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When we interviewed three-time CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus and Civic Leadership Summit alumnus Paul Runcan from Romania last year, he was pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and advocacy after his exchange experience convinced him to switch from a career in law to politics. His thoughts were, “…even though practicing law would allow me to help those around me, it would only affect a small number, and mostly one at a time. It would take too long to create real change…” Paul made a commitment to politics in order to be the kind of leader that the future depends on. Having an international exchange experience was the catalyst for change.
“I've had a mild interest in politics and public administration for years now, but I was lacking a... call to action, for lack of a better expression; something to get me going. I was, as most people do, watching corruption spread through the administration, thinking that there wasn’t anything I could ever do about it and that's just the way the world works. Even in law school I had colleagues who were very open about wanting to go into politics because ‘that's where the money was.’ It was really frustrating at the time and in a way contributed to the apathy I had towards politics.
“The Civic Leadership Summit was the first time I actually ran into like-minded people – young adults who still had that drive to change things for the better. It showed me that what I wanted to do wasn't a losing battle, that there are plenty of others out there who wanted the same thing I did – a better tomorrow for themselves and for their community. It inspired me to sort of turn my back to the legal system, which was where I aspired to work in until that point, and instead focus on public policies and politics.”
“I strongly believe that international experiences are one of the big keys to solving many of the problems that plague today's society.
Paul has since graduated from West University of Timișoara with a master’s degree in public policies and advocacy and completed a comprehensive analysis of tendencies of transparency in the decision-making process in Romania for his thesis. As a part of his work on transparency, he collaboratively published a political map of the distribution power in the Romanian Parliament that has been an excellent resource to help journalists, interest groups, politicians, and the general public understand who holds power and influence in the country. He is now working as an intern with the General-Directorate for the Presidency at the European Parliament in the transparency unit. Aspects of the role include dealing with Parliament’s relations with interest representatives, working on implementing the Parliament’s transparency policy and helping prepare negotiations on its evolution, and helping to manage the Joint Transparency Register run by the Parliament and the Commission. Paul credits his time in the U.S. as a major inspiration to where his career is today, and believes that it’s an experience that can change the world for the better.
“I strongly believe that international experiences are one of the big keys to solving many of the problems that plague today's society. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, and so many more, these are all the product of fear and a deep lack of understanding of other cultures. Growing up, most of us are used to living in our own private bubble, our comfort zone and almost never have to leave it. It prevents us from seeing the beauty of the world as it actually is, and makes us uncomfortable with everything that we're not familiar with. To a certain extent, I understand that it's normal to fear what you don't understand. It's part of human nature. But at the same time, it's the 21st century. We can have access to almost any culture with a few clicks of a button, or a 12-hour flight at the longest. It's impossible to get accustomed to people who are different than you if you don't expose yourself to them, and staying in that safe and cozy bubble you call your comfort zone won't ever let you experience the true beauty this diverse world has to offer. I know it's hard to do so, because I've been through it, but my humble piece of advice is this: Get out, seize every opportunity life puts in your path, force yourself out of your comfort zone and explore the world. The only way we'll ever even begin to solve this world's problems is through mutual understanding, and the only way we'll reach mutual understanding is through international experiences. As cheesy as it sounds, we're the future. It's up to us to make sure we leave this place better than we found it.”
What does mutual understanding look like when on an exchange program? Paul experienced it himself on his first visit in the United States through the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. “Before that, all I knew about it [the U.S.] was from TV, books, and the internet. Somehow, I never met someone from the U.S. before that. Obviously, when I first arrived, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. But once that passed, I began understanding American values, the American work ethic, and I think most importantly the American people. Those I ended up working with began to understand me. Most of them were college students – some fresh out of high school, some had never left their home state, and most had never left the U.S. Of course, they knew about the rest of the world, but in the same way I had known about the U.S. – from books and the internet.”
Working closely with Americans was a big part of Paul’s cultural exchange experience. Friendships were made, cultures were shared, and knowledge was transmitted across a multi-cultural group. “We had traditional meals together, we shared stories and life experiences, and a few friends even started learning Romanian and made plans to visit. […] All of us were different, but we were brought together by, if nothing else at first, the fact that we were open to new experiences.” It was first the exposure to people of other cultures in the workplace and housing that laid the groundwork for mutual understanding, then the willingness to share and receptiveness to learning that made understanding happen.
What Paul learned by staying open to new experiences has changed his behavior and will accompany him on future travels around the world as a global citizen. “[Americans] amazed me by how welcoming they could be to a complete stranger from the far side of the planet. Not once while I was there did I ever feel that I didn’t belong there, and the kindness they showed me there, I now do my best to show to everyone around me. In the end, I think that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the U.S. – kindness towards others will lead to acceptance, which will bring the world together.”
Find out how you can have a life-changing international experience of your own Visit: https://www.ciee.org/in-the-usa/work/work-travel-usa
The Alum of the Month for December is CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad alum Denise Alvarez. Denise received the Global Navigator Scholarship in 2015 to spend a summer term in Tokyo, Japan on the Japanese Language & Pop Culture program. The scholarship allowed Denise to go after her dream of finding something more outside the classroom. The experience was educational, cultural, and transformational. Studying abroad in high school even helped her look more competitive on college applications! Now in college, Denise is already planning her next study abroad experience. Most recently, she was able to return to Japan to visit old familiar sites and spend time reuniting with her host family. Learn more about the impact high school study abroad had on Denise:
How did you hear about High School Summer Abroad? How did you know it was right for you?
I had done tons of research at the end of my sophomore and beginning of junior year about different study abroad programs. All the programs I have looked into didn't give the financial aid that CIEE did, and although the programs seemed more costly, in the end with all the scholarships and financial help it was much, much cheaper. With CIEE there were so many more opportunities and it definitely looked like CIEE catered to everyone from all backgrounds; it made me feel like going abroad was an actual possibility.
What made you interested in studying in Tokyo?
Since I was young I've always liked Japan and my uncle and aunt who are from there have always told me about the cultures, legends and history – it was very hard to not fall in love! As I grew older, I knew it had to be Japan despite everyone telling me it's expensive, it's on the other side of the world, and the language is a whole other writing system. I went intimidated but came back braver and content with the decision I made.
How did your study experience fit in with your academics at the time?
I was a high school student when I went to Japan and, at that time, I knew that I already did very well academically. However, I felt like I had nothing else to show for myself besides my good grades. This experience abroad definitely taught me about culture, the Japanese language and customs, and more about myself and my ambitions.
I really did feel like this program added to my college applications tremendously, and I always have people ask me "You went to Japan!? Please tell me more!" It has definitely made it easier for icebreakers and such. The trip also helped me realize that I want to have a career related to international relations. Now I am an economics major and hope to continue to learn more about people and how markets and capital influence our history and actions.
How did studying abroad help your Japanese language skills?
Tremendously. I haven't been learning Japanese as intensely as I did around the time of the trip but when I returned to Japan I found myself lost and asking directions with the exact Japanese I learned while on program with CIEE. I was in shock that I managed to remember all the words and details, and I still know how to read and write the Japanese alphabet (except Kanji). Not only were our teachers great and were passionate to get us to remember the language, but being immersed among people and in situations where you have to use Japanese also helped with my memory retention.
You mentioned to us earlier that the experience helped you become more motivated and focused. How is that so?
I've always tried my best in school however it came to a point where I wondered, “why am I trying so hard to get good grades and where do I want to take my skills?” I've always been focused. However, during junior year, I dealt with a lot of personal problems that really put a strain on my motivation. I also felt that I've always been limiting myself due to my family income and I wasn't so involved as to not cause trouble to my parents. I realized that I needed a change of scenery and needed to change myself. After Japan, my confidence and determination grew. My friends even noted that I have become different in a positive way and that I was more happy and glowing, and to this day, I still am. I like to think that this trip has motivated me to work hard to continue to experience the thrill of travel and, to be honest, it has also influenced me to be able to host in the future as well and hopefully be able to change the life of another.
It’s amazing that you were able to return to Japan and visit your host family. Tell us more about that trip!
After the Japan trip I got in a slump over the summer because I thought, “how can I make something like that happen again when the only reason I went this time was because of a scholarship?” However, I still remember the words of my teacher who told us, "If you guys really want to experience more of Japan you can; it's all up to how much you actually want it." In the spring semester of my first year in college, I got my first job and I learned to juggle both school and work. I worked hard to maintain my grades and scholarship as well as my job and all the duties that came with it. It was hard at times because I found myself studying occasionally during work and during school I would just be tired and not focused. However, my grades came out great and my paycheck was enough for me to go to Japan. I returned to see my host family who was in utter awe that I even returned (despite me promising and messaging that I will!). They took me and my friend to a sports festival to see Yoshi, their daughter, and when we saw each other again she ran out of shyness because she wasn't actually expecting me to return! I am glad I did. However, they treated my friend and me with so much kindness and respect. I revisited the old places I went with CIEE and even went to the Olympic Center where we slept! It was very nostalgic but I am glad I could do it all again and I know this is all thanks to CIEE for giving me the opportunity to go the first time.
What is your advice for high school students who are thinking about studying abroad?
It is very much possible to study abroad in high school despite it being seemingly not. I think the worst mistake one can do to themselves is to create limits. CIEE offers so many opportunities for those who struggle financially and if you have good merit, they acknowledge it and reward you for it. It has definitely changed my life and made me look much more competitive to colleges. I got memorable friends and a wonderful host family who, despite only knowing me for one month, still call me and text me TWO YEARS after the trip!
Want to share your CIEE story? Email email@example.com to get started.
*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog
My name is Naoel and I am from Tunisia! I worked this past summer at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey in Water Park Admissions and as a Game Operator. I was part of a team of 17 people from 8 different nationalities so I was exposed to a difference of culture and traditions every single day. One of the main reasons I participated in Work & Travel USA was to learn more about others and their perception of the world, and hearing about all of their stories, their lives, and their countries was very enriching. Every Thursday I used to go to a party called "international cafe” that was held by my American friends for international students. We would chat about life, religion, food…and eat s'mores (my favorite American snack!).
I met some amazing people that are now my friends and will remember those nights forever.
In Wildwood, I made friends with whom I traveled with around the U.S. after I finished working. Living and experiencing the American life is completely different from what I was expecting even though I have been to many places around the world. One thing that I was astonished by is how nice people are! They also smile a lot, even if they don't know you!
In my journey, I was chosen to participate in the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.! I don't even know where to begin to describe how life changing those 4 days were. Cultural understanding was one of the things that marked me forever. I realized how important it is to educate others on those aspects. It gave me the passion, drive and motivation to continue to be involved in my community. I was inspired with many ideas that I could implement in organizations that I am involved with in Tunisia. I want to lead a future generation and help them acquire the sets and skills they need to become creator and innovators and contribute to our country's development.
This experience opened my eyes and inspired me to take part in my country and be a leader.
I took part a year ago in a social enterprise called Young Tunisian Coders Academy. Its main goal is to develop young kid's technological skills by teaching them coding, robotics and entrepreneurial skills. This helps us become creators of technology and not only consumers. I am currently the external relations manager of this group and having this responsibility is great. It enables me to build a professional and personal network and work to maintain relations with other organizations and NGOs. We constantly try to identify opportunities to build partnerships and evolve to become known in the whole country.
Our group recently competed at the 2017 Social Impact Awards regional competition that was held here in Tunisia. The first time I pitched an idea like this was at the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit. I don't know if I would have been able to help my Coders Academy team if I hadn't learned how to pitch an idea at the Civic Leadership Summit. (Thanks to my Civic Leadership Summit team leaders and the whole CIEE staff!). One of our team members was able to travel to Serbia to attend the SIA Summit where we were awarded funds and development assistance to support our project in Tunisia. (You can watch their SIA Tunisia 2017 Finalist: Youth to Youth video here!)
I had the chance to help create our pitch (which was in French) and it was only my second time working on a presentation like this!
This experience truly changed me. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity and I encourage anyone that hasn't experienced an exchange program to get out in the world and do it! I really believe it changed me for the better!
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The Alumni of the Month for November are Hannah Rafkin and Meg Robbins, CIEE Study Abroad alumni and recent Bowdoin College graduates who studied in Cape Town, South Africa in 2015. After an amazing experience abroad, the two friends fantasized about returning to Cape Town in a meaningful way. Two years later, they are back in South Africa, working on a documentary about the stand-up comedy scene and how it’s bringing new means of expression for speakers of lesser-known languages in the country. We interviewed them to learn more about their exciting documentary and how study abroad inspired the project:
What attracted you to Cape Town?
We both attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – a small liberal arts school of 1,800 students. The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a large research university in a major city, so we were excited to experience pretty much the polar opposite of what we were used to. We also both majored in English and wanted an opportunity to study non-European and non-American literature written in English. Beyond that, we were obviously attracted by the beauty of the city. The city/mountain/ocean combination definitely appealed to us. But that was an added benefit –we were definitely looking to broaden our perspectives and learn about the history and the current challenges South Africa faces. We wanted to have conversations that we wouldn’t ordinarily have at Bowdoin, or any other place for that matter.
What did learning abroad offer that you could not have received on campus?
The most powerful learning experiences we had in Cape Town were not in the classroom. We were lucky enough to experience the start of the #FeesMustFall campaign, a student-led protest that took South Africa’s universities by storm and has continued to evolve since. UCT students organized to demand their right to free education and to protest the treatment of black students and workers. This movement was literally unfolding at our doorstep. One of our resident advisors was arrested for peacefully protesting and spent the night in jail. Students held posters with slogans that their parents’ generation used in anti-apartheid protests. Our finals ended up getting delayed, but it was absolutely worth it to be immersed in this political moment. Witnessing political action and dialogue on such a high level was a unique experience that we knew we’d never get in Brunswick, Maine.
About the project:
As longtime comedy fans, we watched a lot of stand-up while we were in Cape Town. It was exciting to listen to comedians responding to current events and the historical context of South Africa. At this time, Trevor Noah was just starting to take over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, so that became a frequent point of connection between us and South Africans we’d meet. We had a lot of discussions with South Africans about the role of comedy in confronting political corruption and difficult histories, and these talks got us thinking more deeply about the comedy occurring in our own nation.
After returning to Bowdoin, we continued having these conversations, and we were constantly itching to get back to South Africa in a meaningful way. Halfway through our senior year, President Trump was inaugurated. As our country was delving into chaos, the comedy was getting very, very good. People were turning to SNL, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Samantha Bee. We were deep in thought about this relationship between politics and comedy and kept returning to discussions about how this relationship works in South Africa. One night during one of these talks, the idea for our documentary clicked. We stayed up until 5 a.m. planning and researching – we knew we were hitting on something important and wanted to make it happen.
As we continued to research and talk to South African comedians, we realized that vernacular comedy was the most fascinating genre growing in South African comedy. That’s what we decided to focus on. Vernacular comedy is doubly political – the material confronts messy politics while the medium of mother tongue languages is itself a political protest against the dominance of English and Afrikaans.
What is it like to experience South African comedy?
South African comedy is a huge umbrella term for a variety of performance styles, languages, venues, and themes. Running through them all is an intense energy between the performers and their audience – comedians often repeat to their audiences that comedy works with energy.
We’ve obviously been going to a lot of vernacular comedy shows, and we often get asked what it’s like to experience those gigs when we don’t speak any of the nine indigenous languages that make up the ‘vernacular’ genre. Of course it can be frustrating at times to not understand everything that’s said, but the combination of the palpable energy in the room during these shows and the way the comedians use other linguistic cues and body language – tone of voice, volume, facial expression, hand movements, an English phrase here and there – enables you to sort of pick up on parts of what is going on. You can feel when something is hilarious even if you don’t understand exactly what that is. And sometimes you realize you don’t need a word-for-word translation. We’ve been able to talk to a lot of comedians about their jokes in English. They won’t translate them for us word for word, but they’ll explain the premises. For instance, one of the comics in our film does a joke about his grandfather who still thinks South Africa is under apartheid. Knowing that bit of background and then seeing the audience react as the comedian performs is enough for us to feel like we experienced his set in a meaningful way.
How is comedy challenging the status quo?
In South Africa, stand up has only been a viable art form since the nation became a democracy in 1994 (with the exception of a few white men who performed under apartheid). Since then, it served as a change-maker, a conversation-starter, and a healing tool. In dealing with such a traumatic history and its continuing legacy (South Africa has been rated one of the most unequal nations in the world), laughter has been crucial.
There have been multiple waves of change in post-apartheid comedy. In the early years after 1994, black and coloured comedians began taking the stage for the first time. In more recent years, there has been a surge of female comedians. Now, vernacular comedy – where comics perform in their native language(s) – is the next frontier. This is disrupting the status quo for an obvious reason: the status quo has always been English and Afrikaans.
There are eleven national languages in South Africa, and the majority of its citizens speak some combination of the nine indigenous African languages (Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu). However, English and Afrikaans have remained dominant. It is no coincidence that these were the two official languages under apartheid. The nine indigenous languages are often relegated to the domestic sphere, and are not as well-represented in entertainment, commerce, and public life. But now, comedians are taking to the stage and speaking in their mother tongues as a form of empowerment. By putting these languages in the spotlight, they are amplifying the stories, perspectives and cultures of South Africa’s majority. Vernacular comedy is bringing value to mother tongue languages outside of the domestic sphere, and in turn is helping shape how the languages will be spoken in the future.
What impact has vernacular comedy had?
Though formalized stand-up comedy is a recent phenomenon, humor and storytelling are by no means new in South Africa. But now, vernacular comics are making a living doing this. They are performing sold out shows in front of massive audiences without having to conform to industry pressures to speak English or to discuss certain topics.
As evidenced by enormous fan followings, consistently sold-out events, and booming laughter, South African audiences are ready to see their linguistic diversity represented onstage. We’ve even observed this at ‘English’ comedy shows. A comic will go through the whole arc of a joke in English, and then suddenly crack the punchline in Zulu or Xhosa – the audience explodes.
Comedians and audience members alike often describe comedy as a healing tool – a powerful means of grappling with both personal and political trauma. Vernacular comedians in particular stress the importance of relating to their audiences; they seek to provide them with stories and jokes that are relevant to their daily lives. In a country that has historically shunned the life experiences of its majority, this laughter and connection is especially important.
Learn more about the documentary by watching the video below and visiting their Indiegogo page, where you have the chance to donate to this incredible project!
CIEE is proud to have a number of fantastic alumni at the 70th CIEE Annual Conference happening this week in Austin, Texas. The theme of this year's conference is "Born Digital: Embracing Technology to Enhance International Education." The study abroad community, including our alumni, are engaging in thought-provoking conversation around the topic this week to share ideas of how 21st century learning approaches can be incorporated into the innovative global programs and experiences abroad that prepare today's students for the future. These are the alumni that will be taking part in this year's conference as session presenters, attendees, and more:
“Turning to Technology: Emerging Access for Students with Disabilities”
Emma Verrill is originally from Yarmouth, Maine. After receiving a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies from Bowdoin College, she moved to Rennes, France, where she studied abroad, to teach English. Emma participated in the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) from 2010-2012. While living abroad, she worked for the local CIEE office evaluating the physical accessibility of the city and the program. Upon return to the United States, Emma moved to Austin, Texas here she obtained her Masters in Education from Texas State University. She is currently a second grade teacher at Trinity Episcopal School. Emma enjoys live music, warm weather, and the active/outdoor lifestyle Austin has to offer.
“Uncovering the Digital Author Abroad: Reflection, Representation, and Authority in Digital Learning Abroad”
Hannah Milkie is a student at Northern Michigan University, with a graphic design major and double minors in political science and philosophy. She studied abroad at the CIEE Global Institute in London the fall semester of 2016. She's always been extremely passionate about political activism but studying abroad in London helped her begin to take her creativity more seriously. She is unsure what the future holds for her but she hopes to keep developing her skills in design and other forms of media. Additionally, she hopes keep traveling and gaining new cultural experiences at any given opportunity.
“Once More with Feeling: Humanizing Technology in the Study Abroad Space”
Mandi Faulkner is a history major at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2015, she spent a year studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam. She wrote her honors thesis on women’s networks in seventeenth-century Amsterdam and hopes to return there soon.
CIEE Breakfast Presenter
Peiré Wilson is a junior at City College’s Colin Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership, located in Harlem New York. He currently is studying Political Science with a minor in International Studies, with plans to combine his passions for arts, technology, advocacy and law into a career in Intellectual Property Law. He was a member of the first cohort of Frederick Douglass Global Fellows to study at the CIEE London Global Institute, where he studied intercultural communications and leadership. His experience in London was a transformative one – after meeting with the living descendant of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, Ms. Nettie Douglass, he felt a renewed charge to push against conformity and instead fight for unity.
CIEE Breakfast Presenter
Chinwendu “Chi-Chi” Maduegbunam is a junior attending Fayetteville State University. She is majoring in psychology and minoring in biology with hopes to attend medical school afterwards. Chi-Chi was named one of the first Frederick Douglass Global Fellows and plans to use what she has learned to continue on her path to being a successful leader in the medical field. She wants to positively impact the people around her by becoming a pediatrician or pediatric psychiatrist. Later on in her career, she wants to develop a charitable organization in Nigeria to give medicine, clothes, food, and other necessities to impoverished areas. By having this study abroad experience, it has spearheaded her vision and goals.
Mayra “Kahori” Vidana Sanchez a junior at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), studying to become a math educator. There, she serves as a student ambassador of the university at various events and conferences, is a leader in the UTEP Honors Program, and works at the Contracts and Grants office at her institution. In these capacities on campus, Kahori highlights the importance of study abroad opportunities, by sharing her story from the summer of 2017 in Northern Ireland and at the CIEE Global Institute in London, as a member of the first cohort of the Frederick Douglas Global Fellowship. Kahori’s greatest determination is to give others the accessibility to educational excellence, because to her, education is essential for progress for a global society. Kahori’s personal narrative was featured in The Atlantic.
Katherine Tran is a senior and Distinguished Business Student in the College of Business at The University of Texas at San Antonio. She is currently studying Management with a concentration in International Management, and is also a first-generation college student. She was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship at the CIEE Global Institute in London during the summer of 2017. Katherine loves to be involved on campus through many student organizations! Besides her academics, she enjoys going on hikes, trying new food, and hanging out with her family and friends.
Lea Sandoval is a senior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. She will earn a Bachelor of Science in Middle School Math Education with a minor in Social Work. Lea had the opportunity to study abroad with CIEE in Seoul, South Korea during the spring semester of her sophomore year. Her semester abroad allowed for personal and professional growth, which she has utilized since her return. After returning from Seoul, she gained a newfound passion for study abroad and now aims to become a study abroad advisor at the university level.
This year, we were fortunate to have three CIEE Study Abroad alumni invited to participate as Alumni Voices in the 2017 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in Washington, D.C. The Summit, which took place in early October, is part of the Institute of International Education (IIE)'s Generation Study Abroad initiative that aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by 2020. As a partner and luncheon sponsor, CIEE was excited to have these alumni in attendance – sharing their thoughts and experiences about studying abroad and building talent with global experience.
Our alumni reflect on their Summit experience:
“The conference was great - it was so neat getting to meet so many people that work hard on making education easier for all students. A highlight was definitely going to the Norwegian embassy and meeting the ambassador, and getting a selfie with him and IIE president Alan Goodman. It was interesting to me in the sessions I attended that they kept promoting a focus on diversity, but spoke mostly about diversity with different cultures and races, and how important language is for diversity in study abroad. I only briefly heard them speak of disability inclusion with diversity. I was glad to see the people that I met from Ireland wanting to hear about my experience, and wanting to learn about the difficulties. It was interesting to me that several things I pointed out regarding access, they hadn't seemed to notice themselves.”
"The IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad was an amazing experience and I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to attend! I met peers who are creating and accomplishing amazing feats. I had the opportunity to network with trailblazing professionals. I love that IIE is committed to diversity, which was visible throughout the conference. Thank you so much to CIEE and IIE for this opportunity!"
“The crowd was large and purposeful, and it was fun to walk among the goal-oriented without a detailed agenda. In fact, the best way to describe my experience representing students at a conference of industry professionals whose work surrounds students is half celebrity, half specimen. Day one was very hustle-bustle. I got the impression many people were preoccupied with meetings that had been planned far in advance. Day two was more relaxed, and I found it easier to mingle after the crowd had a day to cool down and I had a day to warm up. I ended up meeting some interesting people, exchanged plenty of business cards, and even wrangled some possible work opportunities.
“I'm not a business person. The business side of study abroad never really interested me, so as I witnessed many panels attempting to distill the powerful elements of curiosity, self-discovery and wonder that is study-abroad into concrete figures and language meant for the business world, it crushed me a tad. I see its importance, but I don't play that game, and as a writer, I champion the very opposite: anecdotal evidence. My favorite moments were when I was able to speak to that and use my position as a Summit voice to remind some of the officials that the beauty of study abroad isn't about how much more desirable you are to a corporation after the fact, but rather how much opportunity it allows a young person to grow within themselves in the moment and shake their worldview. In many of the people I talked to, I sensed that appreciation underneath, yet somewhat buried under industry vocabulary and vernacular. I had fun breaking through that and finding real human moments with some very industry-minded people.”
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*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.
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.
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.
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.