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FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO COLLEGE LIFE IN GHANA

*A version of this post originally appeared on the CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, Arts & Sciences program blog

by Kaylee Haskell, a Junior at University of Tampa who is studying this Fall '17 semester on the CIEE Ghana Arts and Science program. She is also an Alum of the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program in Ghana in 2013.

Small towns produce two kinds of people- those who sit comfortably in their familiar, safe environments and those who crave to find what’s beyond, following their curiosity and need for something new and different. I will always be grateful for growing up in Vermont, but it was definitely beneficial and necessary to explore new, different cultures.

When I decided to go to Ghana in 2013, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was finishing my junior year in high school and I had never left my mother, aside from 3-day field hockey camp, but I felt like I needed a change of scenery. 

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Kaylee (2nd from left) with some of the High School students and Programme Leaders

CIEE made the planning and traveling process as easy as possible for my family and I. The Leadership Academy prepared me more for what was to come in my life than anything in my prior 17 years. I had little knowledge about Ghana before I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, but I could tell instantly that this place would have an impact on me.

I was very homesick for the first week that I was in Accra. I had convinced myself before I left that I would be fine and not miss home, but it seems somewhat inevitable when you’ve never left home before, and now you’re 5,000 miles away. However, the homesickness didn’t prevail and I quickly settled into this new culture and let it open my eyes to people, places and things unknown.

 Our small group of 6 high schoolers spent our weekdays volunteering at Future Leaders UCC, and then returning back to the University of Ghana campus to take Twi language classes and group leadership lessons. On weekends we would participate in excursions and escape the city life of Accra to more rural places that took us deeper into the roots of the culture.

My four weeks in Ghana felt more like a taste of the culture than an actual immersion. The days flew by and when it was time to leave, I wanted more. Despite taking language classes, I could only comfortably say '3te s3n', '3y3' and 'medaase', which was sufficient for the 30 days I was there, but I found myself wanting more, and I knew I would eventually return.

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At the Cape Coast Castle

My experience in Ghana shifted my college and career path. I chose to move from Vermont to Florida to be around more, diverse people. I also started my college career as a journalism major, but quickly added an international and cultural studies major to that to allow myself to dive into different people, where they come from and the roots of their cultures.

I decided that I would return to Ghana for the fall semester in 2017. Because CIEE has helped me so greatly before, I didn’t look to any other program because I knew they would ensure that I had the greatest abroad experience.

I arrived on the Legon campus on August 10th, and have now been here for 36 days, a little over the time that I spent here before, and it has flown by. My experience from the Leadership Academy prepared me greatly for the semester ahead. I feel as though I am more comfortable with intercultural communications and am more accustomed to the everyday norms that differ from those in the US. I have been able to make friends with locals, travel comfortably outside of the capital, confidently board and trotro and make connections throughout the country that I never could have done otherwise.

I decided to focus my studies for this semester on gender and culture within Ghana and the issues that surround it. I am enrolled in 5 classes, including another Twi language course, I’m determined to carry a conversation, an intercultural communication course and 3 classes surrounding issues within gender roles, religion and Ghanaian culture. Even with some prior knowledge, it is interesting to indulge in conversations with locals and see what norms are still prevalent in everyday life today.   

The most interesting lesson that has been the topic of discussion in more than one of my classes is the role of women in Ghanaian society and how it is calculated, or not calculated, into the Gross Domestic Product of the country. The GDP is measured in the public space, which doesn’t account for any services that are provided in the private space. This leads to a high rate of unemployment within the female population of Ghana, because a majority of the country promotes strict gender roles, keeping the women’s work in the household. These women are considered “not working” while they are the first to rise, maintain the household, prepare her husband for work, her children for school, clean while they are all gone, run errands, cook and clean when everyone returns home, wash and maintain the house while they are asleep and repeat these steps every day. Women’s roles in Ghanaian culture are crucial to the function of the society, but never measured on the big scale. 

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Kaylee learning how to Tie Dye

This has stood out to me the most so far, but we are only 5 weeks in. I am forever grateful for the opportunities CIEE and Ghana have provided me with and am looking forward to the next 3 months in this vibrant, evolving country.

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Kaylee with some of her local Ghanaian and CIEE friends

 

The Journey & The Coming Home

"I could follow a lecture, read a book, write a paper, all of that in French, but I hadn’t been me before in French."

By Charles Lee (CIEE Study Abroad, Brussels, Belgium, 2013)
*This essay was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

One night in the library, early in my junior year, everyone at my table was working on applications to consulting firms. Recruitment for summer internships was coming up. Deloitte, PWC, Accenture, all these firms and the wild questions they’d ask in the interview. I still wasn’t sure what a consultant was, but apparently it is what you do after college. I opened the website for one of them and closed it immediately. I knew it wasn’t for me, but I still didn’t know how you do find out what is for you.

A few weeks after that night in the library, I got an email from my university saying that I had passed the French test and was approved for a semester in Belgium. It was exciting, adventure and all that, but it was mostly a relief. Not sure of what I should do, it was comforting to have something to do. You can always do something until you get to the “should” part of that verb phrase.

Settling into Belgium came with ups and downs, but it was easier than I expected. Some very typical challenges faced me that, had I been older and wiser I would have seen how typical they were, but each minor hurdle turned into either a minor accomplishment or a valuable failure. I made friends. I went to class. I slowly built a new life for myself.

I came to Belgium already speaking pretty advanced French, a language I had studied and spoken since I was 13 or so. French, though, had never carried a deep emotional weight for me. It was a subject I was good at in school. It was my minor at university. It was this separate, abstract thing that existed outside of me. I could follow a lecture, read a book, write a paper, all of that in French, but I hadn’t been me before in French.

In Belgium, the language took on a new form. I cried in French; I talked about being afraid and uncertain in French. I made jokes in French. I plumbed the depths of friendship in French. I admitted to embarrassing crushes in French. I got angry in French. I navigated a new and complex social world in French. People I knew in French became important to me. And French became important to me. It seems cliché, but at that moment in my life, when a logical path seemed to already lie before me, it was really astounding to see this extension of myself – an extension that needed this otherness for it to exist. It was as if this parallel world was suddenly opened up to me. It took this new feeling of otherness to upend the assumptions I’d made about the future.

As I relearned how to exist in my parallel self, I was able to see things from a bigger perspective. There is nothing that I just had to do. There isn’t such a thing as should. People just do and they do all kinds of things.

I was so taken with the feeling I felt when French became an important part of my life, a central element of my existence, that I wanted to do it again. I had always been interested in German, but had set it aside since starting college. I signed up for a German course, got a German language partner, hung out with the German exchange students and went to readings and events in German. Now that French had become an almost automatic language for me, tumbling from my mouth with unthinking ease, it felt right to start anew.

When my CIEE exchange was coming to an end, I went to dinner with one of the student mentors. I told her that I was going to Vienna that summer to take summer courses at the university. She was half German and had been instrumental in feeding my interest. As a joke, or maybe not, I said I wish I could just stay. I said aloud that I had thought about coming back for grad school, but that was a lie. I had only just thought it as I said it. Saying it made it real. She said, “You know you could, right? You could do that.” I don’t think I did know that.

After my summer in Vienna, I got on a plane to DC. It was hard getting on that plane. I had experienced the whole emotional arc of the study abroad experience, feeling almost bitter that I was such a cliché. Unease in the new, total ease in the new, unease in the old, acceptance of both. But just because something is typical does not make it unreal. 

I came back to DC, though, with a clearer sense of what I could do. I came back understanding that what I should do and could do were up to me to be discovered. I came back with a goal.

Every Saturday morning I went to an exam prep course, and on Thursdays I had a German course and made French my major. I got a side job to pay for these prep classes and in January I sat the first exam. I passed. In April I submitted my application and waited. In March I was invited to Paris for the interview.

Last fall, I graduated with honors from the Sorbonne with a master’s in German studies and translation. As I write this, the other document open on my computer is my second thesis, this one in comparative literature and next year I’ll apply to doctoral programs here in France. In another year, I’ll be allowed to submit an application for French citizenship.  

In the journey I found a new way of being, but one that had always been parallel to myself. In coming home, I found that home is a choice you make yourself.

Winning Video from the CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

By Atenea Rios Buezo (CIEE Work & Travel USA, Montana, 2015)
*This video was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

 

 

Coming Home: The Journey Begins

"Through my semester in Ghana I found my life’s work at home."

By Erin Ruff (CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, 2009)
*This essay was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

Just after daybreak in early August I stood in Heathrow’s Terminal Three and stared into the crowd of travelers ready to board the flight to Accra. Bored with the monotony of college life, and a few credits short of a degree in art, I headed across the Atlantic. My intentions were self-serving: to explore, experience, and enjoy another part of the world.

Though only in Ghana for five months, I intended to see every nook and cranny the country had to offer. I did a pretty good job of it. I visited all ten regions in Ghana as well as the neighboring countries of Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, and Benin.

The first month of my stay had come to a close when my study abroad group was called together for a program. I had little patience for these gatherings.  However, this time things were different.

It was at this program that I met Beatrice, a master weaver from the nearby village of Kisseman. Beatrice was a timid lady. She stood before our group and, in her broken English, invited us to her village for weaving lessons. In exchange for weaving lessons she asked if students would help the children in her village with their schoolwork. I was instantly drawn to her. Though she was there to recruit students for a weaving lesson, it was clear where her heart lie. The true purpose of her presence was to solicit help for the children she spoke of. I decided to give it a shot.

Sitting in Beatrice’s compound, I felt little pairs of eyes peering around the corners, curious as to why there was a strange woman at their “Mama Teni’s” house. Children staggered in asking for pieces of torn books to read or pages to scribble pretend school work on. They picked up scraps of elephant grass and mimicked Beatrice’s quick weaving hand to keep themselves busy while they waited for a taste of the meal she prepared each night.

I had never seen anything like it. She was the village mother, accepting anyone that came her way. Some were regulars, others came and went as they were called home to their work.

I began to spend all of my free time in Kisseman. I put the weaving aside and began to teach. Soon, my daily routine consisted of unloading boxes of donated school supplies and preparing our makeshift classroom. The cement flooring became our chairs and desks, the compound tree our roof. The scorching sun served as our clock, letting us know when lessons began and when it was time to go home. Armed with a pencil and paper, the children had their first real classroom experience.

After the first day of lessons, a few children walked me to the local tro-tro (mini-bus) stop. Jennifer, a lively six-year-old, took off running towards a man coming down the hill. Full of excitement she pronounced, “Father, today I have learned!” In that moment, I realized that the work I was doing would carry on far beyond my stay in Ghana. The pride in Jennifer’s voice that day fueled my passion for teaching the kids of Kisseman.

That semester the children wrote their first letter, read their first sentence, and began to shape their lives through education. As word spread throughout the village, the compound filled day after day with more and more children eager to learn. What began with five children turned into lessons for more than 50 students.

Everything I had sought to discover was right there, in the little village of Kisseman, and in the hearts of kids I met. Through my travels in Ghana I found myself. In those five months, I discovered my passion and untapped my potential. But my biggest journey began when I returned home.

December 2009, I arrived back to the United States in a fury, desperate to find a way to hold onto my time in Ghana. I wanted to continue to help ensure the children of Kisseman received the education needed to lead them to a brighter future.

Within a year of my return, Beatrice and I launched Baskets for Education. It began with Beatrice sending small shipments of her handmade Bolga baskets to me to sell. The money raised was used to pay for children’s school fees. The first child on a full scholarship was Sammy, in 2010.

Today, Baskets For Education buys baskets directly from our partner cooperative who pays the highest wages in Bolga. The proceeds from the basket sales support our non-profit organization. The Kisseman Children’s Foundation, established in 2012, provides scholarships for students to attend local schools, as well supplies and daily lessons. To date, the organization has provided 22 students with full scholarships.

It was that program, which I so unwillingly attended, that took me on the adventure of a lifetime. Through my semester in Ghana I found my life’s work at home.

Lessons continue to take place in Kisseman. CIEE Legon provides volunteers each semester through our partnership. The volunteers come from colleges across the U.S. and teach the lessons I once led, this time in our rented classrooms under the guidance of our Program Director, Beatrice’s son Dominic.

Back home in small town America, Ghana has become a familiar name to many in Hagerstown. Local schools aid in filling our cargo shipments with donated supplies, as school children write letters to their friends in Ghana. A mother who attended our recent Egg Hunt fundraising event stated that her six-year-old has a newfound interest in Ghana. The place that I had never heard of before my trip abroad has become a landmark for those around me.

Embracing our roots in Bolga basket weaving, and our heart in education, our journey carries on at The Kisseman Children’s Foundation where I continue to impact children through a means they may have never thought possible: education.

Learn more about Baskets for Education and the Kisseman Children's Foundation.

Winning Photo Entry from CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

By Francesca Perticarini (CIEE High School Exchange USA, 2014-2015)
*This photo entry was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

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1. I'm Ghana

It’s not a quick picture you get of someone when you visit a tourist attraction. “I’m Ghana” is the name of the short film I shot at the top of the Hancock Tower with my host sister, Fatahiya (in the picture), from Ghana. She is one of the best people I’ve met in my life, and thanks to the CIEE program I had the opportunity to listen to her story and learn something from it. The short film had a huge success (it was also shared by upworthy.com), and even now, it still inspires thousands of people from all over the world.

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2. Pacific Ocean

My “American grandparents” took this picture of me when I first saw the Pacific Ocean. Touching all of the oceans in the world is on my bucket list, and I was finally able to check off “Pacific Ocean” from the list. For the first time I was able to be so close to the ocean. I live right in front of the sea back in Italy, and I’m not used to seeing something so immense and blue.

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3. Reflections

This is probably my favorite picture of all time. My coordinator from CIEE, who quickly became my host mom and my dearest friend, took this picture. She and I got along pretty well and we shared some of our favorite things: waking up early before the sun rises, having espresso in the morning and seeing beauty in nature. We left the house pretty early because everything was covered in fog. We both love nature so we drove around the area and took some pictures. Out of all the pictures we took, this one is the one that I cherish the most because it reminds me of how lucky I was to have her as my mentor.

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4 & 5. Old Wild West

These pictures are from the camping trip my host family organized. We spent 10 days camping in the middle of nature and for the first time, I set foot in Wyoming and North Dakota.

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6. Leaving Home to Go Back Home

I took a picture of a plane that was flying above my head as a reminder of all the planes I took during my exchange year. Traveling has been my favorite hobby now, and I keep taking planes to visit new places because of the amazing experience I had with CIEE. I will never stop traveling because it would mean to me that I don’t want to learn anymore. The concept of home changes when you are an exchange student. The United States has become my home, although I know I was used to associating the word “home” with my country.

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7. Cold Chicago

Chicago has been my very first American home. For the first time, I had the “honor” to live in freezing temperatures and experiencing what it means to live in the snow. I love the skyline and I love it even more when it’s covered in white.

WHEN A DREAM COMES TRUE IN THE GREEN STATE OF CALIFORNIA

By Safia Dworjack, CIEE Intern

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

When I learned that I had landed the position to work on an environmental program for the City of San José in California, it was a dream come true.

California is a very appealing state with its beaches and its year-round sunshine. It is also, for an environmentalist like me, the state where innovation and challenges make your everyday job exciting. In the heart of the Silicon Valley, I had the opportunity to attend many conferences and workshops to build my skills and knowledge in the environmental field. I took the opportunity to speak to a conference, This Way to Sustainability, at Chico State University, to present the program I was working on.

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With the cohort of young American graduate students in Sustainability

For my job, I engaged local businesses in an energy efficiency program, Step Up and Power Down, to help them reduce their energy consumption. Being so close to the local community and building trust relationships in a culture and a language which were not mine was very rewarding.

I had the chance to work with an awesome young woman 8 hours a day who gave me a deep dive in the American and Vietnamese culture. Thirty percent of the population in San José in Vietnamese, the biggest in the US!

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Ready to go out into the field and engage businesses with my colleagues

I was also able to take part in a graduate program in sustainability. There, I was able to meet 30 American students who shared my passion, and also allowed me to discover the challenges and hopes of my generation in this leading country of the United States.

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With the Energy Champions for the behavior change campaign I led at City Hall

Finally, I had the honor to be selected for the CIEE I-LEAD program in DC, a 6-day workshop with 58 other J-1 interns from 30 different countries. Through workshops and activities, I was pleased to discover many kind-hearted young people which galvanized me in continuing my work to make a difference in my country.

Back in France, I am proud I did that experience as it made me grow as a person, and gave me professional experience that I already see is making a difference on the job market. If you have any hesitations or legitimate fears to live this experience, I would say go for it as it will be an amazing experience that will make you stronger on so many levels!

Studying Abroad in Tokyo: Moving Forward

This article is part of a series by blog contributor Ria Jagasia, who studied abroad with CIEE in Tokyo, Japan in 2016.

My Facebook memories have let several cringe-worthy posts of mine resurface, but on December 9 this year I saw a very special post that has been my favorite memory thus far – the day I got my official acceptance to the CIEE Study Abroad program in Tokyo. Seeing that it had already been a year made me realize how much has changed since then, especially my language abilities.

Of course, being in Japan means that I had the opportunity to improve my language skills, and I did just that. Before going abroad, I had around a year and a half of Japanese classes, but I felt nervous going to Tokyo without the confidence I needed in my language ability. Living in a homestay was the perfect option for me, since it was a chance to speak in Japanese to native speakers. Even when I wasn’t speaking, I was listening. My listening comprehension, arguably more than my speaking, improved tenfold just because I was surrounded by people who only spoke that language. Coming back to my campus in the U.S., I definitely saw an improvement in my ability to read, write, and speak even in the more advanced material we covered. In addition to improving in those areas, I genuinely began to enjoy using and hearing the language. When I first started taking classes, I wasn’t sure if Japanese was right for me and really only continued it for the sake of my Asian studies major. It was definitely a challenge to pick up a completely new way of writing and speaking, and I wondered if it was really worth the effort. Being in Japan, speaking the language, and experiencing it in the context of daily life in Japan made me realize what a beautiful language it is and how lucky I was to be able to learn it.

Now that I am very far from Japan and in a community where Japanese culture isn’t as prevalent, it is hard to create and share my experiences. I think this has made me less inclined to constantly talk about where I went or what I saw during my time abroad, since it would be hard for people to relate to and, honestly, not everyone wants to hear about it. This is where friends come in – those that went with you, saw the same things as you, and lived the same life as you. I couldn’t have asked for better friends than the ones I made during the program and they have definitely been a part of my moving forward. Being able to relate not only in our common interest in Japan, but in the experiences we had there, makes me grateful that I can still keep in touch with them.

Additionally, cooking has always been a passion of mine and it was wonderful to be able to make some dishes from my Japanese homestay back in my own home. I was able to find ingredients in my local international market and enjoy the familiar tastes again. Sharing the food with my family was also a great way to have them experience my life in Japan. Initially it was hard to talk about my experiences with my family since they were not there with me and couldn’t truly understand. The Japanese food I made became a bridge of sorts as it allowed me to bring up some of the memories I have of eating those foods in Tokyo.

Being in Japan allowed me to explore an entirely new way of living and speaking that I would have never experienced otherwise. For those who are thinking of studying abroad, I would encourage you to take the leap – you will most definitely reap the rewards!

Alumni Voices: Amy Sininger

Video interview with Amy Sininger, CIEE Teach Abroad and CIEE TEFL alumna.

CIEE Alumni Interview: Amy Sininger

My Two Favorite Places to Visit in Tokyo

Even though I spent four months abroad, I wasn’t able to visit every part of Tokyo - let alone many places outside of it. However, I was able to make great memories in the places I did. Here are my two favorite places in Tokyo that anyone travelling to this city should visit:

1) Shibuya

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Those who know even a little bit about Tokyo definitely know about Shibuya, one of 23 city wards of Tokyo, and the famous crossing there. Shibuya has a multitude of shopping malls, restaurants, and all things in between. Shibuya station is by far one of the craziest stations in all of Tokyo because of the many lines that run through it given its central location. The crossing itself, which actually isn’t as big as I had imagined it to be, is busy any time of day with people flooding back and forth. Once you exit the station and zig around the mass of people to get to the crossing, the flashing ads will probably catch your attention - that is, if you are looking up. Shibuya has several large screens by the crossing advertising the newest brands or promoting new TV shows or music releases, all accompanied with blasting music. It is hard to escape the pure chaos of this part of town, but there is something not so crazy about it as well. For me, being in similarly crowded areas in the U.S., namely New York City, has always followed with headaches and a wanting to leave. I never felt that way about Shibuya. Maybe because it was so novel to me or that everyone minds their own business to the point where it doesn’t feel as crowded. There is something about the energy that is so exciting, especially at night, where you really feel what the energy in Tokyo is like. I loved to go to Shibuya and try to grab a spot at the Starbucks overlooking the crossing (which is rarely a success) or head out at night to wander around with friends. Shibuya has always been a special place to me, so much so that I have a postcard of it right above my bed. Every time I look at it, I remember all the fond memories I made by myself and with friends. With the Olympics coming up in 2020, the station is undergoing major construction and I can’t imagine more people being there than there already is! Nevertheless, Shibuya is most definitely an icon of Tokyo and its fantastic energy.

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2) Harajuku

Tokyo’s colorful and fashionable youth thrive in Harajuku, my second favorite spot in the city. Harajuku is known for the super kawaii (“cute” in Japanese) and super trendy shops that line Takeshita Street, the main attraction in this part of town. My first time here, I was amazed by the crowds that packed Takeshita Street and surprised by some of the costumed people that made their presence very clear out in front of the crowds. You cannot go to Harajuku without noticing the crazy number of crepe stands that always have people waiting to grab a snack. You might think that crepes are quite an odd Japanese dessert, but Harajuku’s sellers have found ways to add a unique spin and make it their own. Crepes in Japan are packed full of ice cream, brownies, and other sweet things that make them very unique.

Crepe

One of my favorite spots in Harajuku was actually slightly away from the chaos of the stores – the Meiji Jingu (Shrine). Meiji Jingu dates back to the era of Emperor Meiji and was established in 1920 to commemorate his death. The shrine itself is a large area surrounded by traditional Japanese shrine buildings. My favorite part is the walk to the shrine, passing the large Torii gate that symbolizes the entrance of the shrine. The walk to the shrine is a wide road covered by the overarching trees – an image straight out of an old Japanese folktale. Only in Japan would you find such an amazing shrine right next to the bustling shopping crowds in Harajuku.

Shrine

My ultimate spot in Harajuku, and definitely in my top places that I would like to go back to, is the Nescafé Café. Nescafé, known of course for their coffee and coffee machines, has their own physical café in Harajuku. Inside is a modern environment with calm music, large windows, and a beautifully designed interior. Not to mention, the coffee and food are amazing! The café is also a technological experience – ordering happens on an iPad and the very kind servers bring your food out to you. The big chairs and sofas make it a great study place – my friends and I took advantage of this on several weekends! The best part is the central area which has a selection of Nescafé coffees and coffee machines where you can make yourself a cup. I had never been in a café like this and really miss studying and chatting with my friends there. I really hope I get a chance to open a café inspired by this spot someday!

Nescafe

By: Ria Jagasia (CIEE Study Abroad, Tokyo, Japan, 2016)

Alumni Voices: the 2016 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad