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5 posts from February 2015

Benefits of Joining Your CIEE Alumni Local Chapter

The CIEE Alumni Global Network is a community of over 350,000 CIEE program participants. They’re from over 170 countries across the globe, and have a diverse array of experiences and interests, but they all have one thing in common: a passion for international education and exchange.

Participation in a CIEE program is more than just a one-time experience; it’s a decision that lasts a lifetime. As a member of the CIEE Alumni Global Network, you have the opportunity to connect with other CIEE alumni in your area and around the world.

Group photo Central Park NYC

This month, CIEE launched our first CIEE Alumni Local Chapters in ten cities around the world. These chapters provide an opportunity to connect with CIEE alumni in your area for events, networking and social opportunities, and professional development.

We currently have US-based chapters in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., as well as international chapters in France, Ireland, Turkey, Russia, and China.

Find your local chapter here!

Why participate in your local CIEE chapter? Benefits of chapter membership include:

  • Attend networking and social events in your area, as well as virtual alumni events and continued education opportunities
  • Reconnect  with friends from your program, and make new friends in your city
  • Develop  your professional network on a local and global scale
  • Make an impact in your community through mentoring and community service opportunities
  • Gain professional experience by serving as chapter president or vice president (apply online here!)
  • Be a part of a movement of over 350,000 CIEE alumni to further the CIEE mission: to help people gain understanding, acquire knowledge, and develop skills for living in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world

We’re excited to grow the CIEE alumni community through our local chapter network.

If you have suggestions for events/programming for your local chapter, or if you’d like to start a chapter in your city in the future, send us an email at

Interested in applying to lead your local chapter? Download our CIEE Alumni Local Chapter Leadership Handbook for details about the structure of the local chapters and the responsibilities of chapter leadership. 


February Alum of the Month: Rita Kovtun, Multimedia Storyteller

Rita KovtunRita Kovtun is a multimedia storyteller and a recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas. She participated in CIEE’s Contemporary French Studies Program in Paris in 2012. She’s currently volunteering and traveling in Costa Rica through Workaway. We spoke with her about storytelling, photography, and her experience in France. 

CIEE: How did you get started in the field of journalism?

Rita Kovtun: I delved into journalism when I joined my high school newspaper and found that I greatly enjoyed writing and taking pictures. In college, I added videography and a little bit of graphic design into the mix, working for St. Thomas’ student news organization TommieMedia. However, I consider myself more than just a journalist – I see myself as a storyteller. In reality, all people are storytellers in one way or another. Telling stories is the way humans naturally communicate, whether for the purpose of entertaining, persuading, or informing. Aside from journalism, I’ve created multimedia stories for magazines and arts organizations.

Marrakech - Rita Kovtun

Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo credit: Rita Kovtun) 

CIEE: What media projects from your semester abroad did you most enjoy?

RK: I took an art history course in French while I was abroad. For my final paper, I wrote about American artist Edward Hopper’s years in Paris and the influence that time had on his work. The timing was ideal because the Grand Palais in Paris had an exhibition of Hopper’s work, so that helped me do a large chunk of my research. It was fascinating to see Paris through his eyes.

Dijon - Rita Kovtun

Dijon, France. (Photo credit: Rita Kovtun) 

For a course on intercultural communication [with CIEE], I examined the languages in which people listen to and write music (home language or foreign language), and the reasoning behind their choice. Music is a different medium than a visual one like photography, and one I’m also passionate about (I sing and play piano and guitar). For my project, I talked to an American friend who had tried writing songs in French and a French friend who wrote in English. I also looked at some internationally recognized French artists like the band Phoenix, who write in English, and Yelle, who writes in French, among others.

CIEE: How did your study abroad experience influence your career path?

RK: I really value the intercultural communication class I took abroad. Learning how to communicate effectively is important in any profession, but especially for someone like me who studied communication and journalism. Taking the class, as well as studying abroad and traveling around to different countries, helped strengthen my cultural sensitivity by interacting with people who grew up with different experiences and different backgrounds.

Photojournalism 1 - Rita Kovtun

A behind-the-scenes photo from a commercial shoot for Face Forward, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit art organization. (Photo credit: Rita Kovtun) 


To view more of Rita’s work, visit her blog.

Recycling the Unrecyclable

HAESF alum Dániel German is revolutionizing the way Hungarians think about recycling and waste management.

As an environmental engineering student in Hungary, Dániel German was seeking hands-on international experience in the field of recycling. In 2010, he began a one-year professional internship with the Hungarian American Enterprise Scholarship Fund (HAESF) in research and development at the headquarters of TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey. 

TerraCycle Daniel German Photo

HAESF alum Dániel German. 

TerraCycle is a recycling and waste management company with a unique goal: to recycle the unrecyclable. Their innovative, ‘no-trash-left-behind’ approach to waste management has led to incredible success; and, since their founding in 2001, they’ve become one of the fastest-growing green companies in the world.

The founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Tom Szaky, was named the “#1 CEO under 30” by Inc. magazine in 2006 and has been widely recognized for his work as a ‘garbage mogul’. Dániel and Tom share many similarities: a passion for entrepreneurship, a commitment to environmentalism – and their home country of Hungary. 

TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky

TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky. Photo: Ilze Lagdina

When he returned to Hungary after his internship, Dániel continued his work for TerraCycle as a business development consultant, researching the Hungarian market for partnership leads. “I contacted over 100 companies to tell them the TerraCycle story,” says Dániel. After months of work and research, Dániel successfully launched the first recycling program for TerraCycle in Hungary.

“With HAESF, I really appreciated that this scholarship exists – I sometimes meet with alumni and I see that a lot of young, talented Hungarians get a chance to go and learn, not just about technical things, but also about the American mentality in any field.”

Three years later, Dániel is the country lead for TerraCycle Hungary, which has enjoyed enormous growth. The ‘upcycling’ concept of TerraCycle has caught on in international markets, including Hungary, where companies are traditionally less inclined to prioritize recycling practices. “The Hungarian people really like this idea [of TerraCycle] – there are 10 million people living in Hungary, and in the first year, we had more than 60,000 people sign up for the program.” 

TerraCycle Recycle Photo

What’s next for TerraCycle Hungary? Dániel plans to continue to expand the recycling programs throughout Hungary, and TerraCycle recently announced their Zero Waste Box, a new system for recycling all waste.

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.

Interested in learning more about CIEE alumni in Hungary? Read more stories of alumni, like HAESF alum Szilvi Koleszar, who founded a nonprofit to promote STEM education for Hungarian youth. 


Innovative approaches to invasive species management: CIEE Bonaire Alum Erin Spencer and the Millennial Trains Project

CIEE alum Erin Spencer is currently working towards a spot on the Millennial Trains Project to research and share innovative approaches in invasive species management. Erin participated in the CIEE Study Abroad Bonaire – Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation program in the summer of 2011. We spoke with her about how her CIEE program informed her career path and her current work with invasive species management. 


Erin on a dive in Bonaire during her CIEE program. 

Why did you choose to study in Bonaire with CIEE?

I’ve always loved the oceans, but my Intro to Marine Science class my freshman year of college left something to be desired – it’s just not the same learning about the ocean from behind a desk. I wanted more of a hands-on approach. I searched through dozens of marine science study abroad programs, and CIEE had everything I was looking for, particularly a chance to try my hand at underwater fieldwork. The fact that the program was on a gorgeous tropical island was just a bonus. 

I learned a lot of practical skills, such as how to set an underwater transect, do a fish survey, write a lab report, take water samples, identify coral species, and more. But the most important thing I gained from my time in Bonaire was the confidence that I wanted to pursue marine science as a career.

How did you first become interested in invasive species – and lionfish?

I saw my first lionfish while diving off the coast of Florida in 2009, but my real interest in studying invasive species came from my time in Bonaire with CIEE. We attended a talk about invasive lionfish management strategies on the island, and even assisted a researcher with her lab work looking at lionfish stomach contents. My interest in invasive management stayed with me long after I returned to the United States, and I began brainstorming ways to delve further into the problem.

Lionfish are predatory creatures, native to Pacific and Indian oceans that are harming the ecosystem of coastal regions from North Carolina across the Caribbean. For more information, check out a recent NPR article about divers’ efforts to control the lionfish populate at the CIEE Research Station in Bonaire. 


What did you learn about during your time in Bonaire with CIEE?

My study abroad in Bonaire was the first time I ever got to do marine science fieldwork, and I completely fell in love. I learned a lot of practical skills, such as how to set an underwater transect, do a fish survey, write a lab report, take water samples, identify coral species, and more. But the most important thing I gained from my time in Bonaire was the confidence that I wanted to pursue marine science as a career. My first week there, I remember we went on a night dive to watch the bioluminescent spawning of some invertebrates, and I was just beside myself with excitement – that night I emailed my parents and described the dive as “the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life”.

What is the Millennial Train Project? Why do you want to participate?

The Millennial Trains Project is a unique initiative that takes twenty young innovators on a cross-country train journey to explore America’s frontiers while furthering a project of their choice. The whole idea is this: the world has big problems, and it’ll take big ideas to solve them. The train gets young thinkers together to explore the country, collaborate with one another, and brainstorm ways to tackle those big issues. MTP also has incredible partners that provide resources and mentorship along the way, including Fulbright, National Geographic Traveler, and the State Department. This year’s journey goes from L.A. to Washington, D.C., and stops in San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans, and Atlanta. 

In each stop on the journey, I will interview locals who are tackling the problem, one invasive species at a time.

For my project, I want to highlight innovative approaches to invasive species management. Invasive species are wreaking havoc in every corner of the world, causing $1.4 trillion in damage annually. In each stop on the journey, I will interview locals who are tackling the problem, one invasive species at a time. I’ve identified six different management projects in each of the six stops, involving chefs, storeowners, professors, students, and more. I want to tell their stories. I will photograph and record each of my interviewees, and blog about my experiences along the way. The project will culminate in a large photo series and a number of articles of my findings. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.54.31 PM

Photo: Erin Spencer

How can the CIEE Alumni community help with your project?

All participants are required to raise their funds through crowdsourcing, and I have until February 28th to secure my spot on the train by raising $5,000. All donations can be made online, and you won’t be charged unless I meet my fundraising goal. Any support from the CIEE community (including sharing the project with your networks) would be greatly appreciated – every dollar counts!) 

To show our support, CIEE has committed to matching alumni donations dollar-for-dollar up to $1000. If you donate $10, $25, or more to Erin’s campaign, from February 9th – 20th, send an email to to let us know and CIEE will match your donation. 

Visit Erin’s campaign website here.

 Are you a CIEE alum with a project that you’d like to promote or help receive funding? We’d love to hear about it! Contact Dan Olds, Director of Alumni & Constituent Relations, at

Social Entrepreneur, International Human Rights Lawyer, Teacher, Writer: CIEE Alum Flynn Coleman

CIEE alum Flynn Coleman is a social entrepreneur, an international human rights attorney, the founding mindfulness teacher at King’s College London School of Law and Samya Practice, a Huffington Post blogger, a TEDx speaker, and a Luce Scholar. Though her career path seems diverse, all of her work is tied together by the same thread: a passion for helping others heal and for creating opportunities for empowerment. “I’m interested in infusing innovation, creativity, and behavioral economics into how we perceive and how we provide access to justice for all people,” she explains.  

Flynn is also an athlete, and plays soccer wherever she goes – including in Chile during her semester abroad with CIEE. Because women’s soccer teams were uncommon in Chile, Flynn joined the men’s team through the help of her host family. She describes a story from the first time she played on the team: “I went out for the team and we lined up before the game. Everyone shook hands before the game, but when everyone got to me, they would kiss me on the cheek. And then we played the whole game on this dirt field and we ended up winning the game. We lined up after the game, and sure enough everyone shook my hand, and no one kissed my cheek again,” she recalls. “It was an emotional moment for me – and always reminds me of the power of women getting involved and having the opportunity to participate.”


Flynn on a recent trip to Rwanda. (Photo credit: Betty Krenek) 

Flynn has continued to pursue her passion for economic empowerment through her new social enterprise, Malena – and she credits her experience in Chile as key inspiration for her new venture . While studying abroad with CIEE in Santiago, Flynn worked with a women’s cooperative, helping to create a market for their goods in the US, which combined many of her passions: economic empowerment, community, stories, and shopping with a social conscience. “It was an extraordinary cooperative that came together after the dictatorship to heal as a community, to sell their creative work, and also to learn business and leadership skills, ” says Flynn. Malena, which comes from the Mapuche indigenous word for ‘girl’, is an original fashion line and a global online marketplace and  community for goods and ideas from around the world, all focused on supporting economic empowerment of people worldwide.

“That’s kind of what everything is about – connecting with people, and learning from them, and trying to help when you can.” 

Flynn is visiting countries worldwide to form partnerships with companies and cooperatives that support economic empowerment of their artists, including Ethiopia and Rwanda. Flynn’s career as an international human rights attorney focused on international criminal justice for crimes against humanity, including genocide, and so Rwanda is a place that is close to her heart. She draws connections between her law career and her work with yoga and mindfulness, and is inspired by the philosophies of such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. “That’s kind of what everything is about – connecting with people, and learning from them, and trying to help when you can.” 

To learn more about Flynn's newest social enterprise, visit