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11 posts categorized "Teach Abroad Alumni"

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

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

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Julee Powers

(CIEE Teach Abroad, Spain, 2013 - 2014)

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




Franziska Hodde

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

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




Mariam Aghayan & Tayler Rose

(CIEE Study Abroad, Berlin, Spring 2017)

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



Olesya Baranova 

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

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



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

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

International Stories of Love: Julee Powers

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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.

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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. 


CIEE Teach Abroad Alum Leads Girls' Health Project in Kenya

The Alum of the Month for October is CIEE Teach Abroad alumna Alyssa O’Connor. After graduating from Cornell University, Alyssa taught English in Thailand in 2013 to first, second, and third grade children in Chanthaburi. She now looks back on her experience as a time of growth and cultural immersion as she is about to embark on her next adventure abroad.

Alyssa with students in Thailand
Alyssa with students in Thailand

“Looking back, teaching English was the best decision I could have made for myself and I am so grateful for this organization. I enjoyed the chance to live and work abroad, immersing myself in another culture versus just traveling through it. At the end of my program, I found myself asking, 'Did I come to teach? Or did I come to be taught?' I learned so much from my kids, as well as my fellow Thai teachers, that I knew working internationally was the direction in life I wished to proceed. Taking the confidence and skills I gained from CIEE, I started working on my next opportunity to go abroad and am so happy to share this project with you.

"In January, I will be going to Kenya for three months as a menstrual health management project leader with Cross World Africa, a non-profit dedicated to ending inequality in East Africa. All over the world, menstruation persists as a taboo subject that is not discussed within the home and is largely skipped over in school. When girls reach puberty, many are left confused and scared about what is happening in their body. To make matters worse, many girls can't afford sanitary products and resort to using improper materials, like mattress stuffing and old newspapers, which leads to infections and missed school. Lack of education on menstrual hygiene management, as well as lack of access to sanitary products, are just two parts of a vicious cycle that negatively affect girls who already face enough barriers to their education and empowerment. This summer, Cross World Africa secured a partnership with Ruby Life Ltd., a socially-minded, menstrual health company that makes a product called Ruby Cup. Working together, the goal of this project is provide educational workshops and a menstrual cup to empower girls to make healthy decisions for their bodies.”

In just a few short months, Alyssa will be traveling to Kenya to lead the three-month-long project - Ruby in the Rift - in the Rift Valley. Though it will be a challenging time for Alyssa with new language barriers and cultural barriers to overcome, she has already developed the skills to adjust through her CIEE Teach Abroad experience in Thailand. Alyssa is ready for her next teaching experience abroad on a new continent - a great new adventure. Learn more about the project and read the CIEE shout-out on her project leader page!

Alumni Voices: Amy Sininger

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

CIEE Alumni Interview: Amy Sininger

#myCIEEstory: Katrina Boratko, Study Abroad & Teach Abroad Alum

Photo - Katrina with Mamas

For our new series, #myCIEEstory, we asked CIEE alumni Katrina Boratko to share how her CIEE program has impacted her life. Katrina participated in CIEE Study Abroad in Senegal and Teach Abroad in Thailand, and she now works at a San Francisco-based nonprofit, Mama Hope. 


August Alum of the Month: Sarah Sanderson, International Exchange Advocate & Rotary Peace Fellow

Sarah Sanderson exemplifies the spirit of international exchange. She is an alumna of multiple CIEE programs and a Fulbright fellow; most recently, she is the recipient of a Rotary International Peace Fellowship for 2015-16, and a winner of the U.S. Citizen Diplomacy Challenge.

Continue reading "August Alum of the Month: Sarah Sanderson, International Exchange Advocate & Rotary Peace Fellow" »

Ask an Alum: Attending Graduate School in Spain

Fallon Wagner taught in Spain with CIEE in 2014. Her move to Spain led her to pursue a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in International Education at the University of Alcalá in Spain.

We asked Fallon about her experience with teaching in Spain and pursuing a graduate degree abroad:

CIEE: Why did you choose to teach in Spain with CIEE?

Fallon: I was working in San José, Costa Rica as an English teacher when I heard about the CIEE Teach Abroad program. Since I had spent some time in Central and South America (I studied abroad in Argentina during my undergrad), I knew that I wanted to gain some experience working in Europe. I was also interested in the program because I would be working in public schools in Spain. This was radically different from my previous teaching experience, so I was excited for the opportunity.    Fallon_Masters

My cohort for Master’s degree in International Education.

Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in International Education at the University of Alcalá in Spain?

When I moved to Spain, a friend from my undergrad was enrolled in the Master’s program at the University of Alcalá. After researching the program, I learned that it was a free bilingual Master’s degree that only takes one year to complete. I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in study abroad and higher education, and this program was an excellent fit for me. Half of my classes were taught in Spanish and half of my classes were taught in English. I knew this would be a great way for me to advance my Spanish skills, particularly in writing. I chose the Master’s degree in International Education because this program was geared towards students who plan to be directors and administrators for international schools. Therefore, this Master’s degree would be especially useful if I plan to work in study abroad.     Fallon_UniversityUniversidad de Alcalá de Henares

What was the process of applying to graduate school outside of the United States like?

It was not as difficult as I originally anticipated. The process was very similar to what I had to do to get my student visa for the CIEE program that I completed the year before. Much of the process is the same as applying to a program in the United States. I needed to provide my official transcripts, a copy of my Bachelor’s degree diploma, my resume, as well as my application and internship form. My GRE scores were not needed. Since this was a program outside of the U.S., I also needed to provide a copy of my passport and fill out a health questionnaire. Once I was accepted to the program, I then needed to renew my student visa, which can be done in Spain. While the renewal process can be tedious, we had a program coordinator to help us with any complications.    

Can you explain a little more about your graduate school program?

There are four different tracks to choose from in my program: Master in International Education, Master in Bilingual Education, Master in Teaching, and Máster en Aprendizaje y Enseñanza del Español como Lengua Extranjera.

While my Master’s program is technically “free,” this is only possible through our internship as a Language and Cultural Assistant. Normally, Language and Cultural Assistants receive a €1000 monthly stipend from the Spanish Ministry of Education. In our program, we receive between €580 and €750 monthly stipend depending on our number of internship hours. Therefore, the rest of our stipend is applied to our Master’s degree program fees.Fallon_design course

 In one of our classes, we practiced different methods to create second language acquisition through project based learning. In this project, Group 1 had to describe to Group 2 how to position themselves to recreate the “rock star” picture above without showing them the picture.

Do you have plans to stay in Spain after your graduate school program?

Many students opt to stay in Spain or work abroad elsewhere after the program is finished. If students stay in Spain, they have the option to stay with their school for another year, or they can move to a Spanish public school. Other students will pursue teaching careers in Asia and the Middle East, as some require a Master’s degree to enter their specific teaching program. Since I now have three years of teaching experience as well as my Master’s in International Education, I plan to return to the U.S. and pursue a career in work or study abroad in higher education.   

Do you have advice for CIEE alumni who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree abroad?

While I highly recommend pursuing a graduate degree abroad, students should know that the accreditation process for a Master’s degree outside of the U.S. is a long and tedious process. I will not be able to request my official transcripts until September, and then I have a long process of having them translated, apostilled, and accredited by a third party provider.

“The most important characteristics needed to complete a Master’s degree abroad are open-mindedness and flexibility. With these two traits, no challenge is too great to overcome.”

Overall, I still highly recommend it. It takes hard work and dedication, but completing a Master’s degree is a great career move no matter what industry you plan to pursue. There are certainly cultural barriers that I have encountered during my two years in Spain, but this has also provided me with a way to better develop my intercultural competence. The most important characteristics needed to complete a Master’s degree abroad are open-mindedness and flexibility. With these two traits, no challenge is too great to overcome.  

Want to learn more about teaching in Spain? Check out Fallon’s blog for the CIEE Teach Abroad program. 

Ask an Alum: Applying for a Fulbright Research/Study Scholarship

Stephen Okin is an alum of multiple CIEE programs: he participated in three sessions of the CIEE Summer Language & Culture program in Seville, Spain, as well as the Teach in Spain and TEFL certification programs in 2014. Stephen is currently an MA candidate in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, where he also works as a research assistant. In 2010-11, he received a Fulbright scholarship through the U.S. Student Program to pursue a master’s degree in Integration Studies at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus in Barbados. 

(Photo credit for all photos: Stephen Okin) 

CIEE: Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright scholarship?

SO: I never studied abroad as an undergraduate, instead choosing to spend a semester at Hamilton’s program in Washington, D.C. As such, when I was looking at my post-graduation options, I had a strong urge to travel and see the world like so many of my classmates had done before. On top of this desire, I had a long-standing interest in Western Hemisphere affairs and knew that going overseas would allow me to experience the region first hand as well as help me professionally in the years to come. These two threads, however, wouldn’t have led me to the Fulbright if it hadn’t been for the counsel of a friend at the State Department, who told me about his experience as a Fulbright scholar and urged me to apply.  

CIEE: How did your CIEE program/experience inform or influence your decision to apply for Fulbright?

SO: I completed my Fulbright before going on my CIEE adventures. However, my experience in Barbados only fed my travel bug and ultimately led me to CIEE. During my time in the Caribbean, I discovered I enjoyed learning about new cultures and the challenge of being “outside my comfort zone.” Moreover, I found the colonial history between Europe and the region fascinating which, when coupled with my desire to learn another language, ultimately caused me to choose Spain as my next destination.

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CIEE: What was the focus of your Fulbright scholarship?

SO: My Fulbright experience was a bit unconventional. Most grant recipients right out of their undergraduate studies either teach English abroad or pursue a specific research proposal that they complete in collaboration with a local partner in-country. For my grant, I enrolled in a Masters program in Integration Studies at the University of the West Indies. The program examines regional integration initiatives around the world, with a strong focus on the Caribbean’s two integration projects: the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). As part of the program’s requirements, I completed a 3-month internship with the Regional Security System (RSS), which is a regional security organization comprising Barbados and the OECS member states. During my time there I wrote a report on the RSS and citizen security in the Caribbean and presented it at the United Nations Development Programme’s consultation event for the 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report in St. Lucia in September 2011.

FulbrightStephen (left) with Mr. James Goggin, the Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Barbados (2010). 

CIEE: What advice would you give to CIEE alums interested in applying for a Fulbright scholarship?

SO: The primary thing to remember is that the Fulbright program was designed to facilitate cultural exchange between the United States and other countries. Ideal candidates, therefore, will embrace the opportunity to act as an ambassador between two cultures. As far as the actual application process goes, I can only speak to the process of applying for a research/study grant. In my experience, the most important part about applying for a Fulbright is making a case for why whatever it is you want to do in your chosen country can only be done there. For example, no one gets a Fulbright to go study French in France; you can learn French anywhere. A more realistic proposal would be to go conduct field research on the impact immigrants are having on the French language today and what that means for French identity in the 21st century. What’s more, your proposal must make sense given your background. For instance, the above example would make no sense coming from an applicant like me because I have never studied French and nothing in my history suggests an interest in France, linguistics, or identity theory. You have to pick a project that is an obvious continuation of previously expressed interests. Last, you should explain how completing your project will support Fulbright’s mission statement of cultural exchange after you finish your grant. This could be by advancing your professional interests (such as teaching or working on the subject); by continuing your studies (it motivates you to pursue an advanced degree); or by volunteering for a related cause/staying engaged in some other manner. There’s obviously a lot more that goes into a successful application, but satisfy these three things and you’re well on your way!


If you’re a CIEE alum, check out our LinkedIn group to connect with alumni in your field or city, including over 100 past and current Fulbright scholars. 

Alumni Photo Essay: Teaching at Anubanchonburi School

Sarah Schu and Saleem Ahmed are photographers, travelers, and CIEE alums. They both taught at Anubanchonburi School through CIEE Teach in Thailand in 2011. Today, Sarah is a freelance photographer and co-founder of Live Seasoned, a nature-inspired lifestyle blog, and Saleem is an adjunct professor at Temple University, as well as a working artist. This photo essay highlights their experience teaching in Thailand, as well as their travels and personal projects after CIEE. 



Students at the Anubanchonburi Primary School shower local monks with food in honor of King's Day. (Photo: Sarah Schu) 

“Saleem and I could not have been happier with our school placement and the teaching situation,” says Sarah. 

SarahSchu_2Kindergarten students from Anubanchonburi Primary School visit a local zoo for a class field trip. (Photo: Sarah Schu)

Saleem - backpack photo(Photo: Saleem Ahmed)

Saleem - students photoStudents from Anubanchonburi Primary School. (Photo: Saleem Ahmed)


After they finished teaching for a semester, Sarah and Saleem traveled to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, and India. 


Sarah traveling in India adorned with decorative mehndi, or henna. (Photo: Saleem Ahmed)

“We lived out of little backpacks and stayed at $10 hotels most of the trip.”

SaleemAhmed_2 While traveling in Vietnam, Sarah met many friendly locals, from construction workers to tribal guides to the fruit seller seen here.

Saleem - travels

(Photo: Saleem Ahmed)


Sarah standing atop a ridge in the middle of Halong Bay, Vietnam. 


After returning to the US, Saleem began a Master’s program for fine art photography, and started teaching at Temple University as an adjunct professor.

East Philly SaleemImages from a recent project by Saleem, 'East Philly'. 

Last August, he finished his MFA, and has continued his career at Temple, where he teaches multimedia storytelling and editing. When not teaching, he works as an artist and photographer. 

"To this day, I still recommend CIEE/teaching abroad to my graduating students. I think that the life experiences of traveling and working abroad helped me in so many different ways. I was able to build lasting relationships, navigate through new cultures, and also it allowed me the breather I needed after finishing up my undergraduate degree. I still work on projects internationally, and my experience in Thailand only helps with continuing that other work."

- Saleem 

Sarah is the co-founder of Live Seasoned, a nature-inspired lifestyle blog, and a freelance photographer

Sarahnature1Photo from Sarah Schu's blog, Live Seasoned


Are you a CIEE alum with a story to share? Email 

Alumni Voices: Kelsey Wetherbee, Teach in Chile Alumna

This month’s Alumni Voices feature comes from CIEE alum Kelsey Wetherbee, who studied abroad with CIEE in 2008 in Alicante, Spain, and participated in the CIEE Teach in Chile program in Valparaiso in 2011. She is now back in Valparaiso, teaching English to Chilean cadets preparing to become naval officers. 

I’ve always been interested in other cultures. When I was little, my best friends were always from different backgrounds, cultures, and races. In high school, I helped start an international club for exchange students who were studying for a year in the United States. While deciding what college to attend, a strong study abroad program was always an important factor to me. 

DSCN0140Kelsey in Alicante, Spain during her study abroad program. All photos by Kelsey Wetherbee. 

When the time finally came, I chose to study abroad with CIEE in Alicante, Spain. Although well prepared by CIEE and my university, I was terrified and excited at the same time. When I got on the plane, I think I cried all the way from United States to Madrid. The experience in Alicante was eye-opening. They were some of the best, but also most challenging, days of my life. 

My first taste of being abroad had left me wanting more. All I wanted to do was travel again.

When I went home after my semester was over, I felt glad to be in the United States, but unsatisfied by the experience. My first taste of being abroad had left me wanting more. All I wanted to do was travel again. It was not long after I returned from studying abroad that I was already preparing for my next adventure. While I loved Spain, I wanted to experience another country, and still be able to practice Spanish. That is how I decided that Chile would be my next destination.

A few months after I graduated, I found myself on a plane to Santiago, Chile. This time, there were fewer tears and more excitement for the adventure that awaited me. I taught English through the CIEE Teach in Chile program in the historic port town of Valparaiso. I taught at a professional institute, and let me tell you, you don’t know fear until you show up on your first day with twenty students who are the same age as you waiting for you to begin class. But after a few minor mishaps, I found my way as a teacher. During my time in Valparaiso, I fell in love with the city and the country. So much so, that I decided that after my year of teaching English was finished, I was not ready for the experience to be over. I stayed another year. 

Last days in chile 004Kelsey (left) with a Chilean friend in Valparaiso, Chile. 

After my second year in Chile, I returned to the United States to experience professional life in the States. But it was too late; I was already a chilena de corazón, and always felt South America calling me back. So after a year in the States, I decided that it was time to return to my second home, Chile. If it weren’t for the experiences and support that CIEE provided me, I would not have had the courage to commit to a year of teaching English in a foreign country. I would not have experienced the roller coaster ride that is living in Chile. While I still struggle with the language – as many Chileans will tell you, they don’t speak Spanish, they speak “Chileno,” – I love this country. From the crazy fast buses called micros to dancing the traditional cueca during the Independence Day celebration, and everything in between, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

DSCN2087Valparaiso, Chile. 

Did your experience with CIEE have an impact on your life? Let us know! Email