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

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

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

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

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

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

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

Irfan Hampton Jitney
Irfan with Hampton Jitney co-workers

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

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

The summer of 2017 was a summer of concerts.

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

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

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

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

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

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Modestas Ciparis, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2017 participant

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

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

Base camp
The Flying Moose Lodge base camp

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

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

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

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

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

Modestas at camp!

Peiyi's Oasis in America

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

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

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


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

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


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



598fb5574aa23-DSC00212 (Peiyi)

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



Alumni Update - February 2018



What Was Your Biggest Accomplishment in 2017?

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

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

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

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

Help CIEE Study Abroad Alum Go to Antarctica

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




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

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



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

Read Their Stories


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


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

How to update your information:

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

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




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

On social media? So are we! Follow us on Twitter or Instagram @CIEEalumni, and join over 20,000 alumni on our LinkedIn group

Don't forget to update your information to receive important communications and alumni news!


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

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

Boda-Nueva-Orleans-felixfaura-92 - Copy

Julee Powers

(CIEE Teach Abroad, Spain, 2013 - 2014)

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




Franziska Hodde

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

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




Mariam Aghayan & Tayler Rose

(CIEE Study Abroad, Berlin, Spring 2017)

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



Olesya Baranova 

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

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



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

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

International Stories of Love: Julee Powers

Boda-Nueva-Orleans-felixfaura-92 - Copy

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

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

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

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

IMG_0641 - Copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where are they now?

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


International Stories of Love: Olesya Baranova


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

It started as a first love.

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

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

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

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

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

Yet I still loved “someone else” – Russia.

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

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

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

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

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

International Stories of Love: Franziska Hodde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where are they now?

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

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

CIEE Study Abroad Alum Wins Emmy Award for PBS Series “The End of AIDS?”

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

CIEE Cape Town alum Jason Kane won an Emmy Award in October 2017 for his work on the "The End of AIDS?," a six-part PBS NewsHour series on worldwide efforts to break the back of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, produced in collaboration with “Science” magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The Emmy Awards is an American award, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which recognizes excellence in various sectors of the American television industry. “The End of AIDS?” received the 38th annual Emmy for Outstanding Science, Medical, and Environmental Reporting. It was a monumental win for Jason, who was inspired to pursue health journalism when he worked with children impacted by HIV during his study abroad semester with CIEE.

Jason with one of the boys at Baphumelele
Jason with one of the boys at Baphumelele

In 2006, Jason embarked on a journey to Cape Town, South Africa while pursuing a journalism degree at George Washington University. Like many CIEE students in Cape Town, Jason volunteered in local communities. He traveled to the nearby township of Khayelitsha every week to volunteer at Baphumelele, a children’s home providing shelter and support for vulnerable and orphaned children with chronic diseases and HIV/AIDS. Jason says of the experience, “The kids of Baphumelele and their caregivers quickly became my real teachers that semester in Cape Town. In the face of incredible hardship, they enjoyed every second of life and made the most of it with laughter, love, grit, and resilience. As a volunteer who popped in from time to time, I knew I wasn't doing much more than providing a few hours of entertainment for the kids each week (though just the sight of my bright red hair always gave them a special thrill). I also knew the time I spent with them was having a profound impact on me, and that my own life was now headed in a new direction.”

The experience moved Jason into action and sparked a greater interest in researching HIV/AIDS, especially after becoming so close with a little boy at the orphanage whose life was deeply affected by the virus. He wrote for Religion News Service while abroad – a news agency covering religion, spirituality, culture, and ethics, whose wire reports are distributed to more than 170 media outlets. Those few contributions to the international press pool inspired Jason to continue searching for the under-told stories, fueled by the experience and relationships that were facilitated by CIEE.

“When I returned home after that semester, I couldn't shake the memory of the little boy I met at Baphumelele who became my friend. I couldn't forget his smile and extremely uncertain future. It bothered me that I wasn't able to do more for him from afar, so I started looking for opportunities to have an impact in my local community."

Taking his life-changing experience home, Jason leveraged his knowledge about the epidemic to make a difference in Washington, D.C., another city struggling with high HIV rates. After graduation, he spent a year teaching an HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum to public schools in D.C. through City Year, a branch of AmeriCorps. Jason dedicated that year of service to the children of Baphumelele.

Since 2011, health care has become the primary focus of Jason’s journalistic work, covering topics such as the Affordable Care Act, drug addiction in the slums of Tanzania and the small towns of Appalachia, malnutrition and health disparities in Guatemala, and advances against HIV in some of the hardest-hit corners of Sub-Saharan Africa. “At NPR, Religion News Service, The Winchester Star, and, most recently, PBS NewsHour, I’ve attempted to shine a spotlight on efforts to combat HIV, as well as the governmental policies that often impact its spread far more than any other factor,” said Jason. That coverage has included profiles of sex workers in Tanzania, fishermen in Kenya, heterosexual couples in Russia, injection drug users in rural Indiana, and gay men in the suburbs of Atlanta.

With HIV falling away from headlines somewhat in recent years, Jason is proud to be one of the journalists still focusing aggressively on this epidemic, which effects approximately 36.7 million people worldwide. Because of his personal experiences, Jason is inspired to break away from the journalistic pack in D.C. to find more untold stories to bring to a wide audience. As a PBS NewsHour producer, he exercises this type of journalism, educating viewers on health issues from a unique perspective.

Reporting on Mfangano Island in Kenya for "End of AIDS?"
Reporting on Mfangano Island in Kenya for "End of AIDS?"

Jason’s success in international storytelling reached great heights in July 2017 when he learned that “The End of AIDS?” series was nominated for an Emmy. “Our series aired at a time when political campaigns, rising global tensions, and mass violence had dominated nearly every minute of the news cycle. The nomination itself felt like such a vindication because this particular series took an in-depth look at something radically different – six places around the world drafting plans to end their AIDS epidemics.” When competing with much flashier stories of the time, Jason and his team didn’t think “The End of AIDS?” had a chance at winning.

Much to their surprise, “The End of AIDS?” was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Science, Medical, and Environmental Reporting on October 5, 2017. William Brangham, the correspondent for the series, presented powerful words on behalf of the team as they received their award, “At a time when there are people trying to sow distrust in the media and what we all do, there were researchers and scientists and people living with HIV all over the world who trusted us to tell their story. We are hugely grateful to them, and this is for them.”

It was a big win for the HIV/AIDS community and for Jason. He says of the experience, “I’m so proud of the winged, golden statue that now sits on my shelf at home. But I’m even more proud that the Emmy has meant that far more people watched our series. This past World AIDS Day, standing room-only crowds gathered in several colleges around the country to watch 'The Emmy-Award Winning Series, The End of AIDS?’ Scientists and researchers continue to share our reporting as an example of important journalism. Regular viewers continue to tell us how much they’ve learned. As a journalist, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

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Left: Jason with wife Lauren Libera in Cape Town while studying abroad in 2006; Right: Jason and Lauren visit CIEE staff Quinton Redcliffe while on honeymoon in Cape Town years later.

While celebrating his major career milestone, Jason reflects on where his interest in HIV/AIDS research all began – on his CIEE Study Abroad program in South Africa. “Studying abroad in Cape Town was the single best decision of my life. Something about living so far from home, in such a vibrant and distinct place, made learning new things feel more exciting, impressions deeper, relationships richer. Cape Town is where I met my future wife and a tight-knit group of friends that have become our family. No matter where else I go in the world, I’m certain I’ll never see a city more beautiful, complex, and inspiring than Cape Town. So much of that experience can be credited to Quinton Redcliffe and his CIEE team, who created opportunities for us to explore South African life far beyond campus, in its many forms and complexities. I will forever be in their debt.”

No matter how many years passed, Jason continued to think about Baphumelele and the little boy who left an indelible mark on his life. In 2016, during Jason’s last reporting trip to South Africa for “The End of AIDS?,” he stopped by the orphanage to ask about the boy. Jason was pleased to find that someone adopted him and he is doing quite well. As for “The End of AIDS?,” they will continue the educational series with new reports this spring from Russia, Nigeria, and Florida.

International Stories of Love: Mariam Aghayan & Tayler Rose

Tayler & Mariam. Photo by Sarah of Flytography
Tayler & Mariam. Photo by Sarah of Flytography

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.

Tayler was assigned to be roommates with one of my best friends from college, Noah. When I needed to go grocery shopping one time, Noah asked if I would mind having his roommate come along. Of course I said I wouldn’t mind, since what’s the big deal about going grocery shopping! Long story short, Tayler ended up teasing Noah a few times and that made me laugh. The following night, Tayler asked me out to dance at a local salsa club.

Both of us came to Berlin with the idea of immersing ourself in a new culture, taking interesting courses, and making new friends. Notably, neither of us were interested in getting into a relationship abroad. It just so happened to work out that we simply liked each other so much that we said we might as well try. Agreeing to date Tayler ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made.

We ended up being enrolled in two of the same courses (being able to excel academically together was important to me) and then having the opportunity to travel to places like Italy or Poland together was beyond surreal. I am Armenian and there are more Armenians outside of Armenia than inside our country, so Tay ended up meeting one of my uncles in Poland before he even met my immediate family after our study abroad program had ended.

During our spring break this year, we had planned a trip to Denmark and Lithuania, and Tayler ended up surprising me with tickets to Berlin. I suggested we go to our favorite food place in Berlin, Mustafa’s, and because we were so hungry, we both ordered the largest possible version of the dish, which is a huge durum. Of course, we ate the entire thing, and once we got back home Tayler promptly said, “Well, I’m going to put on my suit. Do you want to put on that dress you brought?” I struggled to get into my form-fitting dress after that huge meal, but somehow it all worked out in the end.

We got dressed up and heading towards the car waiting for us outside. I had no clue where we were going, as Tayler had been stubborn and wouldn’t disclose the location to me at any cost. I recognized the location we were dropped off at, Victoria Park, and we proceeded to walk up the hill, in my 5 inch heels and long train, since I had no clue where I was about to go. Once we got to the very top, Tayler offered to take selfies. He pretended that he didn’t like the lighting on the photos and suggested we ask a stranger to take a picture of us. I was a bit skeptical when Tayler approached the only woman with two professional cameras draped around her torso, but went along with it. The random woman was the lovely Sarah, who introduced herself as a professional photographer who happened to be at the same venue awaiting a different couple’s arrival in 20 minutes, but was kind enough to offer to take a few pictures of us with her camera in the meantime. We happily agreed, but my skepticism didn’t go away. She told us to pretend that she wasn’t there and when we walked a little further away, Tayler got down on one knee and proposed to me.

The proposal. Photo by Sarah of Flytography
The proposal. Photo by Sarah of Flytography

Even just writing about this still seems surreal to me. He flew me to the city where it all started for us and he got down on one knee at Victoria Park, right by CIEE, where we used to go on walks. I cannot believe I’m going to get to marry my best friend this summer and three of our groomsmen will be our friends from CIEE! I have our program to thank for the circumstances where we both met. We are now are planning on flying Yerevan, Armenia, my home, to celebrate our wedding with all of our friends and family this summer. Our journey has been incredible so far, and we have been blessed to travel to many countries together, but Berlin will always hold a special place in our heart. I do know that no matter where we are in the world, be that the U.S., Armenia, or Tanzania, I will always be home as long as I’m with Tayler.

In Berlin. Photo by Sarah of Flytography
In Berlin. Photo by Sarah of Flytography