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6 posts from October 2016

CIEE Global Navigator High School Program in Cape Town Teaches History and Humanity

Students overlooking Cape Town. Photo by Cameron Conolly.

This past summer was an exciting and educational one for CIEE Global Navigator High School alum Diego Mendoza. Diego embarked on a long journey from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Cape Town, South Africa for a summer program that’s packed with excursions, volunteer work, and cultural activities. He chose this program so he could visit Africa for the first time while also having a meaningful experience. Two activities that Diego really enjoyed were climbing Lion’s Head, a popular mountain that’s a favorite hiking spot for locals and tourists seeking incredible views of Cape Town, and the FoodJam, where participants worked in teams to cook traditional foods that resulted in a fun dinner party.

Cape Town, a vibrant, multicultural city that’s full of history, gives students the opportunity to trace the impact of colonialism and apartheid through excursions and service projects in partnership with local communities. For many, the environment is politically inspiring. Diego says, “I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to study international relations and politics, but coming to Cape Town and gaining a new global perspective on one of the issues our world faces (socioeconomic inequality) simply re-emphasized my dream to become a diplomat.”

Diego mentions that the most difficult part of his trip was to figure out how to connect with locals despite their differences – a challenge that many travelers face. He credits Ubuntu, an idea from the Southern African region that stands for humanity towards others and is suggestive of a universal bond that connects us, for his success in connecting with the people of South Africa. “I do believe it was Ubuntu that made this trip so enjoyable,” he says. “…Ubuntu helped us mutually recognize that instead of feeling pity or jealousy among one another, we were just human teenagers who wanted to talk and have fun. It made us realize that as long as we were all willing to recognize, appreciate, and enjoy the common human essence all of us have, our well-being and happiness can flourish.”

Diego was able to capture his eye-opening exploration of Cape Town in the video below, where you can get a sense of his experience learning about local culture and history, visiting must-see destinations, and making life-long friends both from the U.S. and from South Africa:

CIEE Study Abroad Alum Will Speak at 2016 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad

We are pleased to announce that CIEE Study Abroad alum Hannah Smalley has been chosen to be a Generation Study Abroad Voice at the 2016 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad taking place this weekend in Washington, D.C. Hannah studied abroad in Legon, Ghana through CIEE in 2011 and graduated from Tulane University in 2012 with a double major in international development and sociology and a minor in psychology. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. and works as the Coordinator for Women, Girls, and Population for the United Nations Foundation.

The Summit brings education leaders, government and business leaders, and journalists together to discuss how to make study abroad opportunities available for all, over the course of more than 30 sessions, 12 summit talks, 4 think tanks, and 5 learning labs. This interactive conference is designed to help attendees explore ideas for expanding study abroad participation, exchange best practices with a diverse group, and experiment with new actions to work towards the goal of doubling study abroad participation by 2020.

Hannah will be a panelist on the session “Mavericks with a Cause: Generation Z and Millennial Incentives for Study Abroad,” talking about her first-hand experience studying abroad and the academic and professional experiences these generations find valuable. As someone whose study abroad semester made a profound impact on her career trajectory, Hannah is excited to speak about the value of these types of experiences for future generations. And, she will be taking over our social media channels to tell us all about it!

First, though, we interviewed Hannah to learn more about her study experience:

If you could describe your study abroad experience in one word, what would it be?


What made you interested in studying in Ghana?

It was really more the program that initially sparked my interest in Ghana rather than the country itself. The CIEE program had a development track that you could apply to, which provided an internship and international development classes; since I was an international development major, that was right up my alley. It really was the opportunity that I had been longing for, a program that I knew would guarantee the hands-on learning experience that I felt was the point of study abroad.

What did studying abroad offer for your education that was different compared to another semester at university?

My study abroad experience truly offered me more than I had ever anticipated; both in and out of the classroom, and the experience ultimately helped lead me to my career, which is working in the field of girls and women’s rights.

My most poignant and impactful moment studying abroad was while I was working on my internship, which was co-founding an eco-tourism non-profit. My two partners were one Ghanaian man and one American man. Initially, at least two of us would go to meetings together, which was fine. Then the American man had to go back to the U.S., and I started working more independently, as my other co-founder didn’t live full-time in Accra. One day I had a meeting with a man who worked at a television station, who we had met with before, to go over an upcoming project. I sat at his office for two hours before he finally came out to talk to me. However, as soon as he stepped out he asked where my partners were. I said I was on my own and he let me know that he would not be working with an American woman. He told me to come back with my co-workers then turned on his heel and left.

Needless to say, though I had seen gender inequity in the US, I had never experienced anything close to that before. The point of study abroad, at least for me, was to experience a culture completely different from my own, and in that I was very successful. That moment has stayed with me and will continue to drive me to work in the international gender space. I have always had the passion to work in this field, but my experiences abroad gave me a very real push to make it my career.

  • Follow Hannah’s Summit experience on social media – she’s taking over the CIEE Alumni Twitter & Instagram until Oct. 26!

CIEE Alumni New York City Chapter Welcomes New Leaders & Alumni

Recently, we checked in with the CIEE Alumni New York City Chapter leaders to hear about their happy hour event last month. Here’s what they had to say:

“We gathered at B Bar and Grill to welcome our new team members, Ibtida and Olivia, and reconnect before the busy work season begins. Alumni from study abroad and teach abroad were in attendance, and even the father of a program participant came to the event. There was such a diverse mix of what our alumni were up to, and it was great to see everyone hanging out and getting to know each other better. We discussed our experiences abroad, how it’s impacted our lives now, and what we hope to create with the alumni chapter. Happy hour was a hit, and we are looking forward to our next event!”

Ciee photo

Don’t miss out on the next CIEE Alumni New York City Chapter event! Stay up-to-date by:

Not in NYC? Find a CIEE Alumni Local Chapter in your area.

Alumni Update - October 2016



CIEE Civic Leadership Summit Participants Featured on Department of State Blog

Have you visited the U.S. Department of State "Route J-1" blog yet? Now is the time! The blog recently featured a spotlight on CIEE's Work & Travel USA program and the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit. Kate Verey, senior director for Work & Travel USA, contributed a great article about the Summit participants taking the 'Be a Changemaker Challenge' led by Ashoka's Youth Venture during a daylong workshop. The workshop challenged J-1 students to think about how they can create real social change and be leaders in their own communities. Read the feature on the Route J-1 blog.

CIEE People and Programs in the News

Dan Brody, vice president of business development at Tencent and CIEE Study Abroad alum, was featured on LinkedIn's Power Profiles series as Most Viewed Technology Professionals on LinkedIn in Hong Kong for 2016. Dan studied abroad through CIEE in Nanjing, China in 1994. He's worked for a variety of organizations, such as Google and Spotify, bringing his Mandarin skills and knowledge of the Asian market to use. 

You might have heard that the CIEE Passport Caravan is sweeping the nation. If you're not familiar with the initiative, the CIEE Passport Caravan is an event held at U.S. colleges and universities where free passports are given to students. CIEE has pledged to sponsor 10,000 new student passports by 2020 as part of the International Institute for Education's (IIE) "Generation Study Abroad" initiative, which aims to double the amount of U.S. students who study abroad by 2020. Read all about it on:

New Job Openings at CIEE around the World

We’re looking for talented individuals to join our team in Portland, Maine! If you have sales and management experience, take a look at the job opening for Manager, Enrollment – Short Term Programs. This position involves managing a team of short term program study abroad advisors to ensure their success in helping prospective students become program participants. 

CIEE is looking for the best and brightest in information technology to join our Boston-based application development team. If you’re passionate about cultural exchange as well as software design and development, apply to be our new Software Developer. CIEE’s Information Technology department is currently enhancing our legacy systems with an eye toward integrating them into our future platform, so now is a great time to bring your ideas, energy, and skills to the team. Recent grads welcome!

Do you want to work in China? Are you interested in giving students an excellent study abroad experience? Consider applying for the Student Services Manager position at the CIEE Study Center in Shanghai, China. Put your Mandarin skills to use while coordinating program activities, making housing arrangements, writing newsletters, and supporting students during their time abroad.

Apply for these jobs and more on the CIEE Careers page.



Stay up-to-date with alumni events by:

Read about the most recent CIEE Local Chapter events on the blog.





Our Alum of the Month for October is Chris Grava, who studied abroad with CIEE in Cape Town, South Africa in 2012. We highlighted Chris on the CIEE Alumni blog in 2014 for co-founding the nonprofit organization Intsikelelo with his brother to help orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa. The organization has been in operation for three years now and has impacted many lives by developing and supporting community-driven initiatives. We checked in with Chris again to learn more about the great new projects that Intsikelelo is working on. Read Chris's story on the blog to learn more about Intsikelelo.

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


Excerpts from recently published alumni stories:

"While applying for the program, I had my doubts about living with a host family, as I had never had any experience like it. What if I didn’t get along with them? What would happen if I couldn’t speak with them because of the language barrier? So many of these thoughts were running through my head and I considered staying in the dorm, but then I had a realization. I wasn’t moving halfway across the world to be in a familiar environment, I was going to put myself out there and try something new. Living with a host family was the answer." - Ria Jagasia, Meeting the Host Family.

More stories in Ria's series on study abroad in Japan: "Top 3 Foods for a Summer in Tokyo."



From left: Throwback to the first day in the office last summer for our Boston-based interns; celebrating the first day of fall at CIEE's headquarters in Portland, Maine; and celebrating the United Nations International Day of Peace with a throwback photo of a study abroad student volunteering at a local Chinese school.

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Meeting the Host Family

While applying for the program, I had my doubts about living with a host family, as I had never had any experience like it. What if I didn’t get along with them? What would happen if I couldn’t speak with them because of the language barrier? So many of these thoughts were running through my head and I considered staying in the dorm, but then I had a realization. I wasn’t moving halfway across the world to be in a familiar environment, I was going to put myself out there and try something new. Living with a host family was the answer.

All the students in my program gathered in a room, separated only by a wall from the room full of host parents. I could feel the anticipation, nervousness, and excitement buzzing through both rooms as we were called out, one by one, to meet our new parents. I met the other student who was going to be living with me and we both went to see our host mom who had come to pick us up. I remember seeing her for the first time and already having a good feeling. I introduced myself with what I had rehearsed multiple times and then we headed out to take our family picture and go to the train station. The first moments were only what could be described as an awkward happiness of sorts. There wasn’t much talking as we made our way through the hustle and bustle of all the new families to take the Chuo line (one of the most central train lines in the city) towards Yokohama, the city that I would grow deeply fond of. We hopped on the next line to go all the way to my home station and made the short walking trip to the house itself. The house was deceptively small but had so many rooms, leaving my new host sister and me with a floor to ourselves. The first dinner late that night was admittedly rough as I wanted to say so much, but could only manage a “arigato gozaimasu” (“thank you”). We had delicious homemade tempura, (an assortment of panko-coated, fried vegetables), and then got a house tour to show us where everything was before retiring to bed. I remember feeling so at home that night and excited to see what the future days would bring.

The first nights at dinner were filled with delicious food and fun conversations over geography books that my host dad had collected over the years. I got to show them where my hometown of Nashville was and explain to them, as best as I could, what it was famous for – namely country music. I also showed them where in India my family was from and was surprised to learn from my host dad that Mumbai, where my parents grew up, was sister cities with Yokohama! That connection remains with me today and I still think it was fate that mine and my host family’s paths intertwined. Over the course of my stay there, I saw my language skills improve tremendously and I began to enjoy my life in Japan so much more. Whether it be walking to and from my home station, dinner with my host mom while watching the most hilarious Japanese television programs, or wandering around Yokohama, I realized that leaving would be so much harder than I had expected.

I learned so much from my time in Yokohama with my family, not only through improving my language skills, but through learning how to appreciate people from other cultures, especially those that are willing to learn about yours. My host family had so many students pass through their house over the years but they were still so curious to learn about my hometown and the culture I grew up in. I received a much greater sense of appreciation for Japanese culture and Japanese people by living with a host family; my experience in Tokyo would not have been as fulfilling without the homestay experience. When other students in my program would go back to the dorm, I got to go back to a family and continue to learn about Japanese culture, exploring why it meant so much to me. I wish there were more kind and generous people like them and I wish, more than anything, that I could go back ‘home’ to Japan.

Yokohama tower view
Tower view of Yokohama.

by Ria Jagasia (CIEE Study Abroad, Tokyo, Japan, 2016)

Checking in with CIEE Study Abroad Alum Chris Grava and his Nonprofit, Intsikelelo

You might remember the article we posted back in December 2014 about CIEE Study Abroad alum Chris Grava, whose semester in Cape Town, South Africa in 2012 led him to co-found a nonprofit, Intsikelelo, to help orphaned and vulnerable children in the country. As mentioned in our previous blog post, Intsikelelo was conceived when Chris’s brother, Nick Grava, visited Cape Town while Chris was studying abroad there. After seeing a struggling orphanage in the nearby township of Khayelitsha, Nick skipped his flight home to dedicate all his time and energy to working at the orphanage, where he served as Managing Director for two years and was given the name Intsikelelo, or “blessing” in Xhosa.

In 2013, a year after his study abroad experience, Chris returned to South Africa to assist the orphanage with his brother:

“We made a lot of progress, but the improvements at the Home were often overshadowed by the scale of the challenges facing these children and their communities, such as HIV, crime, and poverty. We came to realize that there were many local, community-driven efforts working to tackle these social issues, but they often struggled for the same reasons as the Home of Safety and would benefit from additional support. Meanwhile, we also found that many other families and communities back home in the U.S. and around the world wanted to help.”

This realization is what propelled the brothers to found Intsikelelo in 2013 – an organization whose mission is “to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa by developing and supporting community-driven initiatives and connecting them to the world.”

When we last spoke with Chris, he and Nick were working on launching an after-school program, Siluncedo, with a local team in Khayelitsha. We’re happy to announce that Intsikelelo was able to help Siluncedo by providing the initial seed capital to launch their after-school program and by helping them establish connections to children’s homes and schools in the area. The program is unique in that it employs an all-local team of tutors from similar backgrounds to the children. These tutors serve as academic tutors, mentors, and role models, all while providing a wholesome approach to personal development for the children. In the future, Siluncedo hopes to grow its team and expand its program to more children’s homes.

The brotherly duo has also worked to support the Langbos Creche & Care Centre, a kindergarten and community center in the rural Eastern Cape of South Africa. Intsikelelo began working closely with the community this past year to assess needs and opportunities within the community, including many meetings and a census that collected data from every home in the community. Since then, Intsikelelo has launched a monthly grant that supports security and nutritious meals for the community center. Intsikelelo also distributed solar powered lights and phone charging stations to every home in the Langbos community, an informal settlement with no access to electricity.

Their newest project is to build a home for orphans and vulnerable children in Langbos. The project is sponsored by GoPro as part of the company’s new GoPro for a Cause platform. To date, they have raised $80,000 to construct and fund the home. The building includes a design that incorporates local culture and style, as well as sustainable design elements such as earthbag building and solar power.

Intsikelelo has also begun an academic sponsorship program, helping vulnerable youth enroll in high school and university, as well as apply for various grants and scholarships.

If you are interested in donating or learning more about Intsikelelo, please visit their website:

Thanks for checking in with us, Chris. We look forward to more updates from Intsikelelo!