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12 posts from February 2018

ExEgypt: How one CIEE Alumnus is Making Change in his Community

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Alaa Mahmoud, 2016 CIEE Access Scholar, Civic Leadership Summit Fellow, and Work & Travel USA participant

Hello everyone! I’m Alaa Mahmoud from Egypt, a CIEE Work & Travel USA and Civic Leadership Summit 2016 (CLS16) alumnus. I’m currently enrolled as a fourth year medical student in Suez Canal University, Egypt.

ExEgypt Volunteers_Blog

Alaa (red shirt, center) with ExEgypt volunteers

 After taking part in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, participating in CLS16, having the privilege to meet 62 young leaders from all around the world, and getting to know the CIEE staff, I was inspired to launch an organization concerned with environmental and public health issues. While attending the summit, I gained skills that gave me the motivation to create ExEgypt (Exchanging & Empowering Global Youth Potentials & Talents), an initiative involving young children to help create young leaders.

Alaa with ExEgypt Sign_blog

Alaa with the ExEgypt logo

 Since I came back to Egypt, I started thinking with three of my colleagues about how to build something that would have a good impact and make a difference—not only in our community, but all over the world. Therefore, we figured out that society means everything. It's why we started, how we achieve, and whom we'd like to affect. Our practices are directed toward every human being in the society, starting with children and ending with adults. We aim to increase green areas, raise awareness of pollution and public health, and bring to life the idea of recycling and emphasize its significance. We presented the idea to our university administrators and they completely supported us, made some suggestions, and gave us the motivation to start working on that project inside the university and in our city.

Prof. Aziza Omar  ExEgypt_Blog

Professor Aziza Omar, ExEgypt consultant and Vice Dean for Environmental Affairs and Community Service

 Thankfully, many professors offered to volunteer with us and to be supervisors of the project, to make sure it went as we planned. My friends and I were completely responsible for our first green children camp and we organized it using our own money, because we believed in every single step we took. After the great impact of the first camp, many people started asking about our program and how could they help us, either by donation or by volunteering themselves. One touching story is that we got a message from one of the parents thanking us for what we did with their children, and that they started becoming more independent and following a healthier lifestyle because of our camp.

ExEgypt Activity_Blog

ExEgypt campers enjoying an interactive activity

 ExEgypt activities include organizing educational camps for children to increase their knowledge of fundamental topics such as healthy lifestyle, first aid, and keeping the environment clean by planting and recycling. ExEgypt encourages college students to volunteer in community services, organize camps and events, and spread awareness on topics that have a global concern and must be given attention, such as gender equality and global warming. ExEgypt also focuses on conducting workshops by professional trainers on important skills—mainly leaderships skills and how to be change makers. We also organize seasonal schools in the winter and summer for international students, conducting a scientific medical program and a social program showing them around Egypt. We’ve created a Facebook event for our ExEgypt Annual Medical Summer School--maybe some of our international friends would like to participate?

Recycling _ Planting Sessions_Blog

Campers learning about recycling

You can find our Facebook page at this link, where you can have a deeper look at our activities:

You can also check out our video on our first Children Green Camp that we organized, which was free of charge.

2nd Children Green Camp_Blog
Campers and counselors at Green Camp

ExEgypt aims to be the most influential association concerned with environmental issues and public health. This can be measured by seeing our impact on the upcoming generations' behaviors. We also plan to leave a substantial fingerprint on the environment by restoring more green areas and living in a healthier environment.

I am very thankful for the magnificent chance I got from CIEE, which really influenced me as a person and made me a changemaker.  Thank You to all the CIEE Family! 

The Best Summer of My Life: Irfan's Story, part II

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Irfan Tahir, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 Participant from Pakistan

Make sure to read Part I of Irfan's story here.

The summer of 2017 was a summer of intellectual stimulation.

In August, I got selected to participate in the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit to represent my country, Pakistan. The summit’s organizers selected some of the most talented change makers from 40 countries and gave us a chance to share our ideas together during a 3 days event at the American University in Washington D.C. Being a part of this event was one of most exciting yet daunting experiences of my life. Exciting because I was never in a room with so much diversity before in my life. Daunting because every single person was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Every student was full of ideas on how to make the world a better place. I could envision how these students will grow up to become future presidents, prime ministers and CEOs. My team came up with the idea of a start-up called “Lighthouse” which was a pre-college program for students to help them find their passion. Our team won in our group and then we got a chance to represent our group in the final round. This was a huge boost of confidence for me as we had to come up with the idea under limited time and at the same time make it creative. We also had to pitch our idea to random people on campus and ask them if they’d invest in our start up. That was again, a really interesting experience which made me realize that people will always listen if you have something worthwhile to say.

Irfan CLS 2017
Irfan with Civic Leadership Summit fellows and CIEE staff in Washington, D.C.


Irfan WH 2017
With CLS friends in front of the White House

 In addition to gaining inspiration from my fellow Work & Travel USA students, I had the fortunate opportunity to interact with a number of Fulbright scholars from Pakistan, who are studying at some of the most prestigious universities in U.S for their masters program on a full scholarship. As this was my last summer before graduation, talking to these scholars (who were friends of a friend) was decisive for me in a number of ways. They provided me with first-hand information about applying for masters programs in the U.S and a lot of valuable advice which is not available on traditional platforms. What added to my positive interaction with them was the fact that many of them had a similar background as me. For example, one of the scholars was conducting his research in biomedical engineering, the same subject I want to pursue my masters in. Or another scholar was from the same exact high school as mine, currently pursuing her masters at Columbia University. Before last summer, I was quite confused on what to do after graduation, but hearing the stories of these Fulbright scholars who have gone through the same road as me helped me a lot in deciding what direction to go in. I live in Turkey so I don’t think it would’ve been possible to meet them anywhere other than the U.S.

Irfan with Columbia Univ friend
Irfan and his friend from Columbia University at Times Square

The summer of 2017 was the best summer of my life.

An avid soccer (read: football) fan, it’s no surprise that I took the first opportunity I got of buying tickets for the International Champions Cup clash between Barcelona and Juventus at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The stadium has a capacity of 82,500 seats! All in all, it was an unimaginable atmosphere! To see soccer legends like Messi, Neymar and Buffon play live was absolutely unreal for someone who comes from Pakistan, where professional soccer is basically non-existent.

Irfan Barcelona Match
Taking it all in at the match

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really amazing summers. However, nothing can top spending my summer in New York City, living with 30 exchange students from all over the world, travelling to more than 10 states in the U.S and making so many of my dreams come true. I will never forget the absolutely enthralling experiences I had. Now that I’m back home, I am profusely emitting positive vibes and I’m super excited to use what I learned during the summer into practice. The interactions I had this summer taught me that there are no limits. No mountain is too high to climb. No ocean too deep. Life, let’s see what you got. I’m ready!

Irfan Rocky
In Philadelphia living out my “Rocky Balboa” moment!

My Summer of Authentic Cultural Experiences: Irfan's Story, Part I

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Irfan Tahir, CIEE Work & Travel USA Participant from Pakistan

Check back on Thursday for Part II of Irfan's story.

Ever since I left the U.S. as a high school exchange student in 2010, I’ve been searching for an opportunity to return. For those of us who are part of the exchange universe, we understand how rewarding an exchange program can be when compared to being a tourist in a foreign country. The interactions and experiences you have as an exchange student are unparalleled to those of a tourist. This is the main reason why I opted to participate in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program for the summer of 2017. With my job placement at Hampton Jitney in New York, it’s fair to that the program exceeded expectations!

The summer of 2017 was a summer of authentic cultural experiences.

My daily job was that of a trip host person on a bus that ran from Long Island to Manhattan every day, quite similar to a flight attendant. This meant that almost every day I had the good fortune of meeting someone interesting. I met scientists working at leading universities like Harvard or MIT. I met artists, creators, Wall Street investment bankers, immigrants from different countries and a lot of wealthy people travelling daily on our luxury liners. I will forever cherish the conversations we had and the amount of cultural exchange that took place every day between the three-hour bus rides. It was very surprising to me how interested some of the passengers were in finding out more about me. Most of the customers on our first-class bus service were over fifty years old. This meant they brought with them a lifetime of experiences from which I could only benefit. I’d ask about their travels, their first job, their political views or a lot of time we’d end up chatting about music or movies.

Irfan Hampton Jitney
Irfan with Hampton Jitney co-workers

Because of the nature of the job, I was with a different bus driver every day who brought with themselves their own unique life story. I’d always remember one particular driver, Sean. After several trips together, we developed a strong friendship. And one night after finishing our work, he showed me all the places he grew up in New York City and those which meant the most to him. It was moments like these which I think are impossible to experience as a tourist. Living with two Romanian roommates and students from different countries at the same hotel was super fun. We’d organize shopping trips, beach parties, birthday celebrations and travel together on our off days. By the end of the summer, we were really like a family. The CIEE Work & Travel program gave me a chance to have the most authentic cultural experiences and learn more about the American people and those around the world; transparent of any political or religious bias.

Brooklyn Bridge
With friends on the Brooklyn Bridge
Irfan Central Park
Exploring Central Park

The summer of 2017 was a summer of concerts.

This summer, I got a chance to make many of my musical dreams come true. Starting from Pink Floyd and Coldplay to John Mayer and Eric Clapton. But there’s one concert which stood out from the rest…the Global Citizens Festival 2017. The festival’s website defines the event as “an action-rewarded, awareness driven free music festival where fans engage with causes in order to win tickets.” Basically, fans can earn tickets by completing specific community service tasks or attending various social events. The free tickets don’t have any sections reserved to them which is why my friends and I decided to purchase tickets online…I wanted a front row seat to live out my musical dream!

Irfan Global Citizens Festival 2
Irfan and friends at the Global Citizens Festival

One of my personal favorites, Alessia Cara, kicked off the festival with a peppy performance of her hit song ‘Stay’. Followed by The Lumineers, Big Sean, The Killers and Andra Day. Amidst all this greatness, there was one band that triumphed over all others : Green Day. It had been one of my biggest dreams to see them live since many years. Nothing screams nostalgia like Green Day. Their music defined my high school years.

The festival was hosted by a diverse set of celebrities and famous individuals and there were powerful messages of peace, equality and change embedded throughout the performances. Music has been a catalyst of change since many decades; music doesn’t see cast, color or nationality. It can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of where they come from or what their background is. To see this first hand in action was an overwhelming experience.

No Wi-Fi No Problem: Modestas' Summer at Camp

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Modestas Ciparis, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2017 participant

The words – “What you think becomes your reality” fit perfectly for me. When I was a kid, I always dreamed to go to North America, so after I finished my studies, I decided to fulfil my dream and received a work permit for one year to work in Canada at the Olympic Park’s bobsleigh track. After living in Canada and traveling through the United States, I could not stop dreaming about coming back to that continent to experience more of the life overseas. After seeing CIEE’s advertisement on Facebook about working at summer camps in the USA, I thought I’ll give it a try! A couple of months later I was on my way to the beautiful state of Maine to work as a camp counselor at The Flying Moose Lodge in East Orland.

When I arrived, my first thought was – wow, such a wonderful place! The camp is located on the shore of the beautiful Craig Pond, surrounded by forests and far, far away from busy city life, marvelous! Although I liked the place, I felt a little bit anxious, that I would have to live without Wi-Fi, electricity, hot water (and other comforts like that) for the rest of my time there. But that turned out to be even better for me! I think I started to feel more peaceful and enjoy the present moment even more after I stopped checking Facebook every 20 minutes or reading some news website. I began to appreciate new things.

Base camp
The Flying Moose Lodge base camp

Flying Moose Lodge is a wilderness camp for boys that provides canoe/hiking trips and outdoor, conservation, and self-reliance skills. Every day was different! We would spend time at the base camp teaching kids camping, canoeing, and swimming skills. We’d have fun playing ping pong, tetherball, basketball or other sorts of games. In the evenings, we would gather by a campfire to sing traditional camp songs and listen to some interesting stories told by the Camp Director. One of my favorite memories was taking a morning dip in the Craig Pond! While at the base camp, the bell would ring and invite us to start our day that way. What an amazing ritual it was.

View of Craig pond from the camps shore
Craig Pond from the camp shore

Every Tuesday morning, a group of campers led by one to two counselors would pack their bags, load them to the vans with other necessary gear, and leave for an average four day trip to experience life in nature. Campers had a chance to test their paddling skills in the fast-flowing river or big lake by having a canoeing trip or test their endurance and patience in climbing mountains and walking on the rough trails by having a hiking trip. Every trip was different but they all had the same process: we were given maps, gear and food and were driven to the beginning point to start a trip. From that point, we were on our own. Every day we had to reach a different campsite, prepare meals for breakfast, dinner and make sure that kids are safe and having a great time. Every trip had its final destination, which we had reach on time. The trips I’ve been on were challenging but at the same time really amazing. Not only did I see so many beautiful places, learned a lot of new things and had loads of fun, but also had to deal with such things as cheering up homesick kids or losing a canoe after flipping it on the rapids. It was an invaluable experience!

Camping on the Shore
Camping trip on the shoreline
Paddling during the Moose river trip 1
Camper paddling on the Moose River trip
Me on the top of Kadahdin
Modestas on Mount Katahdin
Appalachian Trail hike 2
Appalachian Trail hike with campers

On our last day of camp, we had an awesome counselor party. I was happy and sad at the same time. I worked with and spent time with these amazing people all summer and I knew I was really going to miss them. I guess it would be right to say that this summer’s trip to the United States and working at The Flying Moose Lodge camp really contributed to my current happy state, because it helped me to feel the joy of life again. Getting out of my comfort zone, learning a lot of new things (especially when everything is in English), meeting a lot of great people, visiting so many beautiful places, living in the nature for almost two months and experiencing American lifestyle was something unforgettable. Now that I’m back home, I find that it’s easier for me to get out of my comfort zone, I enjoy nature more and have really improved my English. I'm really happy to say that I'm glad that I saw that CIEE Facebook ad and had an opportunity to participate in the Camp Exchange USA program!

Modestas at camp!

Peiyi's Oasis in America

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Peiyi Lin, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 participant from China

This summer I worked at The Oasis at Death Valley, a resort in Death Valley National Park. It is a very hot place year round but especially in the summer. There was a big sun almost every day so that I could enjoy the amazing sunrise and sunset of canyons and mountains there. I was working in housekeeping.  You need to be strong to make the beds, take the heavy sheets and towels for a long way. The hardest thing is to move very fast. I was not that good at this job at first because I didn't know how to do things. But my co-workers and inspector helped me a lot and that made me feel good and appreciated. The most exciting thing is I am stronger after several months' exercise.


People in America like to express themselves directly and be friendly. That impressed me. I can know their true thoughts immediately with no need to guess how they feel. When they express love and appreciation, they like to hug or speak love out loud. It's very different from my country, China. I like this way of communication because Chinese people like to hide their emotions and sometimes you don't know how other people are feeling. I enjoyed talking with people from different cultures. That made me think in different ways and sometimes it created funny ideas.

I am braver, more confident and more positive than before I came to the U.S. I believe that I can do everything I want.  When I had problems, I pushed myself to deal with them. After I solved many problems, I realized that I am braver and stronger than I had imagined. 


My friends are from many places: China, Taiwan, Poland, Ukraine, the U.S. No matter where they are from, they are nice and like to talk with me and help me a lot, which strengthened our friendship. I am not surprised because I can feel their friendly and beautiful hearts, which made us get closer easily.  We liked to do sports, like hiking and swimming, or have lunch and dinner together so that we had the chance to talk about life in our own countries and learn the differences in thoughts and customs. 



598fb5574aa23-DSC00212 (Peiyi)

This photo was taken at Badwater Basin. It was my first time to go out with my friends at Death Valley. They were looking at the amazing salt flat at the same time as the sun rose and it made a beautiful moment with my friends and the environment. So nice to spend time with them in such an amazing natural view! After this trip, we built stronger friendships than before. Friends and views together make my favorite summer memory.



Alumni Update - February 2018



What Was Your Biggest Accomplishment in 2017?

CIEE alumni all over the world are creating change, starting projects, building careers, and engaging in service. To celebrate the New Year, we want to hear about your accomplishments, your projects, or anything else you're proud of doing in 2017. You just might be featured on the CIEE Alumni blog and in future newsletters, too! Email to share your accomplishment.

Teach Abroad in the Spanish Regions of Madrid or Andalucía This Fall

CIEE Teach Abroad is excited to announce that we are once again partnering with schools in the Andalucía region of Spain – giving you even more options to go abroad again. Whether you’re interested in the bustling city life of Madrid or the slower pace of the beautiful Andalucía countryside, you can experience Spain as a paid language assistant in a public school leading fun, conversational English activities. Plus, we’re offering all CIEE alumni a 10% off discount. There has never been a better time to Teach in Spain with CIEE! Learn More 

PS: Teach English with confidence and get TEFL-certified before you go. With the CIEE Destination TEFL program in Spain, you can get certified online and then practice teaching in Spain this May for 2 weeks. No need to quit your day job before dipping your toes in the water – just start banking those vacation days! Plus, CIEE alumni will receive a 10% off discount. Deadline to apply is March 15! Learn More

Help CIEE Study Abroad Alum Go to Antarctica

CIEE Study Abroad alum Ajay Shenoy is embarking on a journey to Antarctica this month as the head of the Climate Actions Team for the organizations 2041 and The Explorer's Passage. He was personally invited on this special trip by world-renowned explorer Robert Swan, who was the first man to walk on both the North and the South Pole. Ajay's passion for hands-on ecology and environmentalism was cultivated while studying with CIEE in Bonaire in the spring of 2017. He will now take his skills and experience with him to Antarctica to explore a new ecosystem and spread awareness about climate change and renewable energy solutions. Learn more about his expedition and how you can support his trip.




The Alum of the Month for February is journalist and CIEE Cape Town alum Jason Kane. Jason's experience in Cape Town volunteering at a children's home for vulnerable and orphaned children with chronic diseases drove him to cover healthcare topics for NPR, Religion News Service, and other media organizations. Most recently, Jason won an Emmy Award for his work on the "The End of AIDS?," a six-part PBS NewsHour series on worldwide efforts to break the back of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Learn more about Jason and how his study abroad experience contributed to his journalistic career. 

William Brangham (L) and Jason Kane (R) at Emmys
William Brangham (L) and Jason Kane (R) at Emmys



In honor of Valentine's Day, we're sharing a group of alumni stories about international love. Whether it's finding love, growing love, or love of place, CIEE alumni all over the world told their stories of "exchange program love."

Read Their Stories


Do you have a story of international love? Email to tell us and we'll share it in next year's feature!


Start your 2018 New Year Resolutions by updating your Online Community information so you can continue to receive important CIEE Alumni communications like this one!

How to update your information:

  • Visit the Profile and Directory Resources page
  • Click "Update My Info"
  • Log into your account using your email address and password or register your account if you've never logged in before
  • Click "My Profile"
  • Find the "Contact Information" tab and click the "Edit" button
  • Input your new information and click "Save" at the bottom of the form

Thank you for staying in touch with CIEE and fellow alumni!




From left: Naoel Cherif, CIEE Work & Travel USA alum and Access Scholar from Tunisia working with the Young Tunisian Coders Academy to create social impact through technology; CIEE Study Abroad alum Ka-Sheen Hui wins first place in a photo contest during International Education Week for this image created in Namwon, South Korea; our #TravelTuesday series ends with a snapshot from a CIEE Study Abroad student in India.

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CIEE Alumni Valentine's Day Special: International Stories of Love

In honor of Valentine's Day, we're sharing alumni stories about international love. Whether it's finding love, growing love, or love of place, CIEE alumni all over the world told their stories of "exchange program love" - showing us a different type of life-changing experience that you can have abroad. Enjoy these special stories!

Boda-Nueva-Orleans-felixfaura-92 - Copy

Julee Powers

(CIEE Teach Abroad, Spain, 2013 - 2014)

"In college, I never had the opportunity to study abroad without getting too far behind in my coursework. So I decided that I would have my study abroad experience after graduation! I researched many locations but something was pulling me towards Malaga, Spain. I enrolled in a Spanish language school there and, the day after I received my diploma, hopped on a flight to Spain with hopes to expand my horizons. For me, it was very important to be able to have that foreign immersion experience. At the same time, I knew that learning Spanish would be a good resume builder. But what I didn’t know is that I would find something else..." 




Franziska Hodde

(CIEE High School USA, Montana, 2010 - 2011)

"I experienced the most exciting year of my life during my high school exchange year to the United States from 2010 - 2011. Fate made me end up in Helena, Montana, a city that is like a sleeping beauty in the midst of the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. This was the journey of my life. Not only because I met a wonderful host family that I couldn't describe any other way than a true second family to me, but also because I met the best friends I have ever had. What made this journey change my life entirely, though, is a small and at first glance insignificant moment at a local candy store..."




Mariam Aghayan & Tayler Rose

(CIEE Study Abroad, Berlin, Spring 2017)

"Tayler Rose & I studied abroad in Berlin through the CIEE Open Campus program in the spring of 2017. We both very accidentally decided to choose Berlin as our study abroad location, but it turned out for the best. Not only did I have the most incredible study abroad semester, but I ended up meeting and falling in love with the love of my life..."



Olesya Baranova 

(CIEE Work & Travel USA, San Diego, 2008; CIEE Internship USA, Troy, 2011)

"My relationship with America is rather intricate, as it sometimes happens between people loving each other – strong, emotional, changing from 'we're better to break up' to 'can't live without you,' from 'I've met someone else' to 'let's start everything from scratch...'"



Check out these other alumni stories with surprising twists of love:

  • Jason Kane (CIEE Study Abroad, Cape Town, 2006) who met his wife, Lauren Libera (CIEE Study Abroad, Cape Town, 2006), while studying abroad. (READ)
  • Hajnalka Pracser (Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund, Napa Valley, 2007) who met her husband while interning at a vineyard. (READ)
  • Stephanie Fodor (CIEE Study Abroad, Tokyo, 2003) who met her husband, Jimmy (CIEE Study Abroad, Tokyo, 2003) while studying abroad. (READ)

International Stories of Love: Julee Powers

Boda-Nueva-Orleans-felixfaura-92 - Copy

In college, I never had the opportunity to study abroad without getting too far behind in my coursework. So I decided that I would have my study abroad experience after graduation! I researched many locations but something was pulling me towards Malaga, Spain. I enrolled in a Spanish language school there and, the day after I received my diploma, hopped on a flight to Spain with hopes to expand my horizons. For me, it was very important to be able to have that foreign immersion experience. At the same time, I knew that learning Spanish would be a good resume builder. But what I didn’t know is that I would find something else.

I met Alfonso at Odonnell’s Irish Pub in Malaga, thanks to some mutual friends. He was a bartender there and a total sweetheart. Everyone always tried to get us together, but I lied and said I wasn’t interested. He asked me multiple times to go on a date and I always said, “No” – something we joke about a lot now! I did not move to Spain expecting to fall in love, but my mom called it from the very beginning, as she warned me that this would happen!

When my Spanish course was over and I had to go back home, I cried all the way to the airport because I was not ready to leave Spain. But, I promised myself in that taxi ride that I would go back someday. I returned home to Alabama and started working as an aviation analyst. I was doing well. I had a stable job and great coworkers. I was successful for being only 23 years old.

However, I did not forget that special man that I found in sunny, southern Spain. Alfonso and I kept in touch, talking almost every day. The following summer, a bunch of my classmates from my language school planned a reunion in Malaga, so I flew over and met with them. Of course, I accepted Alfonso’s offer for a date this time. At this point, I had a Spanish novio and we discussed all of our options for trying this thing out. As our love blossomed, we needed more time together to see if this was the real love that you dream about.

IMG_0641 - Copy

We were dating long distance for 13 months before I finally moved back to Spain and started working through CIEE Teach Abroad. This time, my days in Spain were not numbered. I didn’t know how long I would stay, and I had no desire to figure that out for a while. But there I was, the young chemical engineer taking a chance on love and a teaching career in Spain!

It was a big change. Living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is completely different than visiting for a few weeks. Every simple task becomes a challenge. Apartment hunting and reading contracts in Spanish made my head pound. A quick trip to the grocery store lasted an hour because I didn’t know the Spanish word for “soap”. Obtaining my residency card required standing in multiple lines, just to finally get to the front and be told that I’d been given incorrect information and had to go elsewhere!

I ran all around Malaga trying to get settled and, after multiple failed attempts, broke down. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “am I really supposed to be here?” Everything at home was so easy, so comfortable. My only saving grace was my Spanish beau who was always there to pick up the pieces and help me try again.

Finally, I succeeded in finding an apartment, opening a bank account, obtaining residency, and getting a cell phone contract. It took lots of work and tears, but I was finally settled in my new home and anxious to start teaching.

CIEE placed me into a vocational school, where I taught English in tourism and information technology classes. My second year, I split time between vocational school and elementary school. During that time, I had students ranging from 3 to 65 years old! Difficult to say the least. However, those two years taught me more about life than I had ever dreamed they could. One of those lessons is to embrace the unknown.

If you are reading this and wondering if you should take a chance on love, a new job, or a new adventure, take it! You won’t regret it. I am so thankful to CIEE for giving me that chance.

Oh, and that Spanish boyfriend? He’s now my husband.


Where are they now?

Julee and her husband, Alfonso, relocated to the United States to pursue their professional careers. They are now living in Atlanta, Georgia. As they miss Spain more every day, they hope to find careers and eventually retire there. For now, they return to Spain as often as possible to see their Spanish family. 


International Stories of Love: Olesya Baranova


My relationship with America is rather intricate, as it sometimes happens between people loving each other – strong, emotional, changing from "we're better to break up" to "can't live without you," from "I've met someone else" to "let's start everything from scratch."

It started as a first love.

CIEE Work & Travel USA was my first ever trip abroad. I did everything on my own: got a job offer, took a trip to another city for a visa, traveled a long way to my final destination (Khabarovsk - Seoul - Los Angeles - San Diego), and there I was in sunny California! They say that California is the best place in the U.S. and San Diego is the best place in California, and I truly believe that. San Francisco and Los Angeles, the quiet Death Valley and adventurous Universal Studios, natural Yosemite and crazy Six Flags, Balboa Park with its wonderful architecture and La Jolla Shores with sea lions, authentic Old Town and the greatest zoo in the world - I've seen all of it. The smell of wind in the air and the spirit of freedom in the soul surrounded me.

Like with a first love, it was so romantic. Even more than the state and the city, I loved all the smiles new friends shared with me, the adventures we had working, living, and traveling together, and the experiences I brought back with me to Russia. Nevertheless, like in many cases with a first love, it was heartbreaking; I left a piece of my heart in America in return for all the impressions it gave me.

After trying to overcome the affection, and at the same time knowing that after doing CIEE Work & Travel USA there are no borders in this world, I went to a completely different place, South Korea, to volunteer at International Art Residency. I was happy there, in that mix of Asian traditions and modern technologies, and it was easy for me to adapt to new circumstances after my previous summer abroad.

Still, a piece of my heart in the U.S. was calling. Love was getting more serious and required more efforts on the way. As a result, I went back to America on the CIEE Internship USA program after graduation. I have no doubt that my CIEE Work & Travel USA experience was among the key enablers for that. I had already improved my English a lot and proved that I can live and work in an American environment.

The internship was truly amazing! I was glad to go to the office every Monday morning, and my manager was a big role model for me. The personal and professional growth that I experienced was invaluable. I had my first project, first team, and first business trip to another state for a client visit. I also got to see a lot of new places, exploring the Northeast this time. Chicago, New York, Niagara Falls – I still loved America!

Yet I still loved “someone else” – Russia.

I always wanted to live in Moscow, but to move there from my hometown sounded unreal. The bravest people were doing that and I didn't feel I was the one of them before the internship. After a year in the U.S., I realized that I could conquer even Moscow, and I did it! Thanks to my relevant experience during the internship, I got a job in an American company as an engineer (yeah, I couldn't really break up with “my love”). Empowered and motivated, I grew to senior engineer, then to team lead, and soon to manager. I'm very successful in my career now, but I always remember where and how I took my first steps.

Olesya's San Deigo wedding
Olesya's San Deigo wedding

One day, a 19-years-old girl (myself during my CIEE Work & Travel USA summer) sat at Balboa Park in San Diego and observed a wedding ceremony. How wonderful it would be, she thought, to have a wedding here in the place where she’s so blissed. Back then I couldn't even imagine that was possible – it was like a dream that passed through my mind leaving a barely tangible, semi-sweet scent. But guess what? When you really want something, you can overcome any obstacles – that's what doing two CIEE programs has taught me. And when you love, you can do even more!

I have celebrated the best moments of true love – my own wedding – in the city of my love, that amazing American city that impressed me so much 8 years ago!

Thanks, CIEE, for letting me discover America, for letting me grow, and for letting me feel this love.

International Stories of Love: Franziska Hodde

A story about how a journey made my heart find a place called home.

Franziska on top of Mount Helena
Franziska on top of Mount Helena

I experienced the most exciting year of my life during my high school exchange year to the United States from 2010 - 2011. Fate made me end up in Helena, Montana, a city that is like a sleeping beauty in the midst of the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. This was the journey of my life. Not only because I met a wonderful host family that I couldn't describe any other way than a true second family to me, but also because I met the best friends I have ever had. What made this journey change my life entirely, though, is a small and at first glance insignificant moment at a local candy store.

It was on November 5th that my friends and I wanted to go to a little cafe that we had gone to countless times before. What made this time different was that the cafe was closed. After a discussion about alternatives, we agreed on going to the board game night at The Parrot, a local candy store that sells the best dark chocolate fudge I've had in my life!

We drove downtown, entered the candy store, and noticed there were already a few other high schoolers that one of my friends knew from band. We went ahead and joined them and I came to sit across from a young man, whose name I could honestly not remember after this first time I met him. If only I had known that this very moment was the seed that over time would grow into something beautiful!

After this day, I met him at school and learned that his name was Brady. We started having lunch together, then he started giving me rides home every day, and after some time we found each other hanging out after school and on the weekends frequently! We shared everything and talked for hours on the phone until late at night.

One day, we realized that this was more than just a friendship.

Franziska and Brady before the prom
Franziska and Brady before the prom

The most memorable moment we shared during my exchange year was during his senior prom. He had asked me out on this date a long, long time in advance. When the evening finally arrived, I was so excited! I wore a fancy dress that I had bought just for this opportunity and Brady looked so nice in his suit. He put a corsage on my wrist and I had a boutonniere for him with a rose of the same color. We had a wonderful dinner at a nice restaurant, danced together during the prom night, and had so much fun with our friends!

After the dance, Brady drove to our favorite spot with me, the parking lot at the foot of Mount Helena. The view over the city was stunning! It lay in front of us like scattered amber in a sea of darkness, covered by a night sky filled with stars as bright and clear as diamonds. He took my hand and looked at me for a moment that I wish could have lasted forever. Then he said the words that had stood between us like an unspoken truth all this time: "I love you."

This was the moment I realized I had found another home.

As my exchange year ended, my heart tore apart. I was so excited to see my family and my home country again but, on the other hand, I was going to leave my friends, host family, new home in Montana, and, most importantly, Brady, behind. I left physically, but my heart stayed in Montana.

Against everyone’s expectations, our love stood the test of time and even more so the strain of distance. Brady visited me in Germany multiple times and I introduced him to my culture and showed him the entire country I, before my exchange year, knew as my one and only home. In Montana I had found another home with friends, family, and my one true love. And even now, almost seven years after this most important day of our two lives, we grow closer together every day despite the physical distance between us. And every time I go on a journey to Montana, I feel like I am coming home.

L: In Germany, going to the Oktoberfest. R: Hiking at Glacier National Park
L: In Germany, going to the Oktoberfest. R: Hiking at Glacier National Park

Since then, I know there is not the only place someone can call home; home is where we find our loved ones and finding those is a never-ending journey.

I would like to conclude this story with a thought from Plato's "The Symposium": According to Greek Mythology, humans were originally created with two faces, four arms and four legs. But they were so complete that Zeus started fearing their power and split them in half, condemning each of the two halves to a life of a restless journey in search of each other. Through my exchange year, I was so fortunate that my journey led me to Helena, where on one fateful day, a cafe was closed and a candy store was not.


Where are they now?

The two have continued to visit each other, crossing oceans to be together until Fransizka is finished with her medical studies and Brady is able to move to Germany. In their most recent visit, Brady traveled to Germany to see Franziska for New Years. During the trip, they visited Cologne in search of the “love lock” they placed on the Hohenzollern Bridge when Brady first traveled to Germany to visit her in 2012. There is a sweet German tradition where couples go to the bridge, put a lock with their initials on it, and throw the key to the lock into the Rhine River to make their love last forever. After six years, they were pleased to find that their lock was still there. As the tradition says, they too are certain that their love will last forever.

Love locks
Their love lock on the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany.