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4 posts from December 2014

St. Petersburg Alumni and Students Connect During Alumni Weekend Event

This December, alumni of the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Abroad program returned to St. Petersburg for the CIEE St. Petersburg Student & Alumni Weekend. Alumni ranging five decades and spanning all professional spheres were welcomed by staff and students, demonstrating firsthand that CIEE alumni are a part of a diverse and global community._MG_2975

Click the photo above to see more images from the weekend's events. 

The weekend’s events consisted of a round table discussion with current students, a meeting with the administration of SPSU (School of Political Science), a musical party incorporating the Center’s signature project devoted to Soviet culture of the 1970s, a visit to St. Petersburg’s fascinating Faberge Museum, and informal meals at the Center’s new office, the Smolny building, and a Georgian restaurant.

“I'm so grateful to CIEE for arranging the first Alumni Weekend in St. Petersburg. As someone who has worked in Russia for many years, it was so gratifying to 'come home' to CIEE and connect with other alumni and with the students of today. It made me realize what got me started on this journey so many years ago. I felt a kindred spirit I haven't experienced in years and realized why it is still so poignant for me to be in Russia. I hope this event will evolve into an annual tradition!”

    -Mordechai Rabinowitz, CIEE St. Petersburg alum, 1976

The round table discussion proved to be a highlight of the weekend. Students valued the opportunity to meet with alumni, and to learn through about how alumni have incorporated or built a career drawing on their knowledge and love for Russia and the Russian language. This inspiring discussion with like-minded individuals motivated and enthused both students and alumni alike.


Students were excited to speak to alumni about their professional careers, and to seek their advice on how to return to Russia after their study abroad experience, or incorporate Russian into their future careers in the US. Many St. Petersburg alumni are currently pursuing graduate degrees in subjects such as Russian & Eurasian studies or Russian Arts & Culture, and these alumni advised current students on pursuing graduate studies in Russia and in the US.

 To assist students with the future transition from the university to professional world, alumni shared their personal paths which led them to their current positions. These first jobs out of university varied from volunteering with Russian émigrés and with a local Migration Center, to teaching English as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Russia, to cataloging Russian language books for a library in the US. Students shared their interests and gained concrete and relevant advice on how to get their feet in the door in the direction of the work they wish to pursue through volunteer opportunities, internships and jobs, and English teaching positions.


“I thoroughly enjoyed the round table discussion with CIEE students and was a tad jealous we didn't have something similar in 2011. The students I spoke to had high hopes of returning to Russia as young professionals and contributing to cross-cultural/political dialogue in whatever way they could, whether it be through the arts, government, or private business. This commitment I saw to seeing our two countries reconcile and collaborate will hopefully have a big, positive impact in the near future.”

    -Nick Miyares, CIEE St. Petersburg alum, 2011


Learn more about our past alumni events, and upcoming opportunities to connect with CIEE alumni, at

CIEE and Abaphumeleli: CIEE Alum Chris Grava co-founds nonprofit to help South African community

When Chris Grava spent a semester abroad in Cape Town in 2012, he didn’t anticipate that it would change his career path, or that he would end up co-founding a nonprofit, Intsikelelo, to help the South African community of Khayelitsha. Intsikelelo – which means “blessing” in Xhosa – is focused on helping orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa. 

Chris Grava_ With kid GoPRo

Near the end of his study abroad semester, Chris’ brother, Nick, visited him in Cape Town. Nick came across a struggling foster home and spontaneously decided to skip his flight home to stay in South Africa and help, and eventually became Managing Director of the foster home. The following summer, Chris returned to Africa to join him. “The orphanage was in this sort of crisis mode, and they needed all the help they could get, so I went, and that summer was the progression of trying to identify all of the problems and think of potential solutions,” Chris recalls. Through the next year, the brothers tried to figure out the best way to affect change in the community – through collaboration with existing organizations and the government, and with corporate sponsorships – but found that it was not enough, and decided to start their own nonprofit. They launched an online fundraiser, and produced a GoPro-style video of the children in the Khayelitsha orphanage, Abaphumeleli. Within two weeks, they had raised over $30,000.

CIEE has been working with Abaphumeleli in an informal way since 2013, and their relationship has only grown to date.  Currently, they have CIEE students who visit the orphanage twice a week to do activities with the children and complete impact projects there. “We love what Chris and Nick are doing and want to help them as much as we can,” says Jesse Twum-Boafo, a program assistant at the CIEE Cape Town Study Center

CIEE Abaphumeleli

Chris and Nick have big plans for the future of Intsikelelo. They’re working on opening a new short-term care center across from Abaphumeleli, and on a new initiative to create jobs and professional development training for teenagers graduating out of the childcare system. They’re increasing their media reach by working with GoPro on a follow-up video, and they’re the exclusive beneficiary for the third annual Capital Ball in Washington, D.C. on December 20th. However, when asked about his decision to focus his work on helping communities in need in South Africa, Chris seems surprised by the question. “There was never a moment where that decision was really made in that way,” he explains. “It was really just following different opportunities as they presented themselves. And it all turned into this. It’s been this amazing, crazy journey.” 

Chris Grava_GoPro kid

Interested in learning more about Intsikelelo? Follow them on Facebook for updates on their work in South Africa. 

HAESF Fellow Szilvi Koleszar founds Skool for young women in technology

December Alumni of the Month: Szilvi Koleszar

As a senior fellow with the Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund (HAESF), Szilvi Koleszar focused on human resources practices in U.S. tech companies. HAESF - endowed by U.S. Treasury Funds - has been supporting talented Hungarians to gain professional experience in the United States over a decade. By investing in human capital, HAESF's mission includes contributing to Hungarian development and strengthening ties between Hungary and the United States.

Szilvi's CIEE experience on the HAESF fellowship inspired her to create Skool, an independent nonprofit focused on empowering young women to pursue careers in technology and engineering.

Photo 1 (9)

Through her training experience with U.S.-based IT companies during her 5-month HAESF fellowship in New York, Szilvi realized the importance of encouraging younger generations to enter the technology field, particularly young women. When she returned to Hungary, she set up the first summer program focusing on STEM education for young Hungarian women; by June, she had set up a foundation, which became Skool. Soon after their initial workshops, Skool gained the support of powerful companies in the tech field, including Morgan Stanley, Facebook, Google, Ericsson, and Yahoo!. 

 “We want to inspire and motivate them to be brave and try those fields that others might say ‘it’s not for girls.’ "

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Photo: Szilvi (right) and Anett (left) with a group of girls in a Skool program at the regional tournament of the First Lego League in November 2014; a group of Skool participants at Google. 

Szilvi credits the success of Skool to her team members, including fellow HAESF and CIEE alum Anett Sóti, who returned to Budapest in July and now works part-time with Skool. Szilvi was inspired by the passion and openness of her American co-workers during her HAESF fellowship, and says that without that experience, launching Skool would not have been possible. “At Skool we feel it’s very important to explore the tools outside of classrooms to teach and inspire youth about technology,” says Szilvi. “It was about how to encourage young women to enter into technology fields, to inspire, empower and get them to learn, explore and pursue career possibilities in technology.”

Girl at Computer - Skool

Writer and CIEE Alum Amanda Machado on the Value of International Education

CIEE Cape Town alum Amanda Machado recently wrote an article, Traveling Teaches Students in a Way Schools Can't, for She credits her study abroad semester with CIEE in Cape Town, as well as a month-long trip to Ecuador during her teenage years, as inspiring her passion for livelong travel. 


Amanda in Argentina's Patagonia region (Photo: Kevin Parine/The Atlantic)

Amanda has also written about trends in travel, and about how the younger generations are redefining international travel: 

In the summer of 2012, at age 24, I left home to travel the world. In just over a year, I backpacked through South America, South Asia, Western Europe, and the western United States. I hiked the Inca Trail, skied the Alps, hitchhiked through Patagonia, and trekked through the Himalayas. I worked at hostels, stayed at a Buddhist monastery, and gardened at an English women’s retreat center in exchange for meals and a place to sleep. And while I learned many things on the trip, what was most surprising was how many people my age were traveling just like me. 

-How Millennials Are Changing Travel, June 2014

Amanda's articles have appeared in publications such as NPR, Huffington Post, and Frommer's. Read more of her work at her website.