CIEE, we were able to recognize this and furthermore imagine ourselves in Dostoevsky's time. The first thing we had the opportunity to do is attend a play of one of Dostoevsky's short stories, ‘Сон Смешного Человека’ (‘Dream of a Ridiculous Man’). I had read this story in English a few months before coming here to Saint Petersburg, and so although it was presented in Russian, I was able to understand what was happening. Moreover, it was by far the best stage performance I have ever seen, no exaggeration. There were perhaps only fifteen people in the room, which was decorated with period-style furniture and lit with candles. I cannot overstate the actor’s skill, or the feelings I experienced there. It was absolutely amazing. The CIEE students also had the opportunity to go on a walking tour of all the places in ‘Преступление и Наказание’ (‘Crime and Punishment’). This, I thought, would be interesting and nothing more, but I was wrong. Not only was it interesting, but it even brought the story to life. We were able to see the apartment in which Dostoevsky described Rodion Raskolnikov as living, as well as the places where other various characters might have lived. Frequently, my English translation had mentioned the 'hay market', and only on the tour did I discover that this was an area I had traversed myself multiple times before. Furthermore, we walked the distance on the same streets that Raskolnikov took to the apartment of the pawnbroker, and saw the apartment in which Dostoevsky wrote his novel. In fact, we had to remind ourselves that these people were not real, and that they were only characters in a book, because it was so easy to imagine them as real.” 

-Iain Cunningham (’16)

2017

“Before I arrived here, I thought Saint Petersburg was not truly Russian. Now I can see that perhaps Saint Petersburg is quintessentially Russian. Everyone says that it is Russia’s European city, and that might be true on the surface. But, if one bothers to look even a little closely, one can see through the veil, one can see a heart that is neither European nor Asiatic, but Russian.” 

-Jacob Levitan (’17)

 

CIVIC LEADERSHIP ALUMNI ORGANIZE FIRST ANNUAL GREEN ART FESTIVAL IN KOSOVO

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Guxim Klinaku and Grese Koca, CIEE Work & Travel USA  and Civic Leadership Summit alumni

CLS 1
Grese and Guxim at the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit

Grese and I are cofounders of an environmental NGO in Kosovo called Keep It Green. The idea for the Green Art Festival was created in 2014 and developed even more at the Civic Leadership Summit last year. The CLS was an extraordinary help to the project. The group work on the summit was a great push for the idea and the project in general. The lessons and activities of CLS had a huge impact on developing and strengthening the skills needed to get back and do community service.

The first annual Green Art Festival was held in Obiliq in 2016. We wanted to raise the voices of young artists through a festival that shows the huge environmental problems that our country deals with. Obiliq is one of the most polluted cities in Europe according to the World Bank report published in 2016. We envisioned a green festival in the backyard of power plants raising awareness through art about the hazardous levels of air pollution in the area. This was our first year, and we faced a lot of problems, but personally I think we learned a lot from the experience. The true challenge of organizing a festival is managing the human resources, and working in detail to make it fun for the audience and the participants. The festival was supported by the U.S. Embassy in Prishtina, Kosovo United States Alumni, and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. 

GAF 1
Grese, Guxim, and Keep it Green Council Member Muhamed Sallover at the 2017 Green Art Festival, Obiliq, Kosovo (l-r)

Now we are working on the Green Art Festival 2018 to make it even bigger next year. We are also submitting project proposals to a couple of organizations with concrete projects that would make significant changes in our communities. We have established a firm partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo and American Corner here. From CLS 2016, we started to believe that everyone has the power to make a change in their community, no matter how small you start. We learned that by taking smaller steps first, one can make the huge jump in the future.

Apart from our week in Washington DC, we worked as ice cream specialists in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We dipped and served ice cream in a small store near the beach, talked to locals, made new friends and had the chance to explore the American lifestyle. For us it was extremely interesting to learn about a new culture and share bits of our country with Americans. For us, this exchange was not about working in the States, it was about creating bridges of friendship and understanding between two countries at a level that only a program such as Summer Work Travel can provide.

Rehoboth 1
Riding bikes in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware


This exchange experience has been life changing for us. It helped us be more independent and shaped our personalities for the better. We were able to take the good examples of the United States and bring and implement them in our country. We are glad that we made the most of this experience and beyond thankful for the opportunity.

See more from the Green Art Festival in the video below. To learn more about how to support Grese and Guxim and their nonprofit Keep it Green, visit their Facebook page or GoFundMe.

 

VLOGGING ACROSS AMERICA: NICK'S STORY

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

 By Nikita Bazhenov, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant and CIEE High School USA alumnus

Nick 1

Hi, my name is Nikita Bazhenov. I am from Russia and I am on a work and travel program this year. In Russia I am a third year student in Higher School of Economics studying Sociology. I work as a cashier at Adventure Aquarium in Camden,NJ, just across the bridge from Philadelphia, PA. Another fun fact: I have a daily vlog. Yes, here on the program, I try to create a movie every single day, sometimes I fail and have to catch up but I still have not missed a day.

I’ve already been to the US, I lived here for a year and went to Santiam Christian High School in Oregon. That was five years ago, and this time I came to get an experience of adult life in the U.S. Being a kid in high school in the U.S. was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about the culture of the United States, and my host family shared a lot of knowledge with me, so this time I knew what to expect from this country.

I never thought I would visit US as an exchange student ever again, and that was a totally spontaneous decision made by me and my girlfriend Anastasia this winter. To give you some context, I love filming events, parties, pretty much anything in this world, but I never took time to do it. Mostly because I was busy working and studying at the university at the same time. Moreover, I was in desperate need of equipment (like a camera at least) because the one I was using was a 2013 Canon, bought by Anastasia, so it was not even mine. With my salary at that time I would have taken a couple of years to save up for a decent camera, so we decided to come here, to work, travel, and share our experience with other people who might want to join us on our journey.

Nick 2

Another point was that my English level really went down at that time. Compared to my English level after attending high school in the U.S., I had forgotten a lot, and I had to fix that problem as fast as I could. I knew the CIEE office in St Petersburg from my previous FLEX experience, so I was able to go with CIEE.

As for the skills and knowledge I got during this program…there are 2 parts of this question. If we are talking about making movies – I learned way more this summer than I’ve learned in the last 3 years shooting. The other thing is, I value travelling more than anything, it’s a great way to learn about the world you live in. There is no way they would teach you how people behave themselves in the U.S. and why they are always friendly in university, you have to go the country by yourself and figure it out. ONLY then you will be able to understand life in another country.

If you have an opportunity to go to the U.S. and spend your summer working with amazing people somewhere in this great country – TAKE IT. It is worth more than anything else – experiencing another country and learning new every day. Don’t stress out about your language skills – I know some students that are here right now, who were not very confident speaking when they came here. In only two months their skill rocketed to the place when they can have a conversation with their coworkers and understand fluent English. And this is my second point – the purpose of learning a language is not to write tests or essays – it is being able to talk to other people and understand them. There is not as much attention given to speaking while learning a language in high school or in university and this program gives you a chance to fill this gap.

The entire experience really means a lot to me, as it gave me an opportunity to do something that I really love – make movies. My hope for the future is that after this program I will be able to fulfill my ultimate dream – be able to share my ideas, my country and my life with other people via making videos. This summer got me really close to the point when I am able to do that, and I can’t wait to see where I can go with it.

Watch Nick's video about his trip to Washington DC here: