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87 posts categorized "Study Abroad Alumni"

Study Abroad Opens Academic Doors for History Major

by Mackenzie Kalisiewicz (CIEE Study Abroad, Fall 2015, Warsaw, Poland)

In the fall of 2015, I traveled to Warsaw, Poland through CIEE to study history. I was able to explore the country where my family roots originated. I used this experience to heighten my education while creating memories I will never forget.


Traveling to Poland was my first time leaving the United States. When I arrived in Warsaw, I was greeted by the smiling faces of the CIEE directors and a student helper who attended the Warsaw School of Economics. Each of us in the program were given a helper to show us around the city and to give us advice. This helper was welcoming and guided everyone in our group to make sure our time in Poland was memorable.

The most influential class I took while in Poland was “Jews in Poland and the Holocaust.” Being a part of that class was an eye-opening experience that I will never forget. I learned about the Jewish culture in Poland and Eastern Europe from 966 A.D., when Poland became a Christian country, to today. That course, along with another history course, helped me identify the topic of history I would like to focus my studies on in the future. At some point, I would like to go to graduate school to study Eastern European History, with an emphasis on Polish history.


On the weekends, I was able to take advantage of exploring different countries by bus and train. Being my first time in Europe, I took advantage of this opportunity. One of the best weekends I had was in Vilnius, Lithuania. I traveled to Lithuania with my roommate and we met people from Australia, Germany, Spain, Latvia, and Scotland. One person we met though our time there was a historian studying in Riga, which was a pleasant coincidence. Aside from the people we met, we got to see beautiful sights. I would not have been able to travel to Lithuania if it were not for my semester abroad.


As a group, us CIEE students went on special trips to Kraków and Gdansk. These city explorations were designed to inform us about different regions of Poland and also to study the history of the area. In Kraków, we visited the Kazimierz district and Wawel Castle, then visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Gdansk, we visited the Solidarity Museum and walked around the Old Town. Being a history major, I enjoyed the tours we were given; they opened my eyes to a history that is not taught in America.

During my semester abroad, I used a book to document experiences and facts either learned along the way or during tours. By the time I went home, I was able to fill the book about halfway with unforgettable moments. The majority of the book consists of historical facts from different countries that I learned on tours. My directors suggested doing this at the beginning of the program and I chose to do so because I wanted a way to remember as much as possible from that experience.


All in all, I owe a lot to CIEE for giving me an opportunity to explore a country's history that I was formerly unaware of. My study abroad experience has guided me to identify what I want to do in the future - explore Eastern European history further and make a career out of it - because I believe people should be more informed about the history of countries in this region.


Study Abroad Opens Doors to the World: How One CIEE Alum Returned to India

By Priya Charry (CIEE Study Abroad, Hyderabad, India, 2013)

In my junior year of college, most of my friends studied abroad in well-known locations in Europe or South America. I decided that I wanted to go to a lesser-known destination. The desire for a unique and immersive experience, combined with my family's Indian heritage, led to India as my country of choice for a study abroad program.

As I researched options in India, CIEE Hyderabad emerged as the best fit. The Arts & Sciences program allowed me to study humanities with students from across the U.S. while exploring India through field trips and homestays. Hyderabad is centrally located in the country, allowing for affordable plane, train, and bus travel to many other cities. I was able to travel extensively during my semester there. All of these factors contributed to the amazing semester I had with CIEE Hyderabad!

Golconda Fort
Golconda Fort

Hyderabad is a dynamic, diverse city with something for everyone. There are remnants of the former Nizams (sovereigns of Indian states) in the palaces, tomb complexes, and the sprawling fort. You can explore stunning rock formations and hiking trails, visit a number of temples and mosques, and have some of the best food in all of India – Hyderabadi biryani! There are also a number of new breweries, pubs, restaurants, and stores. A lot of the recent development has been in the technology sector, with high-rise office buildings and eateries popping up in my neighborhood – Hitech City. This is a well-developed neighborhood with students, workers, and visitors from all over the country, and the world!

In Hyderabad, I felt like I had found a place where I could make a real difference. This affinity for India – the people, the geography, the music and art, the food – reinforced my connection to my distant Indian heritage. When my study abroad term ended, I made a commitment to return to India, either for extended study or work opportunities.

CIEE group
Priya and other CIEE students studying in Hyderabad

After college, I earned my master's degree in Library and Information Science and worked as a librarian in Boston. My work involved one-on-one interactions with communities and individuals to fulfill their various information needs. Unfortunately, these kinds of services are not widely available in most of India. I decided that I wanted to learn about the NGO/nonprofit sector in India and how my future career as a librarian and a public servant could unfold there. However, there were not many opportunities for early-career librarians to work in libraries in an international context. I learned more about the available options and found a fellowship that would take me there.

In September of 2017, almost five years after my semester abroad, I returned to India as a participant in the William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India, a ten-month service fellowship through the American India Foundation. When applying for this fellowship, I emphasized my experience in Hyderabad and my current work interests. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that one of the available placements was for an arts-based program at a nonprofit in Hyderabad – a perfect fit! In my interviews with the fellowship staff and with the nonprofit itself, I found that my prior experience in the city was a huge bonus in the selection process. It made the settling-in process a whole lot smoother, allowing me to jump into my work much sooner with a baseline degree of knowledge. It also demonstrated that I was willing and eager to create a fulfilling life here and make close connections with the community. The introductory Hindi course that I took during my semester abroad also proved to be very helpful while traveling during my current fellowship. It gave me a solid foundation for the language and, most importantly, taught me how to read the Devanagari script.

AIF Fellows
American India Foundation fellows

It felt a little uncanny, at first, to be in India again. I knew I would benefit from extended professional experience in India, so I was excited to return. However, so much has changed in the past five years! From infrastructure (with the new Hyderabad metro under construction) and technology (with apps ruling daily life), it took a couple weeks to acclimate to my new home and to shift from the mindset of a temporary student to an adult employee. And without a network of students/fellows in the same city, I felt a bit isolated during the first few weeks. But it was a huge relief to know that I had my CIEE host family just across the city, welcoming me with open arms.

Soon after I arrived in Hyderabad, I made a visit to my host mom and her daughter. It felt like nothing had changed (except my host sister, who had grown about a foot taller!). After reconnecting with my host family and CIEE staff, I felt much more at home and ready to settle into ten months of work. Both my host mom and I work full-time in different parts of the city, making it difficult to find time to see each other, but we message often and get together when we can. I'm so grateful for this relationship during this fellowship.

Host family
Priya (center) with CIEE student (left) and host family

My fellowship placement is at the nonprofit organization Youth4Jobs, which runs a national network of placement-linked employment skills centers for youth with disabilities. My project, Not Just Art, is a new startup of the organization. We work with artists with disabilities to promote and sell their artwork online, ensuring sustainable livelihoods for them and their families. We also hold art workshops for children with disabilities in local schools. The project became operational last year and is off to a great start!

My work requires interaction with colleagues in our office and with artists across the country. Though much of the work is based in my office, I have had the opportunity to visit artists at their homes, represent the organization at events, and even lead an art workshop for visually impaired children. These interactions with the community remind me why I came back to India and why I want to work here long-term. I am gaining valuable skills in my project management role, from web development to curriculum development to social media management. These skills are not tied to an Indian context, but will be helpful in any future work environment.

NJA workshop
Priya conducting a workshop in India

Generations of Exchange: A Mother & Son Share Their CIEE Experiences

Viv_eli_collage_2We know that an international exchange experience can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. We’ve seen alumni go on to have inspiring careers, create change in their communities, become advocates of exchange, and talk about their experiences for years. But did you know how much of an impact a CIEE experience could have on the people around you?

At the Masket household, study abroad is generational. Stories of Vivian’s cultural encounters in Russia were passed onto her son Eli, building the foundation for his life of wanderlust. Further inspired by a few international travels with the family, Eli took the first opportunity he could to have a study abroad experience like his mother. It was through the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program that Eli had his own international experience to talk about for generations.

St Basil's Moscow

It started in 1992 when Vivian Masket studied abroad with CIEE in St. Petersburg, Russia. At that time, the country had just begun to open up after decades of communist rule. Her summer was an immersive experience that brought assumptions, biases, and misunderstandings to light to form true connections between Americans and Russians during a delicate time in history. And was, ultimately, a period of immeasurable personal development. She remarks, “I learned that I had to dive in and be vulnerable in order to figure things out, whether it was approaching a stranger and using my language skills to ask for help in planning a subway route or mustering up the courage to bargain with a street vendor to buy the perfect nesting doll set to bring home as a gift. I also learned that studying a country’s language, culture, and history is no match for the learning that comes from immersing yourself in that country, experiencing life there firsthand, and hearing the stories of those for whom that country is home.”

Vivian at Peterhof
Vivian at Peterhof Palace

Many memories were created in Russia – experiences with a lasting impact that turned into stories told for decades in the household. So much so that, even after 25 years, the memories of Vivian’s time abroad are strong. She recalls, “It was really a fascinating time to have been in Russia. We lived in dormitories with the other American students on the program, so had to seek out opportunities to interact with Russians in order to practice our speaking and listening skills outside of our classes and group excursions. […] One day, a friend and I were returning to the dorm from the nearby metro station and were stopped on the sidewalk by an elderly gentleman who spent well over half an hour sharing his experience as a ‘blockadnik,’ a resident of St. Petersburg who had survived the German blockade of the city during World War II.” It was through study abroad that Vivian recognized the value of travel and language-learning in developing a deeper understanding of the world – a sentiment she later shared with her son, Eli.

The household conversations of cultural understanding, language learning, and adventure inspired Eli to develop a passion for languages and cultures of the world – especially China. He chose to attend the Denver Center for International Studies so he could begin Chinese language studies in the sixth grade and, after a few trips with his family, was ready to go abroad on his own. Like Vivian, Eli wanted something more out of his international travels this time – an immersive experience that facilitated personal growth and strengthened language skills.

Vivian knew that for Eli, studying abroad was more of a “when” than an “if.” She wasn’t surprised when he approached her about the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program in Shanghai. “I talked to my Chinese teacher about summer abroad programs, and she recommended CIEE to me. I went home to speak with my parents about this program, and my mother told me she had gone to Russia in college with CIEE,” he said. “I had been dreaming of studying abroad for many years, and I finally could!”

Vivian was excited for her son to have a study abroad experience himself, especially with the enhanced cultural immersion practices of CIEE’s programs today. “When we investigated the program, I was thrilled to learn that he would have an even richer experience than I did, given the homestay aspect of the program.”


In the summer of 2017, the time finally came for Eli to have a study abroad experience of his own, and it was the kind of transformation he was hoping for. “Through my study abroad experience, my vocabulary improved, as well as my overall comfort level with the use of Mandarin. I also became a more outgoing person. At the beginning of my experience, I felt as if conversation with local residents was awkward and forced. However, I later learned that there was nothing to fear, and being outgoing can only benefit a situation. By becoming more outgoing, I grew as a person and became more independent.”

Vivian noticed this transformation in her son when he returned. She says, “Eli has always been very independent and studying abroad fed that side of him, providing him with the opportunity to be on his own and to navigate a new place geographically, linguistically, and culturally.” Like Vivian experienced in St. Petersburg, Eli’s time in Shanghai solidified for him the opportunities for growth and understanding that come from experiencing another culture and an unfamiliar – a now multigenerational understanding in the Masket household.

Needless to say, study abroad is already on Eli’s mind again. Although he is years away from college, Eli is eager to build upon his knowledge of international cultures and languages, specifically in China. In the future, he hopes to spend a semester abroad in China to experience the country and culture in greater depth. He’s also begun studying Spanish in hopes to experience studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country as well.


For all our readers out there thinking about studying abroad in high school, Eli and Vivian have offered their advice from the perspective of a parent and a student.

Advice for Parents, From Vivian:

“While it can be scary to think about sending your child thousands of miles away, possibly to a place you’ve never been, the benefits of study abroad are worth overcoming that fear. Your child will not only acquire language skills, but will become more independent, and will gain a global perspective that is simply not possible to gain without the opportunity for extended living in another country.  Warning: you child might also come home with the ‘travel bug’ (a love for travelling) and ask you when they can go abroad next!”

Advice for Applicants, From Eli:

“To all students considering studying abroad, my advice is to simply do it. Many students have concerns and worries about studying abroad, but in the end, it is so worth it. Worried about cost? CIEE has various scholarships and fundraising isn’t as difficult as it seems. Scared of travelling far away from home? Soon enough, you’ll feel as if your home is abroad. Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience that I would recommend to all students.”

Learn more about how study abroad can impact you, your high school student, and generations of global citizens. Visit the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad website to get started.

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)

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.”

Photo comp
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


CIEE Study Abroad alumni Winnie Andrews and Michael LoJacono spoke alongside other American expats for a lecture at CIEE Paris last month. They presented about their own career paths that brought them to Paris, the challenges and advantages to living and working in France, whether they feel like they belong in France and if they belong anymore in the U.S., and the differences between being an expat and an immigrant. Current CIEE Study Abroad students asked the alumni a range of questions to paint their own picture about expat life in France, such as different types of work contracts, navigating the French healthcare system, and what to pack for a move abroad! It was an excellent opportunity for current students to learn about building a career in France after studying abroad there.

Check out this video clip below to hear a piece of the conversation!


Two CIEE Study Abroad Alumni Make Documentary about South African Comedy

Meg & hannah

The Alumni of the Month for November are Hannah Rafkin and Meg Robbins, CIEE Study Abroad alumni and recent Bowdoin College graduates who studied in Cape Town, South Africa in 2015. After an amazing experience abroad, the two friends fantasized about returning to Cape Town in a meaningful way. Two years later, they are back in South Africa, working on a documentary about the stand-up comedy scene and how it’s bringing new means of expression for speakers of lesser-known languages in the country. We interviewed them to learn more about their exciting documentary and how study abroad inspired the project:

What attracted you to Cape Town?
We both attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – a small liberal arts school of 1,800 students. The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a large research university in a major city, so we were excited to experience pretty much the polar opposite of what we were used to. We also both majored in English and wanted an opportunity to study non-European and non-American literature written in English. Beyond that, we were obviously attracted by the beauty of the city. The city/mountain/ocean combination definitely appealed to us. But that was an added benefit –we were definitely looking to broaden our perspectives and learn about the history and the current challenges South Africa faces. We wanted to have conversations that we wouldn’t ordinarily have at Bowdoin, or any other place for that matter.

What did learning abroad offer that you could not have received on campus?
The most powerful learning experiences we had in Cape Town were not in the classroom. We were lucky enough to experience the start of the #FeesMustFall campaign, a student-led protest that took South Africa’s universities by storm and has continued to evolve since. UCT students organized to demand their right to free education and to protest the treatment of black students and workers. This movement was literally unfolding at our doorstep. One of our resident advisors was arrested for peacefully protesting and spent the night in jail. Students held posters with slogans that their parents’ generation used in anti-apartheid protests. Our finals ended up getting delayed, but it was absolutely worth it to be immersed in this political moment. Witnessing political action and dialogue on such a high level was a unique experience that we knew we’d never get in Brunswick, Maine.

About the project:
As longtime comedy fans, we watched a lot of stand-up while we were in Cape Town. It was exciting to listen to comedians responding to current events and the historical context of South Africa. At this time, Trevor Noah was just starting to take over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, so that became a frequent point of connection between us and South Africans we’d meet. We had a lot of discussions with South Africans about the role of comedy in confronting political corruption and difficult histories, and these talks got us thinking more deeply about the comedy occurring in our own nation.

After returning to Bowdoin, we continued having these conversations, and we were constantly itching to get back to South Africa in a meaningful way. Halfway through our senior year, President Trump was inaugurated. As our country was delving into chaos, the comedy was getting very, very good. People were turning to SNL, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Samantha Bee. We were deep in thought about this relationship between politics and comedy and kept returning to discussions about how this relationship works in South Africa. One night during one of these talks, the idea for our documentary clicked. We stayed up until 5 a.m. planning and researching – we knew we were hitting on something important and wanted to make it happen.

As we continued to research and talk to South African comedians, we realized that vernacular comedy was the most fascinating genre growing in South African comedy. That’s what we decided to focus on. Vernacular comedy is doubly political – the material confronts messy politics while the medium of mother tongue languages is itself a political protest against the dominance of English and Afrikaans.

What is it like to experience South African comedy?
South African comedy is a huge umbrella term for a variety of performance styles, languages, venues, and themes. Running through them all is an intense energy between the performers and their audience – comedians often repeat to their audiences that comedy works with energy.

We’ve obviously been going to a lot of vernacular comedy shows, and we often get asked what it’s like to experience those gigs when we don’t speak any of the nine indigenous languages that make up the ‘vernacular’ genre. Of course it can be frustrating at times to not understand everything that’s said, but the combination of the palpable energy in the room during these shows and the way the comedians use other linguistic cues and body language – tone of voice, volume, facial expression, hand movements, an English phrase here and there – enables you to sort of pick up on parts of what is going on. You can feel when something is hilarious even if you don’t understand exactly what that is. And sometimes you realize you don’t need a word-for-word translation. We’ve been able to talk to a lot of comedians about their jokes in English. They won’t translate them for us word for word, but they’ll explain the premises. For instance, one of the comics in our film does a joke about his grandfather who still thinks South Africa is under apartheid. Knowing that bit of background and then seeing the audience react as the comedian performs is enough for us to feel like we experienced his set in a meaningful way.

How is comedy challenging the status quo?
In South Africa, stand up has only been a viable art form since the nation became a democracy in 1994 (with the exception of a few white men who performed under apartheid). Since then, it served as a change-maker, a conversation-starter, and a healing tool. In dealing with such a traumatic history and its continuing legacy (South Africa has been rated one of the most unequal nations in the world), laughter has been crucial.

There have been multiple waves of change in post-apartheid comedy. In the early years after 1994, black and coloured comedians began taking the stage for the first time. In more recent years, there has been a surge of female comedians. Now, vernacular comedy – where comics perform in their native language(s) – is the next frontier. This is disrupting the status quo for an obvious reason: the status quo has always been English and Afrikaans.

There are eleven national languages in South Africa, and the majority of its citizens speak some combination of the nine indigenous African languages (Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu). However, English and Afrikaans have remained dominant. It is no coincidence that these were the two official languages under apartheid. The nine indigenous languages are often relegated to the domestic sphere, and are not as well-represented in entertainment, commerce, and public life. But now, comedians are taking to the stage and speaking in their mother tongues as a form of empowerment. By putting these languages in the spotlight, they are amplifying the stories, perspectives and cultures of South Africa’s majority. Vernacular comedy is bringing value to mother tongue languages outside of the domestic sphere, and in turn is helping shape how the languages will be spoken in the future.

What impact has vernacular comedy had?
Though formalized stand-up comedy is a recent phenomenon, humor and storytelling are by no means new in South Africa. But now, vernacular comics are making a living doing this. They are performing sold out shows in front of massive audiences without having to conform to industry pressures to speak English or to discuss certain topics.

As evidenced by enormous fan followings, consistently sold-out events, and booming laughter, South African audiences are ready to see their linguistic diversity represented onstage. We’ve even observed this at ‘English’ comedy shows. A comic will go through the whole arc of a joke in English, and then suddenly crack the punchline in Zulu or Xhosa – the audience explodes.

Comedians and audience members alike often describe comedy as a healing tool – a powerful means of grappling with both personal and political trauma. Vernacular comedians in particular stress the importance of relating to their audiences; they seek to provide them with stories and jokes that are relevant to their daily lives. In a country that has historically shunned the life experiences of its majority, this laughter and connection is especially important.

Learn more about the documentary by watching the video below and visiting their Indiegogo page, where you have the chance to donate to this incredible project!

CIEE Study Abroad Alumni Reflect on the 2017 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad

Image courtesy of Event Photography of North America Corporation.

This year, we were fortunate to have three CIEE Study Abroad alumni invited to participate as Alumni Voices in the 2017 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in Washington, D.C. The Summit, which took place in early October, is part of the Institute of International Education (IIE)'s Generation Study Abroad initiative that aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by 2020. As a partner and luncheon sponsor, CIEE was excited to have these alumni in attendance – sharing their thoughts and experiences about studying abroad and building talent with global experience.

Our alumni reflect on their Summit experience:

“The conference was great - it was so neat getting to meet so many people that work hard on making education easier for all students. A highlight was definitely going to the Norwegian embassy and meeting the ambassador, and getting a selfie with him and IIE president Alan Goodman. It was interesting to me in the sessions I attended that they kept promoting a focus on diversity, but spoke mostly about diversity with different cultures and races, and how important language is for diversity in study abroad. I only briefly heard them speak of disability inclusion with diversity. I was glad to see the people that I met from Ireland wanting to hear about my experience, and wanting to learn about the difficulties. It was interesting to me that several things I pointed out regarding access, they hadn't seemed to notice themselves.”

-Rachel Malone

Image courtesy of Event Photography of North America Corporation.

"The IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad was an amazing experience and I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to attend! I met peers who are creating and accomplishing amazing feats. I had the opportunity to network with trailblazing professionals. I love that IIE is committed to diversity, which was visible throughout the conference. Thank you so much to CIEE and IIE for this opportunity!"

-Breanna Moore


“The crowd was large and purposeful, and it was fun to walk among the goal-oriented without a detailed agenda. In fact, the best way to describe my experience representing students at a conference of industry professionals whose work surrounds students is half celebrity, half specimen. Day one was very hustle-bustle. I got the impression many people were preoccupied with meetings that had been planned far in advance. Day two was more relaxed, and I found it easier to mingle after the crowd had a day to cool down and I had a day to warm up. I ended up meeting some interesting people, exchanged plenty of business cards, and even wrangled some possible work opportunities.

“I'm not a business person. The business side of study abroad never really interested me, so as I witnessed many panels attempting to distill the powerful elements of curiosity, self-discovery and wonder that is study-abroad into concrete figures and language meant for the business world, it crushed me a tad. I see its importance, but I don't play that game, and as a writer, I champion the very opposite: anecdotal evidence. My favorite moments were when I was able to speak to that and use my position as a Summit voice to remind some of the officials that the beauty of study abroad isn't about how much more desirable you are to a corporation after the fact, but rather how much opportunity it allows a young person to grow within themselves in the moment and shake their worldview. In many of the people I talked to, I sensed that appreciation underneath, yet somewhat buried under industry vocabulary and vernacular. I had fun breaking through that and finding real human moments with some very industry-minded people.”

-Thomas Rose

Image courtesy of Event Photography of North America Corporation.

Three CIEE Study Abroad Alumni to Participate in IIE Summit as Generation Study Abroad Voices

This year, three CIEE Study Abroad alumni were invited to participate as Alumni Voices in the 2017 IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in Washington, D.C. from October 1-3. The Summit is part of the Institute of International Education (IIE)'s Generation Study Abroad initiative, of which CIEE is a partner, that aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by 2020. The theme for this year's Summit is "Navigating a Changing World: Building Talent with Global Experience." Studies show that graduates with an international experience find employment faster and are more prepared than those without it, yet less than 10% of U.S. college students graduate with global experience. The Summit will bring together leaders and practitioners from education, business, and government for discussion on global workforce readiness to spark new ideas and creative collaboration to work towards expanding study abroad participation.

As a Generation Study Abroad Alumni Voice, these three CIEE Study Abroad alumni will be contributing their experiences, thoughts, and ideas as individuals who have gone from a study abroad student to a member of a global workforce. Combined, they present skills in photography, advocacy, business, marketing, writing, editing, and more. Click on their bios below to learn more about them, what they plan on contributing to the Summit, and what access to study abroad means to them:



Dublin, Ireland

B.A. in Travel and Hospitality, Minneapolis Business College

Brand Ambassador, Sand Cloud



Legon, Ghana

B.A. in International Relations and African Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Founder and CEO, LaBré



Lisbon, Portugal

B.S. in Professional Writing, Champlain College

Freelance Writer & Editor