Photo credit: CIEE Study Abroad Costa Rica blog.
Photo credit: CIEE Study Abroad Costa Rica blog.
Sara Hess is a CIEE alumna who studied abroad in Dakar in the spring of 2007. She graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in economics in 2008. Every job she's had since then has evolved to focus on sub-Saharan Africa. She is currently a research associate at Harvard Business School. She shared these thoughts on how her experience with CIEE in Senegal has had an impact on her personal and professional life.
One of the most precious memories I have is of wondering the streets of Mermoz with friends one evening, sipping on sweet mint tea with our host brothers and sisters, and stopping by to visit the tailors as their sewing machines whirled late into the night in preparation for the Grand Magal. Aside from the wonderful sentimental images memories like this, my experience with CIEE in Dakar has had a lasting impact on my life both personally and professionally.
A small rural village outside of Dakar, where Sara participated in a week-long volunteer project in collaboration with a Peace Corps volunteer. (Photo credit: Sara Hess)
On a personal level, I met two of my best friends in the world in Dakar. This is the sort of thing that happens when you spend long hours crushed in a sept place together. (Sept places are the cramped station wagons that are used for long haul public transport in Senegal).
I'll never forget the morning when my Muslim host mother made me get out of bed early to attend mass on Easter Sunday. "I'm not even Catholic, Maman," I told her. I am Christian and that was close enough in Maman's eyes so out the door I went dressed in my Sunday best. For someone who grew up in a small town in the U.S. without a great deal of exposure to religious diversity, Senegal was a fascinating and enlightening experience. I quickly came to understand that Muslims and Christians can and do live together in a peaceful and culturally rich environment with complete respect and reverence for one another's beliefs and practices-- a fact that the global media today very rarely highlights.
"Studying abroad in Senegal is indeed not the standard option and it is not for the faint of heart, but it is a wonderful choice for those with an adventurous spirit, great curiosity, and a desire to show future employers that they are willing to take on challenges and step outside of their comfort zones."
On a professional level, just yesterday I was in a job interview when the recruiter remarked, "I'm really impressed that you chose to study abroad in Dakar. Tell me about that." My experiences with CIEE Dakar have helped me to succeed in getting numerous job offers. In my first job after undergrad, when I worked for a private consulting firm, I was hired in large part due to my experience studying in West Africa and was consequently regularly sent on business trips to West and Central Africa.
Sara learns how to tie a skirt for a traditional Senegalese dinner. (Photo credit: Sarah Hess)
My experience with CIEE Dakar also played a role in securing my current position as a Research Associate at Harvard Business School, where I co-authored one of the school's first positively toned case studies focused on a sub-Saharan African business conglomerate. There is no doubt that large swaths of Africa are experiencing significant economic growth, including Senegal, and there is a greater demand now from both private sector companies and NGOs and non-profits for individuals with experience working and living in sub-Saharan Africa.
I can't begin to tell you the number of times that my Wolof language skills have come in handy. I've used them to greet Senegalese citizens that I've met in Paris, Florence, Brussels, and New York and have always received surprised and very joyful responses in return. My elementary Wolof skills have also been the subject of curious enquiry in job interviews. I think putting Wolof on my resume shows recruiters that I'm serious about learning the local language wherever I work. This is crucial for anyone interested in doing international development work.
Studying abroad in Senegal is indeed not the standard option and it is not for the faint of heart, but it is a wonderful choice for those with an adventurous spirit, great curiosity, and a desire to show future employers that they are willing to take on challenges and step outside of their comfort zones.
Do you have a story to share about your CIEE experience? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did you document the highlights of your exchange experience? Our July alumni of the month, Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) alum James Roldan chose to showcase his experience through music.
CBYX is CIEE-sponsored exchange program for high school students to immerse themselves in German culture by living with a host family and attending a local German high school. Roldan’s Ambassador Project for CBYX, ‘Warburger State of Mind,’ highlights his favorite aspects of his host town of Warburg, Germany, such as its history, landmarks, food, and people. James created an original 3-minute music video about his exchange year in Germany, which centers on the experience of learning the German language, establishing a routine in Germany, and thanking the Bundestag for their support.
Watch the full video here:
As a result of the music video’s popularity, Roldan was asked to perform at the German Chancellery for Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Ambassador John Emerson, and the entire CBYX group.
For more of James' work, check out the Youtube playlist, 'The Great Exchange Series,' about his international experience.
A study abroad program is an adventure. For CIEE alum Rick Smith, his semester in Monteverde, Costa Rica was the catalyst for his pursuit of adventure as a lifestyle. Most recently, he appeared as a one of 14 survivalists on Bear Grylls’ The Island, a new reality show on NBC which premiered this month.
When NBC reached out to Smith about participating on the reality TV show The Island as a cameraman, he didn’t initially grasp that he would also be one of the survivalists on the show. The show follows 14 men on an island in the Pacific, with limited resources. Smith is one of four ‘embedded cameramen’, meaning that he is tasked with filming the progress as well as surviving on the island. Unlike a typical reality show, there are no winners and no prizes: the only goal is to survive.
Credit for all photos: Rick Smith.
Alan Masters, the resident director for CIEE in Costa Rica, says that the Costa Rica program attracts a unique group of students. "It is clear that alumni of CIEE's Tropical Ecology & Conservation program have a world of opportunities to explore," says Masters. "I hope some of the biology he learned in Costa Rica will help him and his comrades on the island."
According to Smith, the show deals with issues conservation, resource management, and habitat loss - all topics which he studied during his semester abroad. “In some ways, [the show] was a little microcosm of society – a small island with limited resources,” he says. Smith also notes that one of the most important lessons he took away from his participation on the show was the importance of teamwork. “I went in thinking about survival as something that had to do with me – but you have to rely on other people and work as a team,” he says.
Rick as a teaching assistant in Monteverde, Costa Rica with CIEE.
“I realized I needed to keep having those adventures, and I think study abroad programs can offer that real sense of adventure unlike anything else,” says Smith.
Smith’s background in environmental filmmaking contributed to his selection as a participant on The Island. He earned an undergraduate degree in biology from Whitman College, and chose to study abroad with CIEE on the Tropical Ecology + Conservation program in Monteverde because of its unique program focus and its reputation as a rigorous life sciences program. Although he had some background in outdoor activities, being immersed in the jungle ecosystem of Costa Rica led Smith to discover a new passion for the outdoors. He remembers the distinct feeling that he had found something that he needed to keep doing. “I realized I needed to keep having those adventures, and I think study abroad programs can offer that real sense of adventure unlike anything else,” says Smith. Rick returned to Monteverde a year later, this time as a teaching assistant for the CIEE program.
Image: Rick on The Island.
After a year as a teaching assistant, Smith returned to the U.S. and earned an MFA in Science & Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University. He has spent the past ten years building his career as a nature and wildlife photographer. Smith’s professional filmmaking career has included projects featured on top networks, including National Geographic Television, Animal Planet, PBS, the Nature Conservancy, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Interested in pursuing your own study abroad adventure? Check out all of CIEE’s study abroad programs, including our STEM-focused programs in Bonaire, Costa Rica, Australia, Brazil, Berlin, and more.
June marks the start of summertime in Portland – as well as the arrival of our 2015 Alumni Interns!
Now in its fourth year, the Alumni Summer Internship program brings a group of exceptional CIEE Study Abroad alumni, all of whom are rising seniors at U.S. colleges and universities, to our Portland global headquarters to work on challenging strategic projects across CIEE’s family of programs. During their time in Portland, interns receive mentorship from CIEE staff, engage in a weekly personal and professional development seminar, and participate in fun outings in Maine.
Get to know this year’s interns in their own words:
Colby College // History, Government
"I chose to study abroad in Amman, Jordan with CIEE because I liked the program's focus on Arabic language skills. Jordan was an amazing place to get a taste of Middle Eastern culture, language, politics, and society, and I am so thankful that CIEE was there to help every step of the way!"
Skidmore College // Management, Business, Sociology
"My favorite trip with CIEE was when we went to Seville. I was immersed in the richness of Southern Spain with regards to Flamenco, tapas and beautiful architecture. I visited the Alcazar of Seville, Seville Cathedral and took a day trip to Cordoba."
Miami University of Ohio // International Studies, French, and Business Management
"One of my favorite memories from my CIEE program in Rennes, France was teaching English once a week in a French middle school. I found that I loved teaching English to enthusiastic students through activities and games. Meeting French students served as an insightful way to get to know another part of French culture."
University of Virginia // Public Policy
"One of the Belgian interns for my program asked for volunteers to write superlatives for everyone in the program to present at our end-of-the-semester dinner. Three of us met up a few hours before and decorated 48 paper plates with ridiculous awards on them. The presentation really solidified our group and revealed the bonds we all created with one another throughout our experience abroad."
Denison University // Educational Studies, Spanish
"My favorite memory from my CIEE experience last year was cheering on Argentina throughout the World Cup. We watched the games on a big screen in Plaza San Martín with thousands of other Porteños and joined the celebrations around the Obelisco after the final game. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience!"
Beloit College // Business Economics
"I knew I wanted to study at a large university in a major European city with courses taught in English so that limited my options a bit. Ultimately the CIEE Business & Culture program in Amsterdam stood out as offering the best opportunity for me to have a meaningful and rewarding experience both academically and culturally."
Gonzaga University // International Relations, Economics, Arabic
"I chose to study abroad in Amman, Jordan because I wanted to work on my Arabic speaking skills. I also chose Jordan because I love Middle Eastern food."
University of Oregon // Public Relations, Spanish
"I am excited to learn about the structure of an international organization, such as CIEE. My fascinations lie heavily in international relations and communications, so to produce work for an international organization will teach me so much about the industry. There are so many crucial aspects to running a successful study abroad organization, and I can’t wait to see how it all works and integrate my skills to learn even more."
Carleton College // Cinema, Media Studies
"One of my favorite memories from my program in Prague is our trip to Pisek. We stayed in a small motel near a forest, and it was so invigorating to hear crickets and see stars at night for the first time in weeks. One day, we went on a scavenger hunt in the mountains and when we got to the top we all danced in a field with a gorgeous view of the Bohemian countryside. It was beautiful and exhilarating."
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill // Global Studies
US-Korea Youth Network, Seoul
"One of my favorite memories while I was in South Korea for two weeks was our program’s excursion to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. We were told to be mindful of our manners and clothing and given an extensive lecture on the politics that led up to the establishment of this significant historical zone. This excursion was a great time for us fellow travelers to connect, engage critically, and reflect on a deeper level through a more controversial topic that went beyond the basic notions of what characterizes South Korean culture."
Loyola University New Orleans // International Business, Marketing
"I chose to study abroad with CIEE in different locations, as each place provided me with a culturally unique opportunity. Experiencing university life in both Europe and South America tremendously enriched my ability to draw lines and connect the similarities and differences among cultures."
Learn more about our alumni internship program here.
Bryant Mason and Kamila Lambert are alumni of the 2010 CIEE Khon Kaen study abroad program in Thailand. Today, they have utilized their knowledge of sustainability and agriculture to found their own urban farm companies: in 2010, Bryant founded the Urban Farm Company of Colorado, and in 2013, Kamila began her own venture, The Edible Urban Farm, based in Silicon Valley.
Bryant discovered his passion for the food system while pursuing a degree in economics and environmental studies as an undergrad at the University of Colorado Boulder. He describes using food as a tool to learn basic economics. “There are all kinds of environmental issues connected to our food system, from carbon emissions, resource depletion, and resource management. In a lot of ways, everything comes back to the food we eat,” says Bryant. While at CU-Boulder, he started a sustainable food student group called CU Going Local, and began gardening around Boulder.
Kamila began her undergraduate career at Santa Clara University on the pre-med track, but discovered that she preferred to help people through food and gardening. “In general, food is the great equalizer – it’s the common thing that everyone has to do,” she says. She began gardening on Santa Clara campus, and then left to go abroad during her junior year with the CIEE Khon Kaen program in Thailand.
Kamila Lambert, founder of the Edible Urban Farm.
For her final project of her study abroad semester, Kamila shared best practices in organic farming with nearby farming communities. “It was interesting to see that there was a market for the organic food movement, which feels very western,” says Kamila. Bryant had a similar experience with the Development & Globalization program, which is focused on sustainability and agriculture in the developing world. “The only similarity I had with rural Thai villagers was an interest in growing and eating good food,” Bryant says, “and I really got to see agriculture – rice paddies and bizarre vegetables I had never seen.”
Urban Edible Farm Co. founder Kamila Lambert. Photo: Palo Alto Online.
Soon after returning from Thailand, Bryant began the Urban Farm Company of Colorado, which has now been in business for almost 4 years. For Bryant, The Urban Farm Co. was a way to combine his passion for entrepreneurship, food, and economics.
“One of my guiding principles for entrepreneurship and business is that if you can create a scalable business model, you can have the power to make a lot of change in areas you care about.”
Photo credit: The Urban Farm Company of Colorado.
Kamila began The Edible Urban Farm Company in California a few years after her CIEE program, and reached out to Bryant for advice. “Bryant was super helpful, because he had a year and a half head start on me – he was the impetus for getting started,” she explains.
Today, Kamila and Bryant’s businesses have grown and expanded within their cities. Kamila has installed over 120 raised beds in the past year, and Bryant aspires to scale the Urban Farm Co. to different cities around the U.S.
Related stories about CIEE Thailand alumni:
Together with the New York Times in Education, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has launched the Generation Study Abroad Voices Video Challenge. This is an opportunity to create a digital storytelling piece about your study abroad experience - for the chance to win prizes, including a trip to D.C. for the IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad! Learn more here.
For U.S.-based CIEE alumni, hosting an international exchange student is a great way to remain in touch with a different culture from your own. Host a high school student from another country this year and continue your global experience! Interested in giving back and learning more? Learn more by visiting ciee.org/host.
Can't host but still interested in helping out with international students once they arrive in the U.S.? We have several part-time Local Coordinator positions available across the country as well.
June marks the start of the summer season for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program! This month, over 18,000 participants will travel to the United States - many of whom are already alumni of Work & Travel USA or another CIEE program. These participants will gain international work experience, learn about other cultures, and explore America.
Meet a CIEE Work & Travel USA alum who will be working at the CIEE global headquarters in Portland, Maine this summer.
Ireland Chapter Event: Saturday, June 13, 12-2 p.m.
Join us for brunch in Dublin to kick off the first official event of the CIEE Alumni Ireland Chapter. Meet other CIEE alumni in Dublin, as well as CIEE staff involved in J-1 Visa Exchange programs.
Boston Chapter Event: Friday, June 26, 6-8 p.m.
Meet fellow CIEE alums in Boston, as well as the leaders of the CIEE Alumni Boston Chapter, at this happy hour event at The Brahmin in Back Bay. Food and drink will be provided.
Chicago Chapter Event: Late June (details to come)
The CIEE Alumni Chicago Chapter is planning its first event to take place in late June. Details coming soon - stay tuned!
Armen Kassabian, CIEE Study Abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic
While studying abroad with CIEE in Santiago in 2008, Armen Kassabian discovered his passion for Creole culture, language learning, and international education. After his semester abroad, he pursued English teaching abroad in Martinique for the French Government and as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Brazil. His recent book, Beyond the 'To Be' Syndrome: An Alternative Method to Teaching English,' looks at innovative approaches to language learning.
Related: Interested in learning about applying to a Fulbright scholarship? Check out our Q&A with CIEE alum and Fulbright alum Stephen Okin.
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- How to impress employers with your study abroad experience
Do you have a story to share about your CIEE experience? Email email@example.com.
“I've learned that in a world that seems so immense, we still have the same basic values. We are still family." - Michael M., CIEE USA High School host parent
On social media? So are we! Follow us on Twitter or Instagram @CIEEAlumni, and join over 18,000 alumni in our LinkedIn group.
CIEE alum Max Strelnikov celebrated his 20th birthday last June on Lake Powell during his Work & Travel USA program in Arizona. This summer, Max will be marking his 21st birthday while on his second Work & Travel USA program at the CIEE global headquarters in Portland, Maine.
Max is originally from Moscow, where he is studying tourism. During his Work & Travel USA program, Max was a boat instructor on Lake Powell, the 2nd biggest man-made lake in the United States. The lake is located between Utah and Arizona; although Max worked in Utah, he lived just across the border in Arizona. As a boat instructor, Max guided tourists on everything from kayaks and jet skis to houseboats.
Max says that his interests include photography, languages, cycling, and travel. ‘Travel’ seems to be less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle; he visited 10 states during his Work & Travel USA program last summer, including Nevada, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Florida. He plans to visit 11 more states at the end of this summer, this time focusing on exploring the Southern United States –including stops in the cities of Moscow, Idaho and St. Petersburg, Florida.
Max was interested in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program because of the opportunity to experience a different culture, to practice his English language skills, and to gain experience with an international team. As a Participant Services Seasonal Coordinator at CIEE this summer, Max will work to create a memorable experience for over 18,000 Work & Travel USA participants living and working in the United States. After this summer, he plans to return to Moscow to complete his tourism degree, and then pursue a master’s program or internship in the United States or in a Spanish-speaking country.
Learn more about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program by visiting the CIEE website.
Stephen Okin is an alum of multiple CIEE programs: he participated in three sessions of the CIEE Summer Language & Culture program in Seville, Spain, as well as the Teach in Spain and TEFL certification programs in 2014. Stephen is currently an MA candidate in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, where he also works as a research assistant. In 2010-11, he received a Fulbright scholarship through the U.S. Student Program to pursue a master’s degree in Integration Studies at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus in Barbados.
(Photo credit for all photos: Stephen Okin)
CIEE: Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright scholarship?
SO: I never studied abroad as an undergraduate, instead choosing to spend a semester at Hamilton’s program in Washington, D.C. As such, when I was looking at my post-graduation options, I had a strong urge to travel and see the world like so many of my classmates had done before. On top of this desire, I had a long-standing interest in Western Hemisphere affairs and knew that going overseas would allow me to experience the region first hand as well as help me professionally in the years to come. These two threads, however, wouldn’t have led me to the Fulbright if it hadn’t been for the counsel of a friend at the State Department, who told me about his experience as a Fulbright scholar and urged me to apply.
CIEE: How did your CIEE program/experience inform or influence your decision to apply for Fulbright?
SO: I completed my Fulbright before going on my CIEE adventures. However, my experience in Barbados only fed my travel bug and ultimately led me to CIEE. During my time in the Caribbean, I discovered I enjoyed learning about new cultures and the challenge of being “outside my comfort zone.” Moreover, I found the colonial history between Europe and the region fascinating which, when coupled with my desire to learn another language, ultimately caused me to choose Spain as my next destination.
CIEE: What was the focus of your Fulbright scholarship?
SO: My Fulbright experience was a bit unconventional. Most grant recipients right out of their undergraduate studies either teach English abroad or pursue a specific research proposal that they complete in collaboration with a local partner in-country. For my grant, I enrolled in a Masters program in Integration Studies at the University of the West Indies. The program examines regional integration initiatives around the world, with a strong focus on the Caribbean’s two integration projects: the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). As part of the program’s requirements, I completed a 3-month internship with the Regional Security System (RSS), which is a regional security organization comprising Barbados and the OECS member states. During my time there I wrote a report on the RSS and citizen security in the Caribbean and presented it at the United Nations Development Programme’s consultation event for the 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report in St. Lucia in September 2011.
Stephen (left) with Mr. James Goggin, the Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Barbados (2010).
CIEE: What advice would you give to CIEE alums interested in applying for a Fulbright scholarship?
SO: The primary thing to remember is that the Fulbright program was designed to facilitate cultural exchange between the United States and other countries. Ideal candidates, therefore, will embrace the opportunity to act as an ambassador between two cultures. As far as the actual application process goes, I can only speak to the process of applying for a research/study grant. In my experience, the most important part about applying for a Fulbright is making a case for why whatever it is you want to do in your chosen country can only be done there. For example, no one gets a Fulbright to go study French in France; you can learn French anywhere. A more realistic proposal would be to go conduct field research on the impact immigrants are having on the French language today and what that means for French identity in the 21st century. What’s more, your proposal must make sense given your background. For instance, the above example would make no sense coming from an applicant like me because I have never studied French and nothing in my history suggests an interest in France, linguistics, or identity theory. You have to pick a project that is an obvious continuation of previously expressed interests. Last, you should explain how completing your project will support Fulbright’s mission statement of cultural exchange after you finish your grant. This could be by advancing your professional interests (such as teaching or working on the subject); by continuing your studies (it motivates you to pursue an advanced degree); or by volunteering for a related cause/staying engaged in some other manner. There’s obviously a lot more that goes into a successful application, but satisfy these three things and you’re well on your way!
If you’re a CIEE alum, check out our LinkedIn group to connect with alumni in your field or city, including over 100 past and current Fulbright scholars.
CIEE alum Armen Kassabian is utilizing his experience from his time abroad – from his semester in Santiago (Dominican Republic) with CIEE, to a Fulbright scholarship in Brazil – to innovate within the field of language learning. His recently published book, Beyond the ‘To Be’ Syndrome: An Alternative Method to Teaching Language, explores teaching language in a more creative, interactive way. Armen co-authored the book during his Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) position in Brazil in 2014. His book will be utilized as a resource by the U.S. State Department for future English teachers going abroad.
Armen in Lagoinha De Baixo, Mato Grosso, a Quilomboa Afro-Brazilian Community.
With six languages (and counting) in his repertoire – including Spanish, Creole, Armenian, French, Portuguese, and American Sign Language – his approach has proven to be quite effective. Throughout his Fulbright year, he focused on interactive, unique ways of learning, such as a pen pal program between American and Brazilian students and class discussions relating to students’ interests. “The main aim is to democratize the way teaching happens so that the teachers are more facilitators of students building their identity and finding themselves in English,” explains Armen. “You need to find yourself when you speak a new language, and figure out how you’re going to express yourself in this language.”
“I really believe that taking away the hard part about [language learning], and the ‘oh, I’m learning a language’, and making it more about ‘I’m learning to relate to someone in a new way using different words, sounds and ways of expressing myself’ takes a lot of pressure off of the students; they’re just learning how to express themselves in writing and speaking, and then they’re able to improve and improvise better based on what they want express.”
Armen (third from left) teaching middle school English with university students.
Armen’s passion for Creole language and culture began during his semester abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic in 2008 with CIEE. As a double-major in International Development and Contemplative Practices in Education at Clark University, the CIEE Service Learning program in Santiago aligned well with his academic goals. Armen describes his CIEE experience as ‘challenging and rewarding’, and says that he grew personally and professionally during his time abroad.
Prior to his Fulbright program, Armen taught English in Martinique (in the French Caribbean Islands), as well as in New York City Public Schools. Today, he is continuing his education with a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) at Long Island University and a Master’s degree in Bilingual Childhood Education at Hunter College, and is working as an elementary school teaching assistant in New York.
Logos Gospel Capoeira, Cuiaba, Mato Grosso
In the future, Armen plans to continue working internationally with English-language programs, for the American State Department or for an International High School in New York City. During his Fulbright program, Armen began teaching English for the Deaf, and is interested in opening up higher education opportunities for students who are deaf. His other interests include teaching tai chi, improvisation/theater, poetry, studying new languages, marathon running, capoeira, and ultimate frisbee. Regardless of his next career move, he says that his main goal is to continue his work with students from different cultures.