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Alumni Voices: the 2016 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad

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)

Top 3 Foods for a Summer in Tokyo

Tokyo is a wonderful city for a foodie, and even more so during the summer when the best way to escape the heat is through food. There are a multitude of foods that I enjoyed during my stay, but my top three during the summer were cold soba, kakigori, and ume juice.

1. Soba


While ramen tends to come to people’s minds first when thinking of Japanese cuisine, soba is equally as popular. Soba, or buckwheat noodles, can be served cold or hot, cold being preferred in the summer. My favorite soba experience was in Ginza, the high-end shopping district in Tokyo. Since my friend from out-of-town was visiting, I wanted to take her for a traditional Japanese meal and found a restaurant in the Edo-Tokyo museum that we were exploring. I ordered zaru soba which came in a platter with a mentsuyu (dipping sauce) and some sliced green onions. Atop the zaru soba is some shredded nori, which is a popular seaweed. The combination of the crispy nori, smooth noodles dipped in mentsuyu, and the crunch of the green onions makes for an amazing lunch. While food in Ginza tends to be priced higher, there are many noodle shops around Tokyo that provide a filling meal for a couple of dollars.

2. Kakigori


Kakigori is another popular summer go-to. While the Japanese name may seem unfamiliar, it is known to many as ‘shaved ice’. Those living in the United States may think of shaved ice as a carnival food served in a cup or cone drizzled with a sweet flavored syrup. People living in East Asia may think of the larger Korean patbinsgu, meaning ‘red beans with ice’, usually decorated with a variety of fresh fruits, sweet rice cakes, and condensed milk. Kakigori finds a middle ground between these two by adopting the shape of the classic American round shaved ice while incorporating flavors and toppings found in patbingsu, those familiar to the Asian palate. My favorite kakigori was actually in an okonomiyaki (savory pancakes filled with cabbage and meat) shop in Asakusa, Tokyo called Sometaro. Okonomiyaki are these delicious savory pancakes filled with cabbage and meat. I visited Sometaro a handful of times and could not leave without having one of their kakigori. While these may not be the most elaborate kakigori you could find in Tokyo, it was just as delicious. They had two popular varieties, one topped with anko (sweetened red beans) and another topped with green tea syrup. Both include a sweet condensed milk and are served in small bowls.

3. Ume Juice

Ume juice

Lastly, ume (plum) juice had to be one of the most memorable drinks I tried while staying in Japan. During the rainy season in the summer, ume-flavored foods are found everywhere as this is the time of the year when they are ripe. Ume juice is made by placing unripe ume and sugar together in a jar, allowing for the extraction of the plum juice. My host mom made her own plum juice and I had no idea what to expect when I tried it, but a little bit of the juice packs a punch! It is highly concentrated but very smooth and sweet. Mixing in a few cubes of ice makes it the perfect drink for the summer and something I wish I could make here in the U.S., but I am sure no plum I could find back home would match the flavor of the Japanese variety. Another widespread use of ume is in alcohol. Umeshu, or a plum liqueur, can be found in the city’s izakayas (bars) and is readily consumed during the peak of the rainy season. Like the juice, it is heavily concentrated and full of flavor.

These are only a few of the many amazing delicacies found in Tokyo. With a plethora of restaurants serving both traditional Japanese food and food from around the world, it was impossible to see, let alone eat, everything in four months! I hope that my next trip back will allow for new dining experiences and tasting more of the food that defines Japan.

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

CIEE Work & Travel USA Alum Finds Career Inspiration at Civic Leadership Summit

Salut! My name is Paul Runcan. I’m 23 years old and currently living in Timisoara, Romania – my home town. In 2015, I graduated from the West University of Timisoara with a degree in law, and now I’m following the courses of an awesome master’s program in public policy and advocacy. Since it’s the only one of its kind in Romania, I’ve been blessed with a unique opportunity of furthering my knowledge and honing my skills in both areas. However, even though I’ve always had an interest in politics and the development of my country and the world, it was only in 2014 that I was shown a path that could take me away from a lifetime of courtroom battles and into the world of politics. It was the year I decided to spend a summer abroad in the U.S. through the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, and I can honestly say that it was the best choice I could ever have made. A few of my colleagues had gone before and all the stories they came back with convinced me that it should definitely be on my to-do list while in school.

I flew to Chicago and made my way north through Michigan until I reached the beaches of Lake Huron. There, on Mackinac Island, I spent the summer working at Mission Point Resort and Mackinac Island Bike Shop. The island was beautiful, and summer was the best time to explore every corner of it. M-185, the only roadway in the US without cars, offers the best bike lane one could ever wish for and makes for a great ride around the island, with the crystal-clear blue lake on one side and the dark green forest on the other.

Paul runcan photo

Even though they had their ups and downs, like most jobs do, they taught me a lot of life lessons, which I’m sure everyone who has participated in such a program knows and values greatly. I learned patience and humility, and I learned to be proud and value my work, whatever it may be. It taught me how different people can be and it gave me a unique glimpse into the American way of life. That could’ve been it – a summer well spent abroad, a couple of lessons learned, lots of new places explored, and a happy Paul. However, CIEE decided to make it even better, so they offered me one more opportunity, which ended up turning a great summer into one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’m talking about the Civic Leadership Summit and the huge influence it has had on my life since then.

I think everyone has a calling, and I think CIEE has helped me to find mine.

Throughout four days of lectures and workshops, I was taught the importance of an active civil society in sustainable global development; I was taught to (even though it might sound like a cheesy cliché) be the change I want to see in the world. And, last but certainly not least, I’ve met some of the most dedicated people I could ever dream of knowing. I think we all left Washington, D.C. with renewed faith and inspiration, maybe even with a new sense of purpose. I know I did, and so far it’s served me well. It was shortly after I returned home in October that I decided that, even though practicing law would allow me to help those around me, it would only affect a small number, and mostly one at a time. It would take too long to create real change – much too long – and poorly crafted laws, corruption, and the general lack of faith that people had in ‘the system’ would delay any form of much needed change.

Now, two years later, my career is still in the making, but there’s progress. I’ve learned a lot more, I’ve met like-minded people, and slowly but surely we’re making our way into the world of politics, educating the local youth, and hoping to bring a much needed breath of fresh air to an antiqued system. Looking back now, I realize just how big an impact the Civic Leadership Summit had on my life and career choices. Through carefully thought-out lectures, challenges, and a great mindset, they showed us the possibility of a brighter future. I think everyone has a calling, and I think CIEE has helped me to find mine. Civil engagement in politics is the way for the future, and the future needs great leaders. Do your part for the future, become a leader.

To learn about this year's Civic Leadership Summit, visit the CIEE Work & Travel USA Facebook page.

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

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

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

When in Maine, eat lobster.

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

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


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

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

The most I think I learned was about myself.

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

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


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


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

“Ahlan wa sahlan! Jordan welcomes you.”

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

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

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

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

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

London (1)

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

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

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

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


Alumni Voices: Study Abroad Alum Talks About the Value of Exchange in a Globalized World

Jordan Smoczyk, CIEE Study Abroad in Seville, Spain, Spring 2012

My study abroad experience was certainly one of the most life-changing and affirming things I have done. After studying abroad, I truly believe all universities should make at least a summer session, spring break, or J-term abroad mandatory. We live in a globalized world and need to learn how to communicate cross-culturally. A college education should prepare students to enter the workforce as global citizens.

I spent the spring semester of 2012 in Seville, Spain. I made Spanish friends and family whom I have since been back to visit. I made American friends who I remain close with although we live across the country. Through study abroad, I forged lasting connections with people of diverse cultures, socio-economic groups, and beliefs.

I believe that study abroad is one of the most efficient forms of diplomacy. My classmates and I showed our host families and cities that Americans are an extremely diverse people and, contrary to their beliefs, many are politically active, educated, and respectful of others. The strength of the stereotypes people had of Americans surprised me, but led to many candid and productive conversations. Breaking down stereotypes and making friends was a huge part of my study abroad experience. I learned to navigate new cities and unknown situations, to ask for help, and to be independent. I was exposed to cultures, history, and people previously unknown to me. In turn I answered countless questions about the United States, my family, and my life. When one travels or lives abroad, they are representing their country and culture whether they realize it or not. Each CIEE student contributes to the people of their host country’s impressions of Americans. This is a golden opportunity to break down stereotypes and forge strong relations. I am proud to say that my CIEE friends and I were good ambassadors to the United States. My friends and I developed rich relationships with our host families, were invited to experience uniquely Sevillan traditions with them such as Feria and Semana Santa, and we continue to stay in contact to this day.

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Upon my return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I advised everyone I knew to study abroad. There can be no argument against the value of travel and of immersion in another culture – it is one of the easiest ways to open a closed mind. In my work as a case manager in Detroit, MI, I have learned that the majority of people want the same things in life: health and happiness for themselves and their families. It is so hard to hate when you meet people face to face and get to know them. While studying abroad, I got to work in the Gypsy community of Seville. Even my open-minded host family thought it was dangerous and ill-advised to go to El Vacie and work in a daycare for Gypsy children. After hearing my stories and seeing my pictures, they warmed to the idea and have since advised students to take advantage of this volunteer opportunity.

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I believe that misunderstanding is the biggest threat to our world right now. Misunderstanding is at the root of war and conflict, racism and hate crimes. This is probably the strongest argument for study abroad – to enlighten and open minds, and to learn to work productively and cooperatively in our globalized world.

For me, study abroad catalyzed a dedication to working with immigrants, refugees, and those in poverty. My experiences support my belief that the U.S. government can promote peace by supporting work and study exchanges like CIEE’s study abroad programs. I believe that this type of one-on-one, direct diplomacy has unparalleled power because I have seen it firsthand.

Please feel free to contact me regarding study abroad, social work, or travel at or via LinkedIn.

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From Study Abroad to the Peace Corps: One Alum’s Story

Meet our April Alum of the Month, Julia Shafer. Julia is a CIEE Seville LA alum who is currently in her second year of service with the Peace Corps. We asked Julia to tell us more about her transition from study abroad to living and working abroad through the Peace Corps. Here is her story:

Salama! My name is Julia Shafer. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2012 with a degree in foreign affairs. While I loved studying in Charlottesville, one of my favorite semesters in college was when I studied abroad with CIEE in the liberal arts program in Seville, Spain. I studied abroad to emerge myself in a different culture and improve my Spanish. My time spent studying abroad really prepared me to join the Peace Corps. I learned how to adapt to a new language and culture through living with a host family and taking all of my classes in Spanish. I also learned how to live outside of my comfort zone away from family and friends. The skills I gained from studying abroad have really come in handy during my Peace Corps service.

I am currently a second year Education Volunteer in Madagascar with the Peace Corps. I live in a town about 60 miles south of the capital, Antananarivo, in the chilly highlands. I teach English to kids of all ages, from tiny primary school kids up through adults, at a private school and at the local English center. Outside of teaching English, I have been working on organizing a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp to help empower young girls in my community to become leaders. The camp will be for one week in April in the capital. Some of the girls that will be attending the camp have never left our small town before so it is going to be an exciting week. Outside of teaching and the GLOW camp, life is very laid back in my town. I spend a lot of time talking with people at the market, helping my friend at her soup shop, and exploring the big red island. If you ever get a chance, put Madagascar on your must-visit list. Yes, there are plenty of lemurs, but there is also so much more to see.

My two years of service with the Peace Corps is quickly coming to an end (hard to believe). I will be leaving Madagascar in August of this year. While I am unsure what my immediate future holds when I return to the United States, I eventually would like to get a masters in school counseling to continue working with kids and help them better navigate their future. Then eventually I might work abroad again in an international school as a counselor.”

If you have questions about studying in Seville or joining the Peace Corps, feel free to connect with Julia on Facebook or Instagram @juleshafer.



Alumni Share Memories of Studying in Budapest

To mark the 25th anniversary of CIEE in Budapest, we asked alumni to share their stories and photos of their study abroad experience with us. Read about these amazing alumni and how studying abroad with CIEE in Budapest has impacted their lives.

Emelie kem2

“One of my favorite Budapest memories was climbing (not hiking—CLIMBING) the mountain in Transylvania. It was the hardest and scariest outdoor activity I have ever done to date. I won't lie, I was definitely on the verge of tears throughout the 3 and a half hour excursion. But instead of having a major breakdown, we laughed and we sang and we persevered through. It was the moment I realized how great so many people in my program were. It was tough, but exhilarating and totally worth the dirt and sweat that covered my body.”

-Emelie Kem, CIEE Budapest, Fall 2015


“If I were to describe my CIEE experience in one word, it would be humbling. I learned so much about myself, I learned so much about Hungarians, and I learned so much about people in general. It was a like a 24/7 real time classroom experience. And if I were to describe how CIEE has affected me professionally, it allowed me to appreciate the politics, the economics, and the culture of Hungary and central/eastern Europe. I’m currently writing a book about the Chinese migrants in the region and without a doubt the CIEE experience provided me with the necessary foundation for doing my research. The CIEE experience has also impacted me on a more personal level. It would be impossible for me to talk about my experience there and not mention my 4 months living with a Hungarian host family. While I was there, I lived with a three-generation family in a beautiful apartment in the 13th district by Margaret Bridge. And ever since then, I have considered myself blessed to have a Hungarian family to go home to every time I visit Budapest.”

-Amy Liu, CIEE Budapest, Fall 2000

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“If I had to choose one word to describe my study abroad experience in Budapest, I think it would be metamorphosis. My time in Budapest was meaningful on a number of levels. My great grandparents emigrated from Hungary so my study abroad experience was a very special opportunity to explore my roots. Travelling and living abroad in my early 20s also instilled in me an appreciation for other cultures, customs, and points of view that I never otherwise would’ve had. My experience, over 20 years ago now, would not have been nearly as meaningful without Dr. Elizabeth Simon, who was not only our professor and resident director, but also our mentor, cultural liaison, and perspective-giver. Thank you Elizabeth and thank you CIEE for an amazing experience that helped to shape my life.”

-Brian Vohrer, CIEE Budapest, Spring 1995


“If I had to describe my experience in one word it would be unforgettable. Budapest is so different from the rest of Europe, it was just a very unique experience—the history is just fascinating. What does being abroad for the semester in Budapest mean to me? Well, I have continued learning Hungarian and I actually just applied to grad school in Hungary, so clearly I want to continue to live and work in Hungary and move throughout Europe, so it just has helped me realize how much I want to study and work on international education policies.”

-Marissa Kramer, CIEE Budapest, Fall 2013


“I studied abroad with CIEE in Budapest in the spring of 1994, when the program was still relatively new. In one word, the experience was transformative. I came to Hungary expecting to better understand the political and social transition that former eastern bloc countries were undergoing, but I left with lifelong friends and a love for all things Hungarian. I was determined to return, master the language, and assist in at least some small way with Hungary's development journey. Also, I wanted regular access to langos (fried dough) with sour cream, cheese, and garlic. And also galuska (egg dumplings). And zsiros kenyeret (bread with lard) with red wine from Villany. Any American who starts craving bread with lard as an after-hike food knows that they've been fundamentally changed by living in Hungary! IMG_0222 (002)

All joking aside, I did return—in 1996 for a Fulbright fellowship, in 1997 for a graduate internship while working on my master's degree in international development, and from 1998 through 2000, when I had the great pleasure of living in Budapest while working for a local Hungarian USAID partner organization assisting in community and civil society development. I was proud that I had achieved near native fluency in Hungarian—it was such a window into the culture, history, and perspective of Hungarians. And it's such a lyrical, beautiful language.  

In the years since I left Hungary, I've continued to meet Hungarians all over the world—in the U.S., Nigeria, and even in South Sudan, where I’m currently serving as the Senior Conflict Advisor for USAID at Embassy Juba—and I always feel an instant kinship. I still sing Hungarian rock songs in the shower and love Hungarian food and wine. Hungary will always occupy a special place in my heart as a second home, and that started with Elizabeth's passion and the CIEE program—she was so committed to making study abroad a rich and positive experience, and it was. So much of what came later for me was shaped or influenced by my study abroad experience and I am grateful!

Congratulations to CIEE and to Elizabeth for 25 great years in Hungary!”

-Carrie Gruenloh, CIEE Budapest, Spring 1994

Alumni Voices: Life Lessons Learned from Studying Abroad

Tyler Davoren, CIEE Study Abroad in Brussels, Belgium, Summer 2014

I won’t attempt to estimate how many times I’ve had to answer the following question since returning from my experience studying abroad in Belgium:

“You mentioned that you’ve studied abroad – tell me about that!”

For months this question stumped me. How could I possibly attempt to do justice to the transformative experience that I gained from living, studying, and exploring in a foreign country? My mind raced into overdrive as I tried to simultaneously explain the places I visited, the lessons I learned, the people I met, and the fun I had. There was simply too much information to squeeze into a concise answer that reflected the depth of my experience. With time and practice, I’ve found my answer and am happy to share it with you here. The following three life lessons learned from studying abroad, coupled with the countless lessons amongst and in between them, helped to mold me into the person I am today. I could not be more appreciative of the opportunity I was given, nor could I be more excited to share my story.

From the first day I set foot in Europe, I was sure that this would be a life-changing experience.

From a developmental standpoint, I could not have picked a better time in my life to study abroad. As a rising senior in college with only a semester left before the real world, I lacked that definitive experience that would differentiate me from the waves of other students graduating later that year. I sought to diversify my identity capital by embarking on an adventure that would challenge me to become a better version of myself. From the first day I set foot in Europe, I was sure that this would be a life-changing experience.  

Within every study abroad experience is a certain required level of autonomy and independence necessary to survive and, ultimately, to thrive. My program masterfully balanced the need for a comfortable environment that provided each student with a firm foundation to build off of with the need for those invaluable opportunities for growth. The possibilities for me to put myself on a path guaranteed for adventure, and ultimately growth, were truly limitless. Some of the highlights of my time in Europe included a four day excursion to Malta, which required extensive planning and hand gestures upon arrival, a group project worked on with three other students from different countries and native languages, and a dynamic internship in which the office vernacular was French. To find success in these roles and, more importantly, to enjoy myself while doing so, required that I adopt a unique type of confidence and swagger, if you will. Studying abroad taught me the value of independence and comfortability in my own autonomy.

Having developed an air of certitude, I realized that every day had equally immeasurable potential to be expanded upon or squandered away. Seemingly trivial decisions that may have been insignificant in the moment proved to be some of the most colorful memories I returned to the states with. Neglecting to wake up 15 minutes early to stop by the coffee shop on the corner would have deprived me of the friendship I struck with the barista. Packing lunch every day so as to intentionally avoid necessary contact with strangers during my lunch break would have limited my opportunity to pick up neat Belgian-French colloquialisms. Opting to watch the evening’s World Cup match in the comfort of my home would have stripped me of the wonderful experience I had exchanging definitions of “home” with some Irish and English fellows I met in the city center. Studying abroad taught me the benefit of avoiding shortcuts to simply get through the day. It may be cliché to say the road less traveled is worth taking, but I consistently found this to be true during my time abroad.

Building off of the idea that shortcuts aren’t always the best route to take, I have to note that the most important lesson I gathered from studying abroad was the importance of living every single minute of every day intentionally. I put this idea to practice by allowing it to guide my decision-making in both mundane and extraordinary situations alike. Living every minute of every day intentionally has ensured that every action I take is guided by the desire to be happy, the desire to be great, or a combination of the two. I had scratched the surface of the idea before but my experience studying abroad gave me the perspective I needed to recognize that time needs to be spent wisely and each day needs to be seized. During my program I was consistently reminded that I might never again find myself with such adventurous potential at my disposal, so I needed to take a carpe diem-like approach to every moment. This disposition returned to the states with me and my mindset has never been the same. I am now far more likely to spend my free time at the gym, reading a book, calling a friend or exploring a town center than I am wasting time away on social media or watching television. Living every day with intention has taught me to enjoy and take more out of life than I ever did before.

Today, I happily work as a Chapter Support Specialist for the national office of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity where I regularly utilize the skills I gained and lessons I learned from my experience abroad. My line of work necessitates that I maintain habits that promote productive autonomy while traveling and develop meaningful relationships with the individuals and groups I engage with. While I’m on the road, which may sometimes be as long as two to three weeks at a time, I regularly seek out adventure and opportunities to create memories. Since beginning work in June of 2015, I have traveled to 14 states I had never been to before, driven over 20,000 miles, visited five national parks, taken thousands of pictures, met hundreds of incredible people, made memories that will last a lifetime, and lived every day to the fullest—but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve said that studying abroad changed my life. Developing comfortability in my own autonomy, avoiding shortcuts whenever possible, and living every minute intentionally has served me well in my time since graduation, and I suspect they’ll continue to do so far into the future.

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