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5 posts from July 2016

The CIEE Work & Travel USA Experience: Andrada Birla's American Adventure

My name is Andrada Birla and I am from Timisoara, Romania. Last year, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and since have been working in a small company here in Timisoara.

I always dreamed about going to the United States. When I became a student, I saw advertisements for CIEE Work & Travel USA around campus and knew it was my chance. In my first year at university, I was afraid I would not be able to deal with exams and also prepare for an American adventure, so I missed that chance. The second year came and I was confident; I already knew what I would do next summer. The idea of getting out of my comfort zone terrified me but at the same time I was excited to go and experience what we call "the American dream." I always loved the idea of getting in touch with other nations, which attracted me the most to this experience. Going in a foreign country and working with people, dealing with everyday situations, celebrating with them… I believe this is the good way to learn about a culture.

When in Maine, eat lobster.

So once the summer came, the adventure began. I got a job as a shop assistant in a small shop near the beach in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I consider myself so lucky. At a glance you would think that there aren’t so many things to do there, but believe me, the beach, the city, and the state are just perfect for a wanderer’s soul. It was hard in the beginning – I had to learn all about American money and coins, I had to be patient with the customers, I learned a little bit of Russian and Bulgarian because of my roommates, and I became fluent in "American language,” as my boss would say. I became good friends with my roommates and my co-workers, so every day at work was a pleasure. No matter how tired you come home after a day at work, we would still go to international parties or simply talk with other CIEE Work & Travel USA participants in the house.

On our days off we would go out for dinner or shop in Freeport, or just wander around in Portland. At the end of the summer, a Russian friend and I decided to travel together on the East Coast. We visited Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Everything went smoothly. We had the best summer!


As I mentioned before, I became good friends with my roommates and my co-workers, so we kept in touch after we all got back home. The next day after landing in our hometowns, we decided to return to Maine for another summer. The second year was even more amazing; every week we would travel to some beautiful place nearby (Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, Acadia National Park, Moxie Falls, and the list goes on). We were known as the “magic 4”: me, the Russian girl, the Bulgarian girl and the American girl. I must admit, I fell in love with "Mainers" and Maine’s landscapes.

At the end of the summer I decided to visit the West, so I took my backpack and my friend from Atlantic City and we visited L.A., Las Vegas, and San Francisco. I believe the Grand Canyon is a destination that everyone must see at least once in a lifetime. We had a perfect end to the summer! We were barely back home before we planned to see each other in the winter; the four of us did a trip in Bulgaria and Romania. I am looking forward to our next meeting.

The most I think I learned was about myself.

I can say that America had a big influence on my life. I got back home with my suitcase full of dreams, positive vibes, new friends, and memories. The experience gave me confidence and the power to follow all my dreams. I learned to manage my time and money efficiently, and I improved my communication skills – my English is way better since working in the U.S. The most I think I learned was about myself. I learned to deal with daily problems and, at the same time, to enjoy every little moment in life.

Now I work in a company whose headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., I get in touch daily with people from America and in this way I still get positive vibes in my life. I am looking forward to visiting the U.S. again. I am so grateful for those two summers spent in Maine, and I would advise every student to take advantage of this great opportunity. Go to the United States and live on your own – live the American dream, experience new things, be open to a new culture, and you will become the richest person.


Alumni Update - July 2016



Destination TEFL Launching This Fall

CIEE TEFL is excited to announce that Destination TEFL is launching this fall in Vietnam and Thailand. After completing 11 weeks of online coursework, participants will complete 2 weeks of practice teaching in either Vietnam or Thailand. The program allows participants to find a job in Vietnam or Thailand while completing the practicum or, if they aren't ready to commit to a job, they can extend their trip to explore a new part of the world. For those that return to the U.S. after receiving their TEFL certificate, they are ideal candidates for a CIEE Teach Abroad program, offering teaching positions in 11 different countries around the world.

Pay It Forward - Host a High School Exchange Student

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! You can also refer an individual or family and CIEE will thank you with $100 if they end up hosting with us. 

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 too. 

Visit to learn more about these opportunities.

More CIEE Alumni Receive Fulbright Awards

Congratulations to the following CIEE alumni who received awards to go abroad again through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program:

Sophia Freuden (St. Petersburg RLP, Russia, Spring 2015) - Fulbright ETA to Yelabuga 
Ben Lourie (St. Petersburg RLP, Russia, Spring 2015) - Fulbright ETA to Gorno-altaysk
Scout (Sarah) Mills (St. Petersburg RLP, Russia, Fall 2014 - Spring 2015) - Fulbright ETA to Ukhta 
Erin Luther (Buenos Aires LA, Argentina, Spring 2014) - Fulbright ETA to Argentina

Congratulations to Dr. Allison Pingley, a CIEE IFDS alum, who recently received the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to teach in Budapest, Hungary in the fall. This June, Dr. Pingley attended a CIEE faculty seminar in the Czech Republic titled, "The Everyday Social, Psychological, and Economic Effects of Communism."

Did you receive a Fulbright award for the upcoming year? We'd love to hear about it! Email us at to share the news.

The Alumni Interns are Taking Over Social Media

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @cieealumni to stay up-to-date with all things CIEE this summer as the alumni interns take over our social channels and give you an inside look at what it's like to intern at our global headquarters in Portland, Maine.

Intern at CIEE with Teach Abroad

Are you interested in content marketing and social media? Apply to be the next Content Marketing Intern for Teach Abroad! This is a rotating internship that offers a full-time, 3-month position with rolling start dates in August, November, and February. Learn More

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Read about the last CIEE Local Chapter events on the blog.





Leyth Swidan, CIEE Study Abroad

As a Jordanian-American, Leyth spent his childhood summers traveling between Philadelphia and Jordan, familiarizing himself with Arab culture and learning Arabic, which has contributed to his interest in global affairs and the Middle East. He is a recent graduate of Pomona College where he studied International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies. During his time at Pomona, Leyth studied abroad with CIEE twice; first in Amman, Jordan on the CIEE Diplomacy and Policy Studies program, and then at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London as a Gilman Scholar. He also worked as a peer mentor at Pomona's Office of Study Abroad, was a senior interviewer in the admissions office, and served as the president of the Muslim Students Association. His interest in public service and diplomacy has led him to intern at the White House, the Embassy of Jordan in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. State Department during his summers in college. These experiences have reinforced his desire to contribute to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as a future Foreign Service Officer. This summer, he is interning in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau at the State Department before starting his Master of International Affairs program at Columbia University as a Pickering Fellow. Read his story on the blog.

Do you have your own story to share? Email us:


Excerpts of Conversations with CIEE Work & Travel USA Alumni: 

"I participated in the program for two summers. I was in the same place, Old Orchard Beach Maine. It was such a great adventure! It helped me get a better sense of U.S. culture. I met wonderful people, both American and European, and we still keep in touch. We even visit each other at least once a year in Europe. Now I work for a company with headquarters in the U.S. and the experience helps me whenever I interact with Americans." -Andrada Birla (CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2013 and 2014)

"I participated in the Work &Travel USA program via CIEE in 2014 and 2015 summers. I have been to 10 states in the U.S., and they are really amazing unforgettable memories. I'm a senior student at Istanbul University in public relations and advertising now and I will be graduating this summer, also planning to build a career in the field of human resources management." -Ahmet Saygin (CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2014 and 2015)

Did you love your CIEE Work & Travel USA experience? Join the CIEE Work & Travel USA Ambassadors group on LinkedIn to virtually connect with alumni from around the world!


From left: The CIEE Alumni summer interns enjoy their first day working at CIEE's global headquarters in Portland, Maine; the alumni interns enjoy a fun kayaking trip around the many small islands of Casco Bay, and even saw some seals; and CIEE alumni interns and staff take a team-building trip to The Escape Room in Portland.

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CIEE's July Alum of the Month Pursues a Career in Foreign Policy


The Alum of the Month for July is Leyth Swidan. As a Jordanian-American, Leyth spent his childhood summers traveling between Philadelphia and Jordan, familiarizing himself with Arab culture and learning Arabic, which has contributed to his interest in global affairs and the Middle East. He is a recent graduate of Pomona College where he studied International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies. During his time at Pomona, Leyth studied abroad with CIEE twice; first in Amman, Jordan on the CIEE Diplomacy and Policy Studies program, and then at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London as a Gilman Scholar. This summer, he is interning in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau at the State Department before starting his Master of International Affairs program at Columbia University as a Pickering Fellow. Leyth tells us about his experiences studying abroad and his pursuit of a career in foreign policy:

“Ahlan wa sahlan! Jordan welcomes you.”

As a first-generation Jordanian-American, I spent my childhood summers traveling between the U.S. and Jordan, familiarizing myself with Arab culture and eating the national dish, mansaf. Coming from a Middle Eastern background has given me a global perspective, which has cultivated my understanding of the importance of increased dialogue and cultural awareness. I have always been caught between two different cultures as I have attempted to find the intersection between my identities as an Arab Muslim and LGBT American. While I have grown tremendously from traversing between these different cultures, it has not always been easy. Growing up in a post-9/11 America, experiencing Islamophobia, and witnessing U.S. media misrepresent reality in the Middle East has shown me the importance of countering bigoted narratives of Muslims and Arabs. As an Arab-American, I believed I was able to dispel these misconceptions, both as a student studying abroad and as a future U.S. diplomat.

As an international relations major, I hoped to gain insight into the regional politics of the Middle East from different cultural perspectives by studying abroad. I wanted to understand the local context of the Middle East issues to build off the knowledge I gained in classes at Pomona College. Being abroad, especially in Jordan, allowed me to interact with locals and learn about their attitudes and opinions on hot-topic issues, which is another perspective that I would not have gained in Claremont, a small suburban town in southern California.

I somehow avoided culture shock during my time in Jordan. As a Jordanian-American, studying in Amman was a breeze for me in terms of immersing myself and assimilating. I have family in Jordan that I was able to visit on weekends while still making friends with people on my study abroad program and experiencing the unending hospitality of my parents’ homeland. In fact, I even took two of my CIEE friends to my cousins’ weddings on separate occasions. I would often take the bus to Zarqa, a city 30 minutes north of Amman where most of my extended family lives. Not only did studying in a familiar country provide me with a sense of comfort, especially with family being only a taxi or bus ride away, but it also gave me an excuse not to cook in my apartment since I would often be invited to lunches and dinners with relatives! Yet, it was my first time being almost completely alone in a foreign country in the sense that I was not living with my parents, which afforded me some sense of freedom. I found time to explore sites in Amman that I had never been to before, like the Roman Amphitheatre and Rainbow Street, and revisit other parts of Jordan that I had seen before with friends, including the Dead Sea and Aqaba. While this gave me a chance to brag about how much of a local I was, I felt the complete opposite at times, especially when chatting with taxi drivers. I did not even have to say one word for locals to recognize that I was Arab, despite being with non-Arabs and speaking English. I often felt the need to explain that I was “a real Jordanian”, that I knew the country, culture, and people, understood how bad traffic was, and that I was not one of those people who just forgot about their cultural roots. I would get asked if I liked the U.S. or Jordan more and, more often than not, if I could help them get a visa to the U.S. “Enta wa hazak,” I would respond. “Try your luck.” But as soon as I began haggling taxi drivers in Arabic to use their meters instead of overcharging me, I felt more like a local than ever.

At the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy, I learned a lot about the regional dynamics of the Middle East and about Jordan's role as one of the few stable countries in the region. My favorite class was titled “Arab Diplomacy,” which focused on the politics, history, and diplomacy of the Middle East from the Great Arab Revolt of the early 20th century to the Arab Spring in the 21st century. Perhaps one of the reasons why I found it interesting was because my professor was the former Jordanian ambassador to Israel and was able to speak candidly about the Jordan-Israel peace talks.

In Jordan, one of the most eye-opening experiences for me was meeting with and talking to Syrian refugees in northern Jordan about the challenges they faced when crossing into Jordan and not having the money needed to buy the medicine necessary for a life-threatening condition. It was also eye-opening to see innocent children run around the house, unaware of the situation their parents were in during that time as the victims of a political conflict. I was there experiencing firsthand the consequences of the Syrian conflict that I had read about endlessly for at least two years, and I felt useless. I was there but couldn’t offer them anything. I couldn’t help them in any way. It was such a humbling experience to be able to match faces with words that I have read in articles. That visit to northern Jordan allowed me to learn more about the ongoing conflict and its impact on the lives of millions of Syrians more than any article could have. That experience abroad, along with the interpersonal diplomacy I practiced while living in Jordan, reinforced my desire to contribute to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as a diplomat in the United States Foreign Service.

London (1)

London was completely different from Amman weather-wise, food-wise, and money-wise. When people ask me about my experience in London, I always respond with “cold and expensive.” As a Gilman Scholar, my budget was not completely limited during my time there, which allowed me to take advantage of being in Europe and not eat frozen meals for dinner every night. But beyond that, London was very much a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that Amman cannot be compared to. Of course, one wouldn’t want to miss out on the many tourist sites throughout the city – watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, looking at contemporary art at the Tate Modern Museum, laughing at the Merchant of Venice performance in Shakespeare’s Globe, and of course, posing for pictures with Big Ben. There was always something to do whether alone or with friends. I also enjoyed my time on campus, particularly the student-organized events that took place at SOAS’ student union, like international music bands, guest speakers, and poetry readings.

Academically speaking, I could not have chosen a better institution to study at than SOAS. There, I had the opportunity to study issues that I care about, like global migration and international conflict and development in small, in-depth tutorials, and was overwhelmed with the options of classes available. Being at a university instead of an institute like in Amman offered me access to books from SOAS’ library, one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of the Middle East, diverse student clubs, and greater interactions with non-American students who were also at SOAS. By designing an academic curriculum that fit my intellectual interests, I was able to develop an understanding of global issues in relation to the Middle East through specialized course offerings and regional focus. The discussions, conversations, and debates I had with professors and fellow students in my classes throughout the semester ultimately furthered my interest in democratic governance of states while allowing me to gain insight into Middle Eastern politics from a range of diverse perspectives, given the large number of international students at SOAS.

My time abroad in both Amman and London was wonderful. I was challenged academically at school and personally as I stepped outside of my comfort zone to make new friends at SOAS. I learned how to be comfortable exploring new places without the company of others, and I took full advantage of everything both cities had to offer, including the free coffee at Waitrose in London! The interpersonal diplomacy I practiced while studying abroad reinforced my desire to contribute to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Presenting American values abroad in Jordan and Britain allowed me to not only connect with others through cultural values, but also through shared narratives and experiences. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Pickering Fellowship during my semester at SOAS, which will allow me to turn this passion into action, continue strengthening democratic governance with the U.S. Department of State, and represent a diverse America abroad as a future Foreign Service Officer.

I am currently interning in the Office of Levant Affairs in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau at the State Department. While my internship, study abroad experiences, and academic background at Pomona College have prepared me for a long-term career in the Foreign Service, I will pursue a Master of International Affairs degree at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University this fall to gain the skills needed to formulate and implement U.S. foreign policy and to strengthen mutual understanding between the U.S. and the Arab world.


Event Recap: CIEE Alumni in NYC Mingle with AIC Students at a Summer BBQ

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On Sunday, June 5th, the CIEE Alumni New York City Chapter gathered for a BBQ in Manhattan’s buzzing East Village neighborhood. New York-based alumni prepared a fun-filled evening with delicious food, games, and drinks, and mingled with the new arrivals and fellow alumni. In the spirit of international exchange, the alumni shared their event with Academic Internship Council (AIC) students from different parts of the world who just arrived in NYC for summer internships.

The Academic Internship Council joined the CIEE family in September 2014 and serves more than 40 U.S. and international universities, establishing academic internship opportunities for students in 12 cities worldwide. AIC offers domestic internships in Boston, New York, and San Francisco and has partnered with CIEE alumni chapters in the past to host events.

Chapter president Thilo Huber says, "As former students who have worked their way to and through the Big Apple, we are keen to share our personal and professional experiences with incoming students. Giving them a warm and proper ‘Welcome to New York’ is our way of living the CIEE spirit." And welcome incoming students they did! AIC students were grateful for the new connections, insider advice about navigating NYC, and the delicious lobster tails.

AIC New York Office Director Anna Krishtal says, “The New York AIC office and the CIEE Alumni New York City Chapter have had a great partnership from day one and we will continue to foster relations among local interns, students, and alumni as one CIEE family. This provides our students access to networking and mentoring opportunities that can help them when starting out in their careers. We are so grateful.”

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Event Recap: CIEE Alumni San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Meets for Dinner

The CIEE Alumni San Francisco Bay Area Chapter has had a couple of great events this past year, and more are planned for the near future. The chapter's president, Louisa, tells us about their last event:

On Wednesday, May 26, the CIEE Alumni San Francisco Bay Area Chapter held its second event of the year - a casual meet up and dinner to welcome and catch up with new and current members. Alumni, guests, and a few affiliates from the Academic Internship Council gathered at San Francisco’s Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant - a family-style establishment with some of the most eclectic and animated restaurant décor. It was a perfect setting for our night of storytelling and enjoyable conversation!

To elevate the energy of our dinner to be as lively as the wall decorations, the evening began with everyone writing, on their name tags, the farthest location outside of San Francisco that they’ve traveled to. While waiting for the food to arrive, alumni and guests went around the table and shared some fascinating, wild, and insightful travel tales about the destination indicated on their name tag. There were stories of frightening bullfights stopping traffic on a rural road in Hong Kong, horrendous seasickness from an outrageously crammed Thai ferry sailing in the dead of night, how difference in cultural mannerisms made for hilariously awkward encounters in Norway, and so much more. As the evening progressed, it was great to hear stories exchanged about more travels, professional insights, personal passions, and the love for Bay Area culture. In a family-style restaurant, there was certainly an intimate family atmosphere that was achieved at our CIEE dinner.

To the alumni and guests who attended, thank you for your hospitality and company. We are looking forward to another awesome CIEE alumni event in the Bay Area!


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