Jordan Smoczyk, CIEE Study Abroad in Seville, Spain, Spring 2012
My study abroad experience was certainly one of the most life-changing and affirming things I have done. After studying abroad, I truly believe all universities should make at least a summer session, spring break, or J-term abroad mandatory. We live in a globalized world and need to learn how to communicate cross-culturally. A college education should prepare students to enter the workforce as global citizens.
I spent the spring semester of 2012 in Seville, Spain. I made Spanish friends and family whom I have since been back to visit. I made American friends who I remain close with although we live across the country. Through study abroad, I forged lasting connections with people of diverse cultures, socio-economic groups, and beliefs.
I believe that study abroad is one of the most efficient forms of diplomacy. My classmates and I showed our host families and cities that Americans are an extremely diverse people and, contrary to their beliefs, many are politically active, educated, and respectful of others. The strength of the stereotypes people had of Americans surprised me, but led to many candid and productive conversations. Breaking down stereotypes and making friends was a huge part of my study abroad experience. I learned to navigate new cities and unknown situations, to ask for help, and to be independent. I was exposed to cultures, history, and people previously unknown to me. In turn I answered countless questions about the United States, my family, and my life. When one travels or lives abroad, they are representing their country and culture whether they realize it or not. Each CIEE student contributes to the people of their host country’s impressions of Americans. This is a golden opportunity to break down stereotypes and forge strong relations. I am proud to say that my CIEE friends and I were good ambassadors to the United States. My friends and I developed rich relationships with our host families, were invited to experience uniquely Sevillan traditions with them such as Feria and Semana Santa, and we continue to stay in contact to this day.
Upon my return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I advised everyone I knew to study abroad. There can be no argument against the value of travel and of immersion in another culture – it is one of the easiest ways to open a closed mind. In my work as a case manager in Detroit, MI, I have learned that the majority of people want the same things in life: health and happiness for themselves and their families. It is so hard to hate when you meet people face to face and get to know them. While studying abroad, I got to work in the Gypsy community of Seville. Even my open-minded host family thought it was dangerous and ill-advised to go to El Vacie and work in a daycare for Gypsy children. After hearing my stories and seeing my pictures, they warmed to the idea and have since advised students to take advantage of this volunteer opportunity.
I believe that misunderstanding is the biggest threat to our world right now. Misunderstanding is at the root of war and conflict, racism and hate crimes. This is probably the strongest argument for study abroad – to enlighten and open minds, and to learn to work productively and cooperatively in our globalized world.
For me, study abroad catalyzed a dedication to working with immigrants, refugees, and those in poverty. My experiences support my belief that the U.S. government can promote peace by supporting work and study exchanges like CIEE’s study abroad programs. I believe that this type of one-on-one, direct diplomacy has unparalleled power because I have seen it firsthand.
Please feel free to contact me regarding study abroad, social work, or travel at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn.
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Our June Alum of the Month, Alisa Mustafina, is from Prokopyevsk, Russia. She participated in CIEE’s Work & Travel USA program three times—first in 2010 at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Portland, Maine, then twice working in Customer Service at CIEE’s headquarters, which is also located in Portland, Maine. In 2013, Alisa returned to CIEE for a yearlong internship in Participant Services through CIEE’s Internship USA program. She is an accomplished artist with a talent for painting landscapes and a love for travel. We interviewed Alisa to learn more about her experience with CIEE and her career in the arts:
You participated in Work & Travel USA three times – what impact did this have on your life?
Participating in these programs helped me to follow my dreams. A lot of my dreams came true while I was in the U.S. When one of my dreams was coming true, a new dream was appearing and I just wanted to come back and let it come into reality! When this happens, it brings happy emotions, incredible feelings, and lifetime memories.
I learned a lot of things during my programs. I think what is really important to me is what I learned about myself. I just got into the atmosphere where I discovered new sides of my personality. That was really interesting and surprising. Being far away from home and family, being in a foreign country where everything is unusual, and living with people of absolutely different cultures – all of these just make you grow up and mature. That was a priceless life experience.
Another invaluable side of the exchange programs is an opportunity to travel. Participation in CIEE programs opened a new world for exploration in travels. I had a dream of visiting lots of places in the U.S. since I was a child, so I finally had the chance to follow my dreams. The more I traveled, the more places I wanted to see. I traveled across the U.S. visiting 23 states during my programs. I’ve been to many big cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and many others. I’ve seen the cherry blossoms in D.C., Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, orca whales in the wild, Maine shores, and many other breathtakingly beautiful places.
I also took advantage of a unique opportunity to get acquainted with the masterpieces of world art by visiting several famous art museums, such as the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida), as well as many others. I am endlessly thankful for all these opportunities I got because of these exchange programs!
What did you learn while working at CIEE’s Portland, Maine office?
One of the most important things about the programs is that they helped me to improve my English. My work experience in Customer Support at CIEE also helped me learn how to work in a team and how to be a part of a team. I learned how to ‘hear’ people and how to find a way to help and support them. I was trained to work with various computer systems and taught how to maintain lots of information at the same time. I also learned to work with people of different cultures and ages. Such experience is useful for any profession. My experience at CIEE helped me to become more confident in myself.
How did exchange in the U.S. help you in your career, especially as an artist?
I currently teach English to children at school and privately. I also work with adults who would like to learn colloquial English. My English skills, which I gained during my exchange programs in the U.S., help me in this career significantly.
Another career that I’m developing and is very important to me is a career in art. My exchange in the U.S. played a big role in that also. I started taking classes at the Art Studio (Russia) when I was four and continued attending them until I graduated from high school. However, I decided that I didn’t want to be a professional artist and entered the university to study world economy.
Since my first visit to the U.S., my point of view about art started changing. Living in Maine inspired me to return to painting. I’m a big lover and admirer of nature, especially of the ocean and lighthouses. They always beckoned me. I collected images with ocean views and lighthouses even before I learned about the Work & Travel USA program – before I learned about Maine and Portland. And it just so happened that life brought me to the place where the ocean and lighthouses are main attractions. This occasion became a source of inspiration for a new creative phase. Personal acquaintance with the ocean and lighthouses has left and indelible mark on the soul and on the canvas.
While I was studying, I didn’t have enough time to paint. However, when I returned to the U.S. for an internship with CIEE, I was able to dedicate more time to art. I started with very simple art, using simple paint and paper, then moved to more complicated subjects. I didn’t take any classes while in Portland; I just enjoyed painting whatever I wanted and then shared it with others. I painted several views of lighthouses and oceans based on my memories and imagination. Several compositions were painted right away after my trips to some places, like Peaks Island and Boston.
Tell us more about your artistic journey and process.
To make my painting process even more enjoyable and emotional, I usually listen to classical music. My musical inspiration is Jackie Evancho, who I discovered thanks to the exchange program way back in 2011. The incredibly beautiful voice of this young classical crossover singer just couldn’t leave me unmoved. Again, thanks to the exchange programs in the U.S., I was able to attend seven of Jackie Evancho’s concerts and enjoy her voice live. These events are among the most incredible highlights of my programs. Therefore, my artwork is imbued with the scents of the Atlantic Ocean and the music of Jackie Evancho!
When I returned to Russia in the fall of 2014, I showed my paintings to my art teacher. She appreciated my artwork and asked if I wanted to exhibit it. I definitely agreed. So, in March of 2015, I had a solo exhibition of my paintings in a local Palace of Culture in my hometown. By that time, I learned to paint with oils and acrylics, which improved my artwork. Also, just a few days before this exhibition was opened, I became a winner in the international Internet project, “Seasons,” which involved artists from 14 countries. My landscape was considered the best in the category of “Winter.”
Based on results of my solo exhibition, I was invited to exhibit my artwork at the main Cultural Exhibition Center in my home city, Prokopyevsk. The exhibition at this center opened on March 11, 2016 and will be running until May 1. I don’t know if this exhibition would have happened if I didn’t participate in exchange programs and if I didn’t come to Maine, but I definitely know that my participation in these programs played a signification role in my art career. For that, I’m endlessly grateful to CIEE.
Words of Wisdom from Alisa:
Another important thing that I learned from participating in exchange programs is that we shouldn’t be afraid of dreaming impossible dreams. Just dream big and then follow your dreams! We just never know where they can bring us to.
The big dream I dream now is to come back to Portland with my art exhibition and to bring joy to CIEE through my artwork as a gratitude for the priceless joy CIEE helped me get while I was in the U.S. And to make my dream even more impossible, I dream to have Jackie Evancho sing at the opening ceremony of this exhibition! Dream BIG!
Alisa also shared with us a video about her exploration of painting and art:
Thinking about having an American adventure of your own? Visit the Work & Travel USA website to learn more!
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