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14 posts categorized "High School + Gap Year Alumni"

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!

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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: 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.

Learning Outside the Classroom: A High School Study Abroad Story

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The Alum of the Month for December is CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad alum Denise Alvarez. Denise received the Global Navigator Scholarship in 2015 to spend a summer term in Tokyo, Japan on the Japanese Language & Pop Culture program. The scholarship allowed Denise to go after her dream of finding something more outside the classroom. The experience was educational, cultural, and transformational. Studying abroad in high school even helped her look more competitive on college applications! Now in college, Denise is already planning her next study abroad experience. Most recently, she was able to return to Japan to visit old familiar sites and spend time reuniting with her host family. Learn more about the impact high school study abroad had on Denise:

How did you hear about High School Summer Abroad? How did you know it was right for you?

I had done tons of research at the end of my sophomore and beginning of junior year about different study abroad programs. All the programs I have looked into didn't give the financial aid that CIEE did, and although the programs seemed more costly, in the end with all the scholarships and financial help it was much, much cheaper. With CIEE there were so many more opportunities and it definitely looked like CIEE catered to everyone from all backgrounds; it made me feel like going abroad was an actual possibility.

What made you interested in studying in Tokyo?

Since I was young I've always liked Japan and my uncle and aunt who are from there have always told me about the cultures, legends and history – it was very hard to not fall in love! As I grew older, I knew it had to be Japan despite everyone telling me it's expensive, it's on the other side of the world, and the language is a whole other writing system. I went intimidated but came back braver and content with the decision I made.

How did your study experience fit in with your academics at the time?

I was a high school student when I went to Japan and, at that time, I knew that I already did very well academically. However, I felt like I had nothing else to show for myself besides my good grades. This experience abroad definitely taught me about culture, the Japanese language and customs, and more about myself and my ambitions.

I really did feel like this program added to my college applications tremendously, and I always have people ask me "You went to Japan!? Please tell me more!" It has definitely made it easier for icebreakers and such. The trip also helped me realize that I want to have a career related to international relations. Now I am an economics major and hope to continue to learn more about people and how markets and capital influence our history and actions.

How did studying abroad help your Japanese language skills?

Tremendously. I haven't been learning Japanese as intensely as I did around the time of the trip but when I returned to Japan I found myself lost and asking directions with the exact Japanese I learned while on program with CIEE. I was in shock that I managed to remember all the words and details, and I still know how to read and write the Japanese alphabet (except Kanji). Not only were our teachers great and were passionate to get us to remember the language, but being immersed among people and in situations where you have to use Japanese also helped with my memory retention.

You mentioned to us earlier that the experience helped you become more motivated and focused. How is that so?

I've always tried my best in school however it came to a point where I wondered, “why am I trying so hard to get good grades and where do I want to take my skills?” I've always been focused. However, during junior year, I dealt with a lot of personal problems that really put a strain on my motivation. I also felt that I've always been limiting myself due to my family income and I wasn't so involved as to not cause trouble to my parents. I realized that I needed a change of scenery and needed to change myself. After Japan, my confidence and determination grew. My friends even noted that I have become different in a positive way and that I was more happy and glowing, and to this day, I still am. I like to think that this trip has motivated me to work hard to continue to experience the thrill of travel and, to be honest, it has also influenced me to be able to host in the future as well and hopefully be able to change the life of another.


It’s amazing that you were able to return to Japan and visit your host family. Tell us more about that trip!

After the Japan trip I got in a slump over the summer because I thought, “how can I make something like that happen again when the only reason I went this time was because of a scholarship?” However, I still remember the words of my teacher who told us, "If you guys really want to experience more of Japan you can; it's all up to how much you actually want it." In the spring semester of my first year in college, I got my first job and I learned to juggle both school and work. I worked hard to maintain my grades and scholarship as well as my job and all the duties that came with it. It was hard at times because I found myself studying occasionally during work and during school I would just be tired and not focused. However, my grades came out great and my paycheck was enough for me to go to Japan. I returned to see my host family who was in utter awe that I even returned (despite me promising and messaging that I will!). They took me and my friend to a sports festival to see Yoshi, their daughter, and when we saw each other again she ran out of shyness because she wasn't actually expecting me to return! I am glad I did. However, they treated my friend and me with so much kindness and respect. I revisited the old places I went with CIEE and even went to the Olympic Center where we slept! It was very nostalgic but I am glad I could do it all again and I know this is all thanks to CIEE for giving me the opportunity to go the first time.

What is your advice for high school students who are thinking about studying abroad?

It is very much possible to study abroad in high school despite it being seemingly not. I think the worst mistake one can do to themselves is to create limits. CIEE offers so many opportunities for those who struggle financially and if you have good merit, they acknowledge it and reward you for it. It has definitely changed my life and made me look much more competitive to colleges. I got memorable friends and a wonderful host family who, despite only knowing me for one month, still call me and text me TWO YEARS after the trip!

Want to share your CIEE story? Email to get started.


*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. 

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.

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. 

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.

Kaylee with some of her local Ghanaian and CIEE friends



*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

 By Nikita Bazhenov, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant and CIEE High School USA alumnus

Nick 1

Hi, my name is Nikita Bazhenov. I am from Russia and I am on a work and travel program this year. In Russia I am a third year student in Higher School of Economics studying Sociology. I work as a cashier at Adventure Aquarium in Camden,NJ, just across the bridge from Philadelphia, PA. Another fun fact: I have a daily vlog. Yes, here on the program, I try to create a movie every single day, sometimes I fail and have to catch up but I still have not missed a day.

I’ve already been to the US, I lived here for a year and went to Santiam Christian High School in Oregon. That was five years ago, and this time I came to get an experience of adult life in the U.S. Being a kid in high school in the U.S. was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about the culture of the United States, and my host family shared a lot of knowledge with me, so this time I knew what to expect from this country.

I never thought I would visit US as an exchange student ever again, and that was a totally spontaneous decision made by me and my girlfriend Anastasia this winter. To give you some context, I love filming events, parties, pretty much anything in this world, but I never took time to do it. Mostly because I was busy working and studying at the university at the same time. Moreover, I was in desperate need of equipment (like a camera at least) because the one I was using was a 2013 Canon, bought by Anastasia, so it was not even mine. With my salary at that time I would have taken a couple of years to save up for a decent camera, so we decided to come here, to work, travel, and share our experience with other people who might want to join us on our journey.

Nick 2

Another point was that my English level really went down at that time. Compared to my English level after attending high school in the U.S., I had forgotten a lot, and I had to fix that problem as fast as I could. I knew the CIEE office in St Petersburg from my previous FLEX experience, so I was able to go with CIEE.

As for the skills and knowledge I got during this program…there are 2 parts of this question. If we are talking about making movies – I learned way more this summer than I’ve learned in the last 3 years shooting. The other thing is, I value travelling more than anything, it’s a great way to learn about the world you live in. There is no way they would teach you how people behave themselves in the U.S. and why they are always friendly in university, you have to go the country by yourself and figure it out. ONLY then you will be able to understand life in another country.

If you have an opportunity to go to the U.S. and spend your summer working with amazing people somewhere in this great country – TAKE IT. It is worth more than anything else – experiencing another country and learning new every day. Don’t stress out about your language skills – I know some students that are here right now, who were not very confident speaking when they came here. In only two months their skill rocketed to the place when they can have a conversation with their coworkers and understand fluent English. And this is my second point – the purpose of learning a language is not to write tests or essays – it is being able to talk to other people and understand them. There is not as much attention given to speaking while learning a language in high school or in university and this program gives you a chance to fill this gap.

The entire experience really means a lot to me, as it gave me an opportunity to do something that I really love – make movies. My hope for the future is that after this program I will be able to fulfill my ultimate dream – be able to share my ideas, my country and my life with other people via making videos. This summer got me really close to the point when I am able to do that, and I can’t wait to see where I can go with it.

Watch Nick's video about his trip to Washington DC here:


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.


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, and even now, it still inspires thousands of people from all over the world.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

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

Students overlooking Cape Town. Photo by Cameron Conolly.

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

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

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

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

Move over, Millennials: Three ‘Generation-Z’s who are changing the world

They’ve been called “Globals,” “The Next Great Generation,” “Digital Natives,” “Post-Millennials,” and “iGeneration”. However you refer to them, Generation Z – defined loosely as those born in 1995 to 2012 – are making a difference in today’s world. They’re founding nonprofits and think-tanks; they’re focused on understanding other cultures and challenging traditional ways of thinking.

Today, we’re highlighting three young CIEE alumni who have demonstrated a passion and commitment to improving the world around them. 

Eli Wachs, age 16

CIEE High School Summer Leadership Academy, Nanjing, Summer 2014
President and Founder, High School HeroesX

Eli Wachs with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter while I was attending the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit

Eli Wachs (left) with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit. 

High School HeroesX is a youth organization that works to give high school students a platform to effect meaningful change on their communities. Eli Wachs, a current junior in high school, is a testament to the fundamental concept behind the organization: that his generation has the fresh perspective and the technological know-how to identify innovative and creative solutions to community problems.

Eli formed the concept for High School HeroesX after he read Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis (founder of the X PRIZE Foundation). “I became enthralled by the book's central thesis that so many of the world's great challenges are being overcome by a combination of innovation and growing access to technology,” Eli recalls. After reaching out to Dr. Diamandis, Eli decided to create High School HeroesX as a platform for high school students in the Philadelphia area to address issues such as poverty, education, and environmentalism. Meanwhile, Eli is combining his passion for social entrepreneurship and other cultures: he’s currently working on the upcoming launch of High School HeroesX China.

Eli Wachs with the class he taught in China this past summer on CIEE program

Eli Wachs with the class he taught in China this past summer during his CIEE program.

Eli’s participation in CIEE’s High School Summer Leadership Academy furthered his desire to become a global citizen. “Given the connected world in which we live, I think it is imperative to be aware of the world around us and embrace different cultures, languages, and customs,” Eli says. “My study abroad immersion programs in China have been remarkably rewarding experiences.”  

Eli is combining his passion for social entrepreneurship and other cultures: he’s currently working on the upcoming launch of High School HeroesX China.

As he looks forward to college, Eli plans to pursue an area of study that combines his interests in innovation and social entrepreneurship, and to return to China to study abroad. His writing has been published on Huffington Post Impact.

Xiong Her, age 18

CIEE High School Summer Leadership Academy, Nanjing, China Summer 2013
Gates Millennium Scholar Recipient


Xiong Her with CIEE Alumni Relations Director Dan Olds at the CIEE Annual Conference at a 100K Strong Foundation event in Washington, DC.

Xiong Her is a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, an prestigious award given to individuals from diverse backgrounds who have demonstrated excellence in academia. This fall, Xiong began his freshman year at Marquette University, where he plans to study international affairs with the goal of pursuing a career at the U.N. or U.S. State Department.

Xiong spent much of his childhood in an impoverished refugee camp called Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand. In a recent interview with the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Xiong describes his time in the refugee camp in two words: no hope. Xiong has worked to overcome his difficult past and pursued extra courses throughout middle and high school to advance his education and English language abilities. 

“My experience with a Chinese host family opened my eyes to the true cultures of China,” Xiong says.

Xiong says that his CIEE High School Abroad program sparked his interest in majoring in International Affairs and continuing to study Chinese history and language. “My experience with a Chinese host family opened my eyes to the true cultures of China,” Xiong says. “I had the opportunity to tour and immerse myself into the rich historical sites: the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, famous local mansions, and temples.” Xiong is also an ambassador for 100K Strong, a foundation focused on strengthening US-China relations through study abroad and language learning. He connects with students from his high school, as well as high school students in Marquette University’s Upward Bound program, to encourage them to seek out international education opportunities. Xiong’s own study abroad experience isn’t over – he plans to spend the next academic year in China. 

Tuongvan Le, age 19

CIEE Business Language + Culture Program, Shanghai, China, 2014
Founder, IM Venture

Tuongvan Le is a current sophomore at Harvard College who participated in the CIEE Business, Language and Culture program in Shanghai, China in the summer of 2014. She is the founder of IM Venture, an enriching cultural and skill development program connecting Vietnamese students studying abroad to Vietnamese local students through a trip across Vietnam. Le lived in Vietnam until the age of 12, and she started IM Venture to reconnect with her Vietnamese identity, and to have meaningful experiences through interactions with local Vietnamese students. 

Anh truoc dai noi

Le also launched “Students to Service”, the first online magazine focused on student’s activities in Vietnam. Much of her work is focused on youth empowerment and cultural exchange. ”It helps me connect with my homeland, continue being aware of the community that I grew up in, and feel fulfilled to be able to make a tangible impact in the country where I grew up,” says Le.


CIEE is a proud partner of the 100K Strong Foundation, an organization that works to strengthen US-China relations through study abroad. CIEE has over a dozen study abroad programs in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, in addition to our Teach in China programs and programs for high school and gap year students – check out all of our programs on our website

January Alumni of the Month: Chloe Maxmin, Gap Year Abroad

CIEE Alum Chloe Maxmin is making a big impact in the world of climate activism. Although she is only 22 years old, Chloe began her work as a climate activist more than ten years ago, when she took action against the development of the North Maine Woods at the age of 12. In high school, she founded her school’s Climate Action Club and led campaigns to improve environmental issues in her local community, such as reusable bags and solar panels for schools. 

Chloe Maxmin - photo

Photo: Chloe Maxmin

Chloe wanted to study environmentalism in different parts of the world. After high school, she participated in the CIEE Gap Year Abroad program. Chloe spent the first half of her gap year in Bolivia and Peru, researching the concept of “Pachamama” – a more spiritual approach to caring for the planet. The second half of her gap year was spent in Shanghai; she chose the city because of its significance to environmental issues, including persistent pollution. In these two different parts of the world, she experienced firsthand the negative impact that climate change was already having on the lives of those in the local communities. “I learned about how a community deals with significant environmental damage when the effects are facing you every day,” Chloe recalls. “I also learned about the tensions between a system and individual behavior change when confronting such major environmental changes.” 

Shanghai blog photo

Photo: CIEE Shanghai/Nicole Eigbrett

Chloe says that her experience in China with CIEE was one of the most difficult experiences of her life, but also the most rewarding – and that she came back to the United States with a new appreciation for other cultures.

Today, she is the co-founder of Divest Harvard, an organization that launched one of the most powerful movements in Harvard history. She is also the founder and president of First Here, Then Everywhere, an online network by and for young environmentalists. She’s received national and international recognition for her work: in 2013, she was named a Green Hero by Rolling Stone magazine, and she was a recipient of the Brower Youth Award (2013), as well as the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes (2010) and the Samantha Smith Award (2011).

Chloe’s post-graduation plans include continuing to work on political organizing around climate and environmental issues. She says that with important upcoming events – such as the Paris Climate Talks in 2015 and the US Presidential Election in 2016 – climate activism is more important now than ever.

Are you a CIEE Alumni working to make the world a better place? We’d love to hear from you! Share your story @CIEEAlumni on Twitter or Instagram, or e-mail


High school student learns about Dominican Republic through service work at children's camp

The Mount Vernon Inquirer  highlighted high school senior Natorie Johnson and on her community service work during her international experience on the CIEE Leadership Academy in Santo Domingo. Her service work at a community summer camp and interaction with the local children proved to enrich camp activities and her own perspectives about the Dominican Republic.

Read more here