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Alumni Update - July 2017

 


NEWS THIS MONTH

Announcing the Winners of CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

In celebration of CIEE’s 70th Anniversary, we invited alumni of all of CIEE’s family of programs to share their stories with us, and the world, by entering the Alumni Storytelling Contest. It was an honor to hear so many inspiring stories that represent a wide variety of CIEE programs and experiences. Congratulations to our winners Charles Lee (Essay), Erin Ruff (Essay), Francesca Perticarini (Photo), and Atenea Rios Buezo (Video) who each receive a $500 prize. Because there were so many amazing entries, we've recognized a number of honorable mentions as well. Learn more about the contest winners and see the top entries on the blog. 

Celebrating CIEE's 70th Anniversary

In addition to the Alumni Storytelling Contest, CIEE celebrated its 70th Anniversary with an evening of conversation and fun at CIEE headquarters in Portland, Maine on June 8. Staff, members of the Board of Directors, and other special guests shared stories of our history and sentiments for the future. Read more about the event and enjoy this special video celebrating a rich history of international exchange:

CIEE - Celebrating 70 Years

Glimpse Into CIEE Global Navigator High School Summer Abroad

Did you know that there's a growing number of students studying abroad with CIEE during or after high school? Take a look at how current American students are seizing the summer on CIEE Global Navigator High School Summer Abroad programs around the world by following @cieealumni on Instagram and Twitter. Next week, we'll be featuring social posts from the program so you can learn about this exciting opportunity for high school-aged students. Follow us on social media today so you don't miss the feature!

Introducing the 2017 Alumni Summer Interns

Summertime means internship time at CIEE! The Alumni Summer Internship Program is in full swing right now in Portland, Maine at CIEE's global headquarters and at the Boston, Massachusetts office. Ten CIEE Study Abroad alumni are working in a variety of departments on challenging strategic projects while enjoying a summer in a new city. Learn more about the interns.


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 July is Wilka Nascimento. Wilka participated in the CIEE Work & Travel USA and Internship USA programs, where she learned about the hospitality industry and gained international work experience. Read Wilka's story to learn how she turned an internship into a rewarding career in sales management for hotels. 



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


ALUMNI VOICES

Excerpts from recently published alumni stories: 

"My job was in a restaurant as a busser. I worked with many international students, and I met my friend Martin from Russia. Every time we finished work we would sit down by the lake and chat. Martin asked me once about my religion, Islam. He had a very negative perception of Muslims because of depictions in the media. I told him that Islam is all about love, peace and compassion, and that we are open to all religions and accept them as they are. My friend apologized to me and told me that he is more eager to know more about Islam and will never believe something without proof anymore. He said he will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart. -Amir Ammar (CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2016)

"Studying abroad showed me how diverse the world is – in flora and fauna of course, but especially with people. It was building relationships with the people I met abroad, turning strangers to friends, which allowed me to gain perspective I otherwise wouldn't have." -Samantha Farquhar (CIEE Study Abroad, Kralendijk, Bonaire, 2014)

 


@CIEEALUMNI 

From left: CIEE Study Abroad alumni volunteer with the NGO Guestbook Project in Portugal; celebrating the Fourth of July (Independence Day in the United States) with a throwback photo of a CIEE Work & Travel USA participant experiencing the holiday while on program; a glimpse at the winning photo entry in the 70th Anniversary CIEE Alumni Storytelling Contest.

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When an Exchange Experience Turns Into a Career

The Alum of the Month for July is Wilka Nascimento. You might remember her from the Alumni Voices feature “How I Became a Global Citizen” on the CIEE Alumni Blog, in which she talked about her experience in the CIEE Work & Travel USA and Internship USA programs. Working in the hospitality industry in the U.S. while on these programs was an opportunity to learn about American culture, improve English skills, and gain international work experience. For this feature, we checked in with Wilka to learn more about how she turned an internship into a career.

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Wilka recently accepted a position as a senior sales manager at Hotel Wales in Manhattan, and formerly served as a director of sales for hotels, allowing her to work with a variety of major brands in the industry such as Hilton, Marriott, and IHG – crediting her CIEE program experience as a strong influence on her career path. Two months after earning her bachelor’s degree in business management focused on hotels and tourism, Wilka returned to the United States to pursue the CIEE Internship USA program:

“I was studying hospitality management in Brazil and I wanted to improve my English so I could communicate with international tourists in Brazil. During my first year of college, I had the opportunity to participate in the CIEE Work & Travel USA Program for four months. After the program, I still felt the need to improve my English, so I decided to come back after I graduated from college for a deeper understanding of the hotel industry in the United States.”

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Working at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland, Wilka had the opportunity to rotate through different departments such as housekeeping, accounting, and sales. The majority of her time was spent as a front desk associate cultivating her skills in patience, leadership, and communication while gaining valuable English language experience. The internship was an open door into the hospitality industry the United States, presenting new opportunities to engage deeper in her line of work. In fact, it was her internship experience that gave her the connections to get a job working for Holiday Inn Express Baltimore Downtown. Since then, she has worked in sales and marketing for a number of major hotels in the U.S. “During my internship in Annapolis, I fell in love with the sales department, which inspired me to pursue this field in my career and become a sales manager because I love to network, prospect, and close business, but beyond all I love to serve my guests.” To this day, Wilka continues to provide positive hospitality experiences for all visitors who come her way.

“I’m a pioneer in my family’s world.”

Beyond building a career, coming to the United States also meant visiting new places, meeting new people, and exploring the world without any fear. Her fearlessness even had an impact on family back in Brazil, inspiring her sister to take part in international exchange too. In a personal LinkedIn article, Wilka writes, “Actually I can say that I have two homes, two different worlds that I love to live in. I go to Brazil every year, and I love that I'm always learning something new about the United States. It brings me joy that my younger sister wants to explore and travel as well. Everything that I have done and been through it's worth it. I did build my own legacy in my family and that brings me joy.”

Interested in having a career-building internship of your own? Learn more about CIEE Internship USA today!

Introducing the 2017 Alumni Summer Interns

Every summer, CIEE selects ten outstanding CIEE Study Abroad alumni to participate in a nine-week internship working on challenging strategic projects that reflect CIEE's mission. This year, we welcome interns not only to CIEE's global headquarters in Portland, Maine, but also at the new Boston, Massachusetts office. Learn more about this year's group of interns:

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Emily MacLaren:
Emily MacLaren is a rising senior from New Orleans. She is studying public health and international development at Tulane University. At Tulane, she is an intern in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, gives tours, and is a member of a sorority. In the fall of 2016, she studied abroad in Amsterdam on CIEE’s Social Sciences program.

Evan Seder:
Evan Seder is a native New Englander from Norwich, Connecticut and is entering his senior year of international studies and Spanish at Elon University in North Carolina. Having just returned from a semester at CIEE’s Study Center in Seville, Spain, he is excited to join the CIEE team in Portland. He also is excited to explore the great life Portland has to offer in the summertime, and learn more about CIEE’s day-to-day operations.

Ciranno Soares:
Ciranno Soares is an international student from Brazil and studies graphic design at the University of Minnesota. He loves to play and listen to music, to travel as much as possible, and to bike. Ciranno has worked for a variety of companies ranging from Disney World to Guns N' Roses, consequently living in a lot of different places. He recently came back from a study abroad term in Barcelona with CIEE and is looking forward to experiencing life in Portland this summer.

Arianna Alleyne:
Arianna Alleyne, currently studying computer programming and software engineering, is a rising senior attending Johnson & Wales University. Originally from New York City, Arianna is passionate about incorporating her big city dreams with bridging the gap between women and the technology world, while using those interests and skills to connect popular culture trends to technology. In her free time, she enjoys keeping up with these popular culture trends by reading articles, shopping, blog writing, and exploring the world. Having studied abroad in Berlin with CIEE, as well as in London, international experiences have been deeply intertwined in Alleyne’s educational career and she hopes to continue on this journey by landing a position in a global corporation.

Liz Stoppelmann:
Liz Stoppelmann is pursuing degrees in public relations and political science at the University of Oregon. Last spring, she studied in Seville, Spain through CIEE. Prior to her semester abroad, Liz led an on-campus club that creates entrepreneurial ventures where the profits fund international and domestic projects focusing on sustainable development.

Jamie Katz:
Jamie Katz is a management/marketing double major at Tulane University in New Orleans. She studied abroad with CIEE in Budapest, where she was set up as an intern for a Hungarian start-up struggling to penetrate the U.S. market. The ability to work abroad was the most meaningful part of her experience in Budapest, and she is excited to bring what she has learned to CIEE's global headquarters in Portland. Jamie loves to cook in her spare time, and she is a big football fan.

Carmin Wong:
Carmin Wong is a senior English major and playwriting minor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She studied in London, Paris, and Rome through the CIEE Global Scholar’s program in Fall 2016. Born in Georgetown, Guyana, she is an advocate for educational rights for minorities and women. She has spent her time on campus working with Girls Inc., a non-profit dedicated to mentoring and tutoring middle school girls while encouraging them to be strong, smart, and bold women. As a CIEE alumna, she wants to share her experiences abroad to help encourage diversity in global education.

Ellen Lechman:
Ellen Lechman is a senior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale majoring in communication studies and minoring in management. Ellen recently completed a semester studying in Prague through CIEE. She fell in love with Prague’s beauty, history, and culture, and she is excited about the opportunity to help other students have their own magical study abroad experiences. At school, she is involved with the Student Programming Council, the University Honors Program, and works as a campus tour guide. In her free time, Ellen enjoys hiking, reading, and Netflix.

Lea Sandoval:
Lea Sandoval is a rising senior at Texas Christian University. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, her family relocated to Long Island, New York and eventually made their way to Arlington, Texas where they now reside. She is currently majoring in middle school math education and minoring in social work. Determined to experience a different culture, she decided to spend 4 months in Seoul, South Korea during spring 2016. Lea is looking forward to working at CIEE's headquarters because, after studying abroad in Seoul, she garnered a newfound passion for international education and would like to obtain a master's degree in this unique field.

Naeli Elizalde:
Naeli Elizalde is a Mexican-American first generation college student. She is from Dallas, TX and is studying business administration at Babson College. During the spring semester of her junior year, she studied abroad in Seville, Spain where she discovered her love for traveling. She also has a passion for dancing and food, admires nature, and loves to spend time at the beach.

CIEE Celebrates 70 Years

On May 8, 2017, CIEE marked 70 years of living out its mission and providing educational and cultural exchange opportunities to people around the world. CIEE was founded on May 8, 1947 under the name Council on Student Travel with a defining purpose: to provide exchange opportunities that would create conversation and unity between people of all nations. What began seven decades ago as a commitment to international exchange has now become an enduring legacy – one built upon strong partnerships with forward-thinking organizations, institutions, and individuals. 

We're proud to say that in the past 70 years:

  • More than 600,000 Americans have experienced another culture through CIEE study, teach, and internship programs in more than 50 countries outside the U.S.
  • More than 950,000 people from 135 countries have experienced the U.S. – many for the first time – through our inbound study, work, internship, and trainee programs.
  • And more than 48,000 U.S. families and employers have shepherded students and been enriched through the hosting of CIEE-sponsored international exchange participants.

In celebration of these accomplishments and in the spirit of continued dedication to international exchange, staff, members of the Board of Directors, family, friends, and other special guests gathered at CIEE's global headquarters in Portland Maine on June 8, 2017 for an evening of reflection, conversation, and fun. There was even a cake shaped like the ships CIEE's first participants traveled on!

Thank you to all of the alumni who have been a part of CIEE's history. We hope you continue to engage in cultural exchanges and stay passionate about international education.

Please enjoy these video and photo highlights from the event:

CIEE - Celebrating 70 Years

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Announcing the Winners of CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

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From May 8 to June 8, CIEE alumni from all over the world submitted hundreds of photos, videos, and essays to the Alumni Storytelling Contest. It was an honor to hear so many inspiring stories that represent a wide variety of CIEE experiences - stories of independence, discovery, human connection, identity, transformation, personal struggles, and empathy that show just how impactful an exchange experience can be. Our team of CIEE staff judges carefully reviewed the entries and chose our top winners. Each winner will receive a $500 Visa gift card for future travels and exploration. Congratulations to the following winners:

Essay
Charles Lee (CIEE Study Abroad, Brussels, Belgium, 2013)
Erin Ruff (CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, 2009)

Photo
Francesca Perticarini (CIEE High School Exchange USA, 2014-2015)

Video
Atenea Rios Buezo (CIEE Work & Travel USA, Montana, 2015)

We would also like to recognize some additional outstanding entries with an honorable mention. View the entries here.

Brooke Burrows, Essay (Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, Germany, 2009-2010)
Katia Stie, Essay (CIEE Study Abroad, Dublin, Ireland, 2015)
Akintunde Ahmad, Essay (CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, 2016)
Michelle Dondero, Photo (CIEE Study Abroad, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2013)
Wei Kai Lim, Photo (CIEE Work & Travel USA, New York, 2014)
Mitra Ghaffari, Photo (CIEE Study Abroad, Brazil/Cuba, 2014/2016)
Mahamed Barzanji, Video (CIEE Study Abroad, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, 2016)
Nadja Junghardt, Video (Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, USA, 2015-2016)
Jack Brennan, Video (CIEE High School Abroad, Seville, Spain, 2016-2017)

Congratulations to all our winners and thank you to all the CIEE alumni who participated. If you missed this contest, don't worry! There will be more opportunities to share your story in the future. To get started now and learn more about how to get your CIEE story on the CIEE Alumni blog, email alumni@ciee.org.

The Journey & The Coming Home

"I could follow a lecture, read a book, write a paper, all of that in French, but I hadn’t been me before in French."

By Charles Lee (CIEE Study Abroad, Brussels, Belgium, 2013)
*This essay was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

One night in the library, early in my junior year, everyone at my table was working on applications to consulting firms. Recruitment for summer internships was coming up. Deloitte, PWC, Accenture, all these firms and the wild questions they’d ask in the interview. I still wasn’t sure what a consultant was, but apparently it is what you do after college. I opened the website for one of them and closed it immediately. I knew it wasn’t for me, but I still didn’t know how you do find out what is for you.

A few weeks after that night in the library, I got an email from my university saying that I had passed the French test and was approved for a semester in Belgium. It was exciting, adventure and all that, but it was mostly a relief. Not sure of what I should do, it was comforting to have something to do. You can always do something until you get to the “should” part of that verb phrase.

Settling into Belgium came with ups and downs, but it was easier than I expected. Some very typical challenges faced me that, had I been older and wiser I would have seen how typical they were, but each minor hurdle turned into either a minor accomplishment or a valuable failure. I made friends. I went to class. I slowly built a new life for myself.

I came to Belgium already speaking pretty advanced French, a language I had studied and spoken since I was 13 or so. French, though, had never carried a deep emotional weight for me. It was a subject I was good at in school. It was my minor at university. It was this separate, abstract thing that existed outside of me. I could follow a lecture, read a book, write a paper, all of that in French, but I hadn’t been me before in French.

In Belgium, the language took on a new form. I cried in French; I talked about being afraid and uncertain in French. I made jokes in French. I plumbed the depths of friendship in French. I admitted to embarrassing crushes in French. I got angry in French. I navigated a new and complex social world in French. People I knew in French became important to me. And French became important to me. It seems cliché, but at that moment in my life, when a logical path seemed to already lie before me, it was really astounding to see this extension of myself – an extension that needed this otherness for it to exist. It was as if this parallel world was suddenly opened up to me. It took this new feeling of otherness to upend the assumptions I’d made about the future.

As I relearned how to exist in my parallel self, I was able to see things from a bigger perspective. There is nothing that I just had to do. There isn’t such a thing as should. People just do and they do all kinds of things.

I was so taken with the feeling I felt when French became an important part of my life, a central element of my existence, that I wanted to do it again. I had always been interested in German, but had set it aside since starting college. I signed up for a German course, got a German language partner, hung out with the German exchange students and went to readings and events in German. Now that French had become an almost automatic language for me, tumbling from my mouth with unthinking ease, it felt right to start anew.

When my CIEE exchange was coming to an end, I went to dinner with one of the student mentors. I told her that I was going to Vienna that summer to take summer courses at the university. She was half German and had been instrumental in feeding my interest. As a joke, or maybe not, I said I wish I could just stay. I said aloud that I had thought about coming back for grad school, but that was a lie. I had only just thought it as I said it. Saying it made it real. She said, “You know you could, right? You could do that.” I don’t think I did know that.

After my summer in Vienna, I got on a plane to DC. It was hard getting on that plane. I had experienced the whole emotional arc of the study abroad experience, feeling almost bitter that I was such a cliché. Unease in the new, total ease in the new, unease in the old, acceptance of both. But just because something is typical does not make it unreal. 

I came back to DC, though, with a clearer sense of what I could do. I came back understanding that what I should do and could do were up to me to be discovered. I came back with a goal.

Every Saturday morning I went to an exam prep course, and on Thursdays I had a German course and made French my major. I got a side job to pay for these prep classes and in January I sat the first exam. I passed. In April I submitted my application and waited. In March I was invited to Paris for the interview.

Last fall, I graduated with honors from the Sorbonne with a master’s in German studies and translation. As I write this, the other document open on my computer is my second thesis, this one in comparative literature and next year I’ll apply to doctoral programs here in France. In another year, I’ll be allowed to submit an application for French citizenship.  

In the journey I found a new way of being, but one that had always been parallel to myself. In coming home, I found that home is a choice you make yourself.

Winning Video from the CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

By Atenea Rios Buezo (CIEE Work & Travel USA, Montana, 2015)
*This video was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

 

 

Coming Home: The Journey Begins

"Through my semester in Ghana I found my life’s work at home."

By Erin Ruff (CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, 2009)
*This essay was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

Just after daybreak in early August I stood in Heathrow’s Terminal Three and stared into the crowd of travelers ready to board the flight to Accra. Bored with the monotony of college life, and a few credits short of a degree in art, I headed across the Atlantic. My intentions were self-serving: to explore, experience, and enjoy another part of the world.

Though only in Ghana for five months, I intended to see every nook and cranny the country had to offer. I did a pretty good job of it. I visited all ten regions in Ghana as well as the neighboring countries of Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, and Benin.

The first month of my stay had come to a close when my study abroad group was called together for a program. I had little patience for these gatherings.  However, this time things were different.

It was at this program that I met Beatrice, a master weaver from the nearby village of Kisseman. Beatrice was a timid lady. She stood before our group and, in her broken English, invited us to her village for weaving lessons. In exchange for weaving lessons she asked if students would help the children in her village with their schoolwork. I was instantly drawn to her. Though she was there to recruit students for a weaving lesson, it was clear where her heart lie. The true purpose of her presence was to solicit help for the children she spoke of. I decided to give it a shot.

Sitting in Beatrice’s compound, I felt little pairs of eyes peering around the corners, curious as to why there was a strange woman at their “Mama Teni’s” house. Children staggered in asking for pieces of torn books to read or pages to scribble pretend school work on. They picked up scraps of elephant grass and mimicked Beatrice’s quick weaving hand to keep themselves busy while they waited for a taste of the meal she prepared each night.

I had never seen anything like it. She was the village mother, accepting anyone that came her way. Some were regulars, others came and went as they were called home to their work.

I began to spend all of my free time in Kisseman. I put the weaving aside and began to teach. Soon, my daily routine consisted of unloading boxes of donated school supplies and preparing our makeshift classroom. The cement flooring became our chairs and desks, the compound tree our roof. The scorching sun served as our clock, letting us know when lessons began and when it was time to go home. Armed with a pencil and paper, the children had their first real classroom experience.

After the first day of lessons, a few children walked me to the local tro-tro (mini-bus) stop. Jennifer, a lively six-year-old, took off running towards a man coming down the hill. Full of excitement she pronounced, “Father, today I have learned!” In that moment, I realized that the work I was doing would carry on far beyond my stay in Ghana. The pride in Jennifer’s voice that day fueled my passion for teaching the kids of Kisseman.

That semester the children wrote their first letter, read their first sentence, and began to shape their lives through education. As word spread throughout the village, the compound filled day after day with more and more children eager to learn. What began with five children turned into lessons for more than 50 students.

Everything I had sought to discover was right there, in the little village of Kisseman, and in the hearts of kids I met. Through my travels in Ghana I found myself. In those five months, I discovered my passion and untapped my potential. But my biggest journey began when I returned home.

December 2009, I arrived back to the United States in a fury, desperate to find a way to hold onto my time in Ghana. I wanted to continue to help ensure the children of Kisseman received the education needed to lead them to a brighter future.

Within a year of my return, Beatrice and I launched Baskets for Education. It began with Beatrice sending small shipments of her handmade Bolga baskets to me to sell. The money raised was used to pay for children’s school fees. The first child on a full scholarship was Sammy, in 2010.

Today, Baskets For Education buys baskets directly from our partner cooperative who pays the highest wages in Bolga. The proceeds from the basket sales support our non-profit organization. The Kisseman Children’s Foundation, established in 2012, provides scholarships for students to attend local schools, as well supplies and daily lessons. To date, the organization has provided 22 students with full scholarships.

It was that program, which I so unwillingly attended, that took me on the adventure of a lifetime. Through my semester in Ghana I found my life’s work at home.

Lessons continue to take place in Kisseman. CIEE Legon provides volunteers each semester through our partnership. The volunteers come from colleges across the U.S. and teach the lessons I once led, this time in our rented classrooms under the guidance of our Program Director, Beatrice’s son Dominic.

Back home in small town America, Ghana has become a familiar name to many in Hagerstown. Local schools aid in filling our cargo shipments with donated supplies, as school children write letters to their friends in Ghana. A mother who attended our recent Egg Hunt fundraising event stated that her six-year-old has a newfound interest in Ghana. The place that I had never heard of before my trip abroad has become a landmark for those around me.

Embracing our roots in Bolga basket weaving, and our heart in education, our journey carries on at The Kisseman Children’s Foundation where I continue to impact children through a means they may have never thought possible: education.

Learn more about Baskets for Education and the Kisseman Children's Foundation.

Winning Photo Entry from CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

By Francesca Perticarini (CIEE High School Exchange USA, 2014-2015)
*This photo entry was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

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1. I'm Ghana

It’s not a quick picture you get of someone when you visit a tourist attraction. “I’m Ghana” is the name of the short film I shot at the top of the Hancock Tower with my host sister, Fatahiya (in the picture), from Ghana. She is one of the best people I’ve met in my life, and thanks to the CIEE program I had the opportunity to listen to her story and learn something from it. The short film had a huge success (it was also shared by upworthy.com), and even now, it still inspires thousands of people from all over the world.

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2. Pacific Ocean

My “American grandparents” took this picture of me when I first saw the Pacific Ocean. Touching all of the oceans in the world is on my bucket list, and I was finally able to check off “Pacific Ocean” from the list. For the first time I was able to be so close to the ocean. I live right in front of the sea back in Italy, and I’m not used to seeing something so immense and blue.

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3. Reflections

This is probably my favorite picture of all time. My coordinator from CIEE, who quickly became my host mom and my dearest friend, took this picture. She and I got along pretty well and we shared some of our favorite things: waking up early before the sun rises, having espresso in the morning and seeing beauty in nature. We left the house pretty early because everything was covered in fog. We both love nature so we drove around the area and took some pictures. Out of all the pictures we took, this one is the one that I cherish the most because it reminds me of how lucky I was to have her as my mentor.

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4 & 5. Old Wild West

These pictures are from the camping trip my host family organized. We spent 10 days camping in the middle of nature and for the first time, I set foot in Wyoming and North Dakota.

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6. Leaving Home to Go Back Home

I took a picture of a plane that was flying above my head as a reminder of all the planes I took during my exchange year. Traveling has been my favorite hobby now, and I keep taking planes to visit new places because of the amazing experience I had with CIEE. I will never stop traveling because it would mean to me that I don’t want to learn anymore. The concept of home changes when you are an exchange student. The United States has become my home, although I know I was used to associating the word “home” with my country.

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7. Cold Chicago

Chicago has been my very first American home. For the first time, I had the “honor” to live in freezing temperatures and experiencing what it means to live in the snow. I love the skyline and I love it even more when it’s covered in white.

CIEE Work & Travel USA Alum Receives Prestigious IREX Scholarship

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

Amir Ammar is a 2016 CIEE Work & Travel USA alum, Civic Leadership Summit Fellow and Access Scholar from Tunisia. Amir is the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship through IREX, and will be studying Business Administration in the United States for the 2017-2018 Academic Year.

My name is Amir, and I was blessed by the opportunity to work in the United States during the summer of 2016, in a resort on Lake Powell in Arizona. I was the first Tunisian to be selected for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program as an Access Scholar, a CIEE scholarship that allowed me to come on the program.

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Amir at the Grand Canyon

My job was in a restaurant as a busser. I worked with many international students, and I met my friend Martin from Russia. Every time we finished work we would sit down by the lake and chat. Martin asked me once about my religion, Islam. He had a very negative perception of Muslims because of depictions in the media. I told him that Islam is all about love, peace and compassion, and that we are open to all religions and accept them as they are. My friend apologized to me and told me that he is more eager to know more about Islam and will never believe something without proof anymore. He said he will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart.

He will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart

But that’s not all, I was also selected to be a part of the 2016 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit, a week in Washington D.C. that changed my life forever. It give me the motivation to plan to be a very active global citizen in the future by being an ambassador of the Tunisian goodwill and culture to the world. I want to give the world a glance of our amazing traditions, and the first step is to start local and then go global, we need to educate people about international culture and how to manage across cultures.

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With friends at the 2016 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.

 My experience in the United States supported my academic success, and I am inspired to reach position where I can make decision that will contribute in the building of the sustainability of our emerging global world. I want to reach the level of education where I can accurately analyze the different roles everyone is taking and be a great leader to solve conflicts related to management to maintain the evolution of globally effective organizations.

By participating in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program and the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit, I now have the skills and tools to be a very effective global citizen and contribute in the solving of the world problems. Through living and working in a nation that is known as the most diverse nation in world, this experience opened the doors for me to study more cultures and learn how to manage to adapt to a culture different than mine. I encourage everyone to participate in an exchange program because it is just the right opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and open the doors for you to explore this big world. 

Amir 3

Building bridges at the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit

This fall I will have the opportunity to follow my dreams to pursue higher education through the IREX scholarship. I tried one part of the American life and now I need to explore the other side and that’s studying in the U.S. I’m committed to the evolution of my country and trying to make the future look brighter for our future leaders which are us, you, and me, hand by hand we can change the world to a better one.