If you wish to be removed from this group's mailing list, click here
If you wish to be removed from this group's mailing list, click here
In honor of Valentine's Day, we're sharing alumni stories about international love. Whether it's finding love, growing love, or love of place, CIEE alumni all over the world told their stories of "exchange program love" - showing us a different type of life-changing experience that you can have abroad. Enjoy these special stories!
(CIEE Teach Abroad, Spain, 2013 - 2014)
"In college, I never had the opportunity to study abroad without getting too far behind in my coursework. So I decided that I would have my study abroad experience after graduation! I researched many locations but something was pulling me towards Malaga, Spain. I enrolled in a Spanish language school there and, the day after I received my diploma, hopped on a flight to Spain with hopes to expand my horizons. For me, it was very important to be able to have that foreign immersion experience. At the same time, I knew that learning Spanish would be a good resume builder. But what I didn’t know is that I would find something else..."
(CIEE High School USA, Montana, 2010 - 2011)
"I experienced the most exciting year of my life during my high school exchange year to the United States from 2010 - 2011. Fate made me end up in Helena, Montana, a city that is like a sleeping beauty in the midst of the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. This was the journey of my life. Not only because I met a wonderful host family that I couldn't describe any other way than a true second family to me, but also because I met the best friends I have ever had. What made this journey change my life entirely, though, is a small and at first glance insignificant moment at a local candy store..."
Mariam Aghayan & Tayler Rose
(CIEE Study Abroad, Berlin, Spring 2017)
"Tayler Rose & I studied abroad in Berlin through the CIEE Open Campus program in the spring of 2017. We both very accidentally decided to choose Berlin as our study abroad location, but it turned out for the best. Not only did I have the most incredible study abroad semester, but I ended up meeting and falling in love with the love of my life..."
(CIEE Work & Travel USA, San Diego, 2008; CIEE Internship USA, Troy, 2011)
"My relationship with America is rather intricate, as it sometimes happens between people loving each other – strong, emotional, changing from 'we're better to break up' to 'can't live without you,' from 'I've met someone else' to 'let's start everything from scratch...'"
Check out these other alumni stories with surprising twists of love:
In college, I never had the opportunity to study abroad without getting too far behind in my coursework. So I decided that I would have my study abroad experience after graduation! I researched many locations but something was pulling me towards Malaga, Spain. I enrolled in a Spanish language school there and, the day after I received my diploma, hopped on a flight to Spain with hopes to expand my horizons. For me, it was very important to be able to have that foreign immersion experience. At the same time, I knew that learning Spanish would be a good resume builder. But what I didn’t know is that I would find something else.
I met Alfonso at Odonnell’s Irish Pub in Malaga, thanks to some mutual friends. He was a bartender there and a total sweetheart. Everyone always tried to get us together, but I lied and said I wasn’t interested. He asked me multiple times to go on a date and I always said, “No” – something we joke about a lot now! I did not move to Spain expecting to fall in love, but my mom called it from the very beginning, as she warned me that this would happen!
When my Spanish course was over and I had to go back home, I cried all the way to the airport because I was not ready to leave Spain. But, I promised myself in that taxi ride that I would go back someday. I returned home to Alabama and started working as an aviation analyst. I was doing well. I had a stable job and great coworkers. I was successful for being only 23 years old.
However, I did not forget that special man that I found in sunny, southern Spain. Alfonso and I kept in touch, talking almost every day. The following summer, a bunch of my classmates from my language school planned a reunion in Malaga, so I flew over and met with them. Of course, I accepted Alfonso’s offer for a date this time. At this point, I had a Spanish novio and we discussed all of our options for trying this thing out. As our love blossomed, we needed more time together to see if this was the real love that you dream about.
We were dating long distance for 13 months before I finally moved back to Spain and started working through CIEE Teach Abroad. This time, my days in Spain were not numbered. I didn’t know how long I would stay, and I had no desire to figure that out for a while. But there I was, the young chemical engineer taking a chance on love and a teaching career in Spain!
It was a big change. Living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is completely different than visiting for a few weeks. Every simple task becomes a challenge. Apartment hunting and reading contracts in Spanish made my head pound. A quick trip to the grocery store lasted an hour because I didn’t know the Spanish word for “soap”. Obtaining my residency card required standing in multiple lines, just to finally get to the front and be told that I’d been given incorrect information and had to go elsewhere!
I ran all around Malaga trying to get settled and, after multiple failed attempts, broke down. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “am I really supposed to be here?” Everything at home was so easy, so comfortable. My only saving grace was my Spanish beau who was always there to pick up the pieces and help me try again.
Finally, I succeeded in finding an apartment, opening a bank account, obtaining residency, and getting a cell phone contract. It took lots of work and tears, but I was finally settled in my new home and anxious to start teaching.
CIEE placed me into a vocational school, where I taught English in tourism and information technology classes. My second year, I split time between vocational school and elementary school. During that time, I had students ranging from 3 to 65 years old! Difficult to say the least. However, those two years taught me more about life than I had ever dreamed they could. One of those lessons is to embrace the unknown.
If you are reading this and wondering if you should take a chance on love, a new job, or a new adventure, take it! You won’t regret it. I am so thankful to CIEE for giving me that chance.
Oh, and that Spanish boyfriend? He’s now my husband.
Where are they now?
Julee and her husband, Alfonso, relocated to the United States to pursue their professional careers. They are now living in Atlanta, Georgia. As they miss Spain more every day, they hope to find careers and eventually retire there. For now, they return to Spain as often as possible to see their Spanish family.
My relationship with America is rather intricate, as it sometimes happens between people loving each other – strong, emotional, changing from "we're better to break up" to "can't live without you," from "I've met someone else" to "let's start everything from scratch."
It started as a first love.
CIEE Work & Travel USA was my first ever trip abroad. I did everything on my own: got a job offer, took a trip to another city for a visa, traveled a long way to my final destination (Khabarovsk - Seoul - Los Angeles - San Diego), and there I was in sunny California! They say that California is the best place in the U.S. and San Diego is the best place in California, and I truly believe that. San Francisco and Los Angeles, the quiet Death Valley and adventurous Universal Studios, natural Yosemite and crazy Six Flags, Balboa Park with its wonderful architecture and La Jolla Shores with sea lions, authentic Old Town and the greatest zoo in the world - I've seen all of it. The smell of wind in the air and the spirit of freedom in the soul surrounded me.
Like with a first love, it was so romantic. Even more than the state and the city, I loved all the smiles new friends shared with me, the adventures we had working, living, and traveling together, and the experiences I brought back with me to Russia. Nevertheless, like in many cases with a first love, it was heartbreaking; I left a piece of my heart in America in return for all the impressions it gave me.
After trying to overcome the affection, and at the same time knowing that after doing CIEE Work & Travel USA there are no borders in this world, I went to a completely different place, South Korea, to volunteer at International Art Residency. I was happy there, in that mix of Asian traditions and modern technologies, and it was easy for me to adapt to new circumstances after my previous summer abroad.
Still, a piece of my heart in the U.S. was calling. Love was getting more serious and required more efforts on the way. As a result, I went back to America on the CIEE Internship USA program after graduation. I have no doubt that my CIEE Work & Travel USA experience was among the key enablers for that. I had already improved my English a lot and proved that I can live and work in an American environment.
The internship was truly amazing! I was glad to go to the office every Monday morning, and my manager was a big role model for me. The personal and professional growth that I experienced was invaluable. I had my first project, first team, and first business trip to another state for a client visit. I also got to see a lot of new places, exploring the Northeast this time. Chicago, New York, Niagara Falls – I still loved America!
Yet I still loved “someone else” – Russia.
I always wanted to live in Moscow, but to move there from my hometown sounded unreal. The bravest people were doing that and I didn't feel I was the one of them before the internship. After a year in the U.S., I realized that I could conquer even Moscow, and I did it! Thanks to my relevant experience during the internship, I got a job in an American company as an engineer (yeah, I couldn't really break up with “my love”). Empowered and motivated, I grew to senior engineer, then to team lead, and soon to manager. I'm very successful in my career now, but I always remember where and how I took my first steps.
One day, a 19-years-old girl (myself during my CIEE Work & Travel USA summer) sat at Balboa Park in San Diego and observed a wedding ceremony. How wonderful it would be, she thought, to have a wedding here in the place where she’s so blissed. Back then I couldn't even imagine that was possible – it was like a dream that passed through my mind leaving a barely tangible, semi-sweet scent. But guess what? When you really want something, you can overcome any obstacles – that's what doing two CIEE programs has taught me. And when you love, you can do even more!
I have celebrated the best moments of true love – my own wedding – in the city of my love, that amazing American city that impressed me so much 8 years ago!
Thanks, CIEE, for letting me discover America, for letting me grow, and for letting me feel this love.
A story about how a journey made my heart find a place called home.
I experienced the most exciting year of my life during my high school exchange year to the United States from 2010 - 2011. Fate made me end up in Helena, Montana, a city that is like a sleeping beauty in the midst of the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. This was the journey of my life. Not only because I met a wonderful host family that I couldn't describe any other way than a true second family to me, but also because I met the best friends I have ever had. What made this journey change my life entirely, though, is a small and at first glance insignificant moment at a local candy store.
It was on November 5th that my friends and I wanted to go to a little cafe that we had gone to countless times before. What made this time different was that the cafe was closed. After a discussion about alternatives, we agreed on going to the board game night at The Parrot, a local candy store that sells the best dark chocolate fudge I've had in my life!
We drove downtown, entered the candy store, and noticed there were already a few other high schoolers that one of my friends knew from band. We went ahead and joined them and I came to sit across from a young man, whose name I could honestly not remember after this first time I met him. If only I had known that this very moment was the seed that over time would grow into something beautiful!
After this day, I met him at school and learned that his name was Brady. We started having lunch together, then he started giving me rides home every day, and after some time we found each other hanging out after school and on the weekends frequently! We shared everything and talked for hours on the phone until late at night.
One day, we realized that this was more than just a friendship.
The most memorable moment we shared during my exchange year was during his senior prom. He had asked me out on this date a long, long time in advance. When the evening finally arrived, I was so excited! I wore a fancy dress that I had bought just for this opportunity and Brady looked so nice in his suit. He put a corsage on my wrist and I had a boutonniere for him with a rose of the same color. We had a wonderful dinner at a nice restaurant, danced together during the prom night, and had so much fun with our friends!
After the dance, Brady drove to our favorite spot with me, the parking lot at the foot of Mount Helena. The view over the city was stunning! It lay in front of us like scattered amber in a sea of darkness, covered by a night sky filled with stars as bright and clear as diamonds. He took my hand and looked at me for a moment that I wish could have lasted forever. Then he said the words that had stood between us like an unspoken truth all this time: "I love you."
This was the moment I realized I had found another home.
As my exchange year ended, my heart tore apart. I was so excited to see my family and my home country again but, on the other hand, I was going to leave my friends, host family, new home in Montana, and, most importantly, Brady, behind. I left physically, but my heart stayed in Montana.
Against everyone’s expectations, our love stood the test of time and even more so the strain of distance. Brady visited me in Germany multiple times and I introduced him to my culture and showed him the entire country I, before my exchange year, knew as my one and only home. In Montana I had found another home with friends, family, and my one true love. And even now, almost seven years after this most important day of our two lives, we grow closer together every day despite the physical distance between us. And every time I go on a journey to Montana, I feel like I am coming home.
Since then, I know there is not the only place someone can call home; home is where we find our loved ones and finding those is a never-ending journey.
I would like to conclude this story with a thought from Plato's "The Symposium": According to Greek Mythology, humans were originally created with two faces, four arms and four legs. But they were so complete that Zeus started fearing their power and split them in half, condemning each of the two halves to a life of a restless journey in search of each other. Through my exchange year, I was so fortunate that my journey led me to Helena, where on one fateful day, a cafe was closed and a candy store was not.
Where are they now?
The two have continued to visit each other, crossing oceans to be together until Fransizka is finished with her medical studies and Brady is able to move to Germany. In their most recent visit, Brady traveled to Germany to see Franziska for New Years. During the trip, they visited Cologne in search of the “love lock” they placed on the Hohenzollern Bridge when Brady first traveled to Germany to visit her in 2012. There is a sweet German tradition where couples go to the bridge, put a lock with their initials on it, and throw the key to the lock into the Rhine River to make their love last forever. After six years, they were pleased to find that their lock was still there. As the tradition says, they too are certain that their love will last forever.
CIEE Cape Town alum Jason Kane won an Emmy Award in October 2017 for his work on the "The End of AIDS?," a six-part PBS NewsHour series on worldwide efforts to break the back of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, produced in collaboration with “Science” magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The Emmy Awards is an American award, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which recognizes excellence in various sectors of the American television industry. “The End of AIDS?” received the 38th annual Emmy for Outstanding Science, Medical, and Environmental Reporting. It was a monumental win for Jason, who was inspired to pursue health journalism when he worked with children impacted by HIV during his study abroad semester with CIEE.
In 2006, Jason embarked on a journey to Cape Town, South Africa while pursuing a journalism degree at George Washington University. Like many CIEE students in Cape Town, Jason volunteered in local communities. He traveled to the nearby township of Khayelitsha every week to volunteer at Baphumelele, a children’s home providing shelter and support for vulnerable and orphaned children with chronic diseases and HIV/AIDS. Jason says of the experience, “The kids of Baphumelele and their caregivers quickly became my real teachers that semester in Cape Town. In the face of incredible hardship, they enjoyed every second of life and made the most of it with laughter, love, grit, and resilience. As a volunteer who popped in from time to time, I knew I wasn't doing much more than providing a few hours of entertainment for the kids each week (though just the sight of my bright red hair always gave them a special thrill). I also knew the time I spent with them was having a profound impact on me, and that my own life was now headed in a new direction.”
The experience moved Jason into action and sparked a greater interest in researching HIV/AIDS, especially after becoming so close with a little boy at the orphanage whose life was deeply affected by the virus. He wrote for Religion News Service while abroad – a news agency covering religion, spirituality, culture, and ethics, whose wire reports are distributed to more than 170 media outlets. Those few contributions to the international press pool inspired Jason to continue searching for the under-told stories, fueled by the experience and relationships that were facilitated by CIEE.
“When I returned home after that semester, I couldn't shake the memory of the little boy I met at Baphumelele who became my friend. I couldn't forget his smile and extremely uncertain future. It bothered me that I wasn't able to do more for him from afar, so I started looking for opportunities to have an impact in my local community."
Taking his life-changing experience home, Jason leveraged his knowledge about the epidemic to make a difference in Washington, D.C., another city struggling with high HIV rates. After graduation, he spent a year teaching an HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum to public schools in D.C. through City Year, a branch of AmeriCorps. Jason dedicated that year of service to the children of Baphumelele.
Since 2011, health care has become the primary focus of Jason’s journalistic work, covering topics such as the Affordable Care Act, drug addiction in the slums of Tanzania and the small towns of Appalachia, malnutrition and health disparities in Guatemala, and advances against HIV in some of the hardest-hit corners of Sub-Saharan Africa. “At NPR, Religion News Service, The Winchester Star, and, most recently, PBS NewsHour, I’ve attempted to shine a spotlight on efforts to combat HIV, as well as the governmental policies that often impact its spread far more than any other factor,” said Jason. That coverage has included profiles of sex workers in Tanzania, fishermen in Kenya, heterosexual couples in Russia, injection drug users in rural Indiana, and gay men in the suburbs of Atlanta.
With HIV falling away from headlines somewhat in recent years, Jason is proud to be one of the journalists still focusing aggressively on this epidemic, which effects approximately 36.7 million people worldwide. Because of his personal experiences, Jason is inspired to break away from the journalistic pack in D.C. to find more untold stories to bring to a wide audience. As a PBS NewsHour producer, he exercises this type of journalism, educating viewers on health issues from a unique perspective.
Jason’s success in international storytelling reached great heights in July 2017 when he learned that “The End of AIDS?” series was nominated for an Emmy. “Our series aired at a time when political campaigns, rising global tensions, and mass violence had dominated nearly every minute of the news cycle. The nomination itself felt like such a vindication because this particular series took an in-depth look at something radically different – six places around the world drafting plans to end their AIDS epidemics.” When competing with much flashier stories of the time, Jason and his team didn’t think “The End of AIDS?” had a chance at winning.
Much to their surprise, “The End of AIDS?” was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Science, Medical, and Environmental Reporting on October 5, 2017. William Brangham, the correspondent for the series, presented powerful words on behalf of the team as they received their award, “At a time when there are people trying to sow distrust in the media and what we all do, there were researchers and scientists and people living with HIV all over the world who trusted us to tell their story. We are hugely grateful to them, and this is for them.”
It was a big win for the HIV/AIDS community and for Jason. He says of the experience, “I’m so proud of the winged, golden statue that now sits on my shelf at home. But I’m even more proud that the Emmy has meant that far more people watched our series. This past World AIDS Day, standing room-only crowds gathered in several colleges around the country to watch 'The Emmy-Award Winning Series, The End of AIDS?’ Scientists and researchers continue to share our reporting as an example of important journalism. Regular viewers continue to tell us how much they’ve learned. As a journalist, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
While celebrating his major career milestone, Jason reflects on where his interest in HIV/AIDS research all began – on his CIEE Study Abroad program in South Africa. “Studying abroad in Cape Town was the single best decision of my life. Something about living so far from home, in such a vibrant and distinct place, made learning new things feel more exciting, impressions deeper, relationships richer. Cape Town is where I met my future wife and a tight-knit group of friends that have become our family. No matter where else I go in the world, I’m certain I’ll never see a city more beautiful, complex, and inspiring than Cape Town. So much of that experience can be credited to Quinton Redcliffe and his CIEE team, who created opportunities for us to explore South African life far beyond campus, in its many forms and complexities. I will forever be in their debt.”
No matter how many years passed, Jason continued to think about Baphumelele and the little boy who left an indelible mark on his life. In 2016, during Jason’s last reporting trip to South Africa for “The End of AIDS?,” he stopped by the orphanage to ask about the boy. Jason was pleased to find that someone adopted him and he is doing quite well. As for “The End of AIDS?,” they will continue the educational series with new reports this spring from Russia, Nigeria, and Florida.
Tayler Rose & I studied abroad in Berlin through the CIEE Open Campus program in the spring of 2017. We both very accidentally decided to choose Berlin as our study abroad location, but it turned out for the best. Not only did I have the most incredible study abroad semester, but I ended up meeting and falling in love with the love of my life.
Tayler was assigned to be roommates with one of my best friends from college, Noah. When I needed to go grocery shopping one time, Noah asked if I would mind having his roommate come along. Of course I said I wouldn’t mind, since what’s the big deal about going grocery shopping! Long story short, Tayler ended up teasing Noah a few times and that made me laugh. The following night, Tayler asked me out to dance at a local salsa club.
Both of us came to Berlin with the idea of immersing ourself in a new culture, taking interesting courses, and making new friends. Notably, neither of us were interested in getting into a relationship abroad. It just so happened to work out that we simply liked each other so much that we said we might as well try. Agreeing to date Tayler ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made.
We ended up being enrolled in two of the same courses (being able to excel academically together was important to me) and then having the opportunity to travel to places like Italy or Poland together was beyond surreal. I am Armenian and there are more Armenians outside of Armenia than inside our country, so Tay ended up meeting one of my uncles in Poland before he even met my immediate family after our study abroad program had ended.
During our spring break this year, we had planned a trip to Denmark and Lithuania, and Tayler ended up surprising me with tickets to Berlin. I suggested we go to our favorite food place in Berlin, Mustafa’s, and because we were so hungry, we both ordered the largest possible version of the dish, which is a huge durum. Of course, we ate the entire thing, and once we got back home Tayler promptly said, “Well, I’m going to put on my suit. Do you want to put on that dress you brought?” I struggled to get into my form-fitting dress after that huge meal, but somehow it all worked out in the end.
We got dressed up and heading towards the car waiting for us outside. I had no clue where we were going, as Tayler had been stubborn and wouldn’t disclose the location to me at any cost. I recognized the location we were dropped off at, Victoria Park, and we proceeded to walk up the hill, in my 5 inch heels and long train, since I had no clue where I was about to go. Once we got to the very top, Tayler offered to take selfies. He pretended that he didn’t like the lighting on the photos and suggested we ask a stranger to take a picture of us. I was a bit skeptical when Tayler approached the only woman with two professional cameras draped around her torso, but went along with it. The random woman was the lovely Sarah, who introduced herself as a professional photographer who happened to be at the same venue awaiting a different couple’s arrival in 20 minutes, but was kind enough to offer to take a few pictures of us with her camera in the meantime. We happily agreed, but my skepticism didn’t go away. She told us to pretend that she wasn’t there and when we walked a little further away, Tayler got down on one knee and proposed to me.
Even just writing about this still seems surreal to me. He flew me to the city where it all started for us and he got down on one knee at Victoria Park, right by CIEE, where we used to go on walks. I cannot believe I’m going to get to marry my best friend next summer and three of our groomsmen will be our friends from CIEE! I have our program to thank for the circumstances where we both met. We are now are planning on flying Yerevan, Armenia, my home, to celebrate our wedding with all of our friends and family this summer. Our journey has been incredible so far, and we have been blessed to travel to many countries together, but Berlin will always hold a special place in our heart. I do know that no matter where we are in the world, be that the U.S., Armenia, or Tanzania, I will always be home as long as I’m with Tayler.
CIEE Study Abroad alumni Winnie Andrews and Michael LoJacono spoke alongside other American expats for a lecture at CIEE Paris last month. They presented about their own career paths that brought them to Paris, the challenges and advantages to living and working in France, whether they feel like they belong in France and if they belong anymore in the U.S., and the differences between being an expat and an immigrant. Current CIEE Study Abroad students asked the alumni a range of questions to paint their own picture about expat life in France, such as different types of work contracts, navigating the French healthcare system, and what to pack for a move abroad! It was an excellent opportunity for current students to learn about building a career in France after studying abroad there.
Check out this video clip below to hear a piece of the conversation!
If you wish to be removed from this group's mailing list, click here
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