Generations of Exchange: A Mother & Son Share Their CIEE Experiences
We know that an international exchange experience can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. We’ve seen alumni go on to have inspiring careers, create change in their communities, become advocates of exchange, and talk about their experiences for years. But did you know how much of an impact a CIEE experience could have on the people around you?
At the Masket household, study abroad is generational. Stories of Vivian’s cultural encounters in Russia were passed onto her son Eli, building the foundation for his life of wanderlust. Further inspired by a few international travels with the family, Eli took the first opportunity he could to have a study abroad experience like his mother. It was through the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program that Eli had his own international experience to talk about for generations.
It started in 1992 when Vivian Masket studied abroad with CIEE in St. Petersburg, Russia. At that time, the country had just begun to open up after decades of communist rule. Her summer was an immersive experience that brought assumptions, biases, and misunderstandings to light to form true connections between Americans and Russians during a delicate time in history. And was, ultimately, a period of immeasurable personal development. She remarks, “I learned that I had to dive in and be vulnerable in order to figure things out, whether it was approaching a stranger and using my language skills to ask for help in planning a subway route or mustering up the courage to bargain with a street vendor to buy the perfect nesting doll set to bring home as a gift. I also learned that studying a country’s language, culture, and history is no match for the learning that comes from immersing yourself in that country, experiencing life there firsthand, and hearing the stories of those for whom that country is home.”
Many memories were created in Russia – experiences with a lasting impact that turned into stories told for decades in the household. So much so that, even after 25 years, the memories of Vivian’s time abroad are strong. She recalls, “It was really a fascinating time to have been in Russia. We lived in dormitories with the other American students on the program, so had to seek out opportunities to interact with Russians in order to practice our speaking and listening skills outside of our classes and group excursions. […] One day, a friend and I were returning to the dorm from the nearby metro station and were stopped on the sidewalk by an elderly gentleman who spent well over half an hour sharing his experience as a ‘blockadnik,’ a resident of St. Petersburg who had survived the German blockade of the city during World War II.” It was through study abroad that Vivian recognized the value of travel and language-learning in developing a deeper understanding of the world – a sentiment she later shared with her son, Eli.
The household conversations of cultural understanding, language learning, and adventure inspired Eli to develop a passion for languages and cultures of the world – especially China. He chose to attend the Denver Center for International Studies so he could begin Chinese language studies in the sixth grade and, after a few trips with his family, was ready to go abroad on his own. Like Vivian, Eli wanted something more out of his international travels this time – an immersive experience that facilitated personal growth and strengthened language skills.
Vivian knew that for Eli, studying abroad was more of a “when” than an “if.” She wasn’t surprised when he approached her about the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program in Shanghai. “I talked to my Chinese teacher about summer abroad programs, and she recommended CIEE to me. I went home to speak with my parents about this program, and my mother told me she had gone to Russia in college with CIEE,” he said. “I had been dreaming of studying abroad for many years, and I finally could!”
Vivian was excited for her son to have a study abroad experience himself, especially with the enhanced cultural immersion practices of CIEE’s programs today. “When we investigated the program, I was thrilled to learn that he would have an even richer experience than I did, given the homestay aspect of the program.”
In the summer of 2017, the time finally came for Eli to have a study abroad experience of his own, and it was the kind of transformation he was hoping for. “Through my study abroad experience, my vocabulary improved, as well as my overall comfort level with the use of Mandarin. I also became a more outgoing person. At the beginning of my experience, I felt as if conversation with local residents was awkward and forced. However, I later learned that there was nothing to fear, and being outgoing can only benefit a situation. By becoming more outgoing, I grew as a person and became more independent.”
Vivian noticed this transformation in her son when he returned. She says, “Eli has always been very independent and studying abroad fed that side of him, providing him with the opportunity to be on his own and to navigate a new place geographically, linguistically, and culturally.” Like Vivian experienced in St. Petersburg, Eli’s time in Shanghai solidified for him the opportunities for growth and understanding that come from experiencing another culture and an unfamiliar – a now multigenerational understanding in the Masket household.
Needless to say, study abroad is already on Eli’s mind again. Although he is years away from college, Eli is eager to build upon his knowledge of international cultures and languages, specifically in China. In the future, he hopes to spend a semester abroad in China to experience the country and culture in greater depth. He’s also begun studying Spanish in hopes to experience studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country as well.
For all our readers out there thinking about studying abroad in high school, Eli and Vivian have offered their advice from the perspective of a parent and a student.
Advice for Parents, From Vivian:
“While it can be scary to think about sending your child thousands of miles away, possibly to a place you’ve never been, the benefits of study abroad are worth overcoming that fear. Your child will not only acquire language skills, but will become more independent, and will gain a global perspective that is simply not possible to gain without the opportunity for extended living in another country. Warning: you child might also come home with the ‘travel bug’ (a love for travelling) and ask you when they can go abroad next!”
Advice for Applicants, From Eli:
“To all students considering studying abroad, my advice is to simply do it. Many students have concerns and worries about studying abroad, but in the end, it is so worth it. Worried about cost? CIEE has various scholarships and fundraising isn’t as difficult as it seems. Scared of travelling far away from home? Soon enough, you’ll feel as if your home is abroad. Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience that I would recommend to all students.”
Learn more about how study abroad can impact you, your high school student, and generations of global citizens. Visit the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad website to get started.