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.
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.
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. Universidad 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.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen (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.
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.
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.”
While traveling in Vietnam, Sarah met many friendly locals, from construction workers to tribal guides to the fruit seller seen here.
(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.
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."
Sarah is the co-founder of Live Seasoned, a nature-inspired lifestyle blog, and a freelance photographer.
Are you a CIEE alum with a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Kelsey 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.
Kelsey (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.
Did your experience with CIEE have an impact on your life? Let us know! Email email@example.com.
CIEE Alumni Katie Hale and Katrina Boratko both participated in the CIEE Teach Abroad program in Thailand, and are now pursuing their passion for international development and improving communities in need at San Francisco-based nonprofit Mama Hope. By partnering with local organizations in Africa, Mama Hope works to fund the completion of schools, health clinics, children’s centers, clean water systems, and food security project. Katie and Katrina both credit their CIEE experience as a significant factor in their current career paths.
Katrina’s interest in international development work began after her study abroad semester with CIEE in Senegal in 2008. After her semester abroad, she changed her major from communications to political science; after graduation, she participated in CIEE’s Teach Abroad program in Thailand. Upon returning to her home in San Francisco, Katrina began interning at Mama Hope. She eventually became one of the first fellows in their Global Advocate Fellowship, and now works full-time as their communications manager.
“The cultural immersion experience of being in a small village in Thailand for a year through CIEE really helped me to be effective on the ground in Africa."
“It seemed like a good way to connect the experience I had working in Thailand with where I wanted to go in my international development career,” says Katrina. “The cultural immersion experience of being in a small village in Thailand for a year through CIEE really helped me to be effective on the ground in Africa. I had the experience of having to develop patience… those skills really transferred to everything I was doing in Africa.”
Katie also taught in Thailand through CIEE. She had planned for a six-month placement, but ended up deciding to stay at her school in Thailand for three years. She and Katrina briefly met during a CIEE orientation event in Thailand. Near the end of her last semester in Thailand, Katie noticed a post on Katrina’s blog about the Global Advocate Fellowship with Mama Hope. “I thought, this is something I really want to be a part of,” says Katie. “I really saw the relationship that Mama Hope built with their partner communities, which is based on sharing resources and accessing all of those resources equally.” Katie connected with Katrina via Facebook, and a week after her return to the United States, she found herself in San Francisco for Mama Hope’s fellowship training. Like Katrina, Katie believes that her CIEE experience was invaluable in preparing her for an international development career. “I shared a lot of my experience that I had in Thailand – building capacity within the school, trying to improve teacher retention, and improving the overall learning and teaching environment. CIEE and my year in Thailand really helped me with that.”
“I shared a lot of my experience that I had in Thailand – building capacity within the school, trying to improve teacher retention, and improving the overall learning and teaching environment."
Both Katie and Katrina participated in Mama Hope’s Global Advocate Fellowship, which is 9-month training program built around three phases: US training and funding, in-country field experience and project execution, and US program management and evaluation. ‘Advocates’ receive training in fundraising, public speaking, human-centered design, and more. “We’re really flexible and so a huge part of the program is that people learn what they want to learn. So, I was able to get a lot of really good public speaking skills, fundraising, and event planning, which is a huge part of my job now,” says Katie, who now works as the Global Advocate Program Coordinator at Mama Hope. During her fellowship, Katie helped build a solar computer lab and a classroom in Moshi, Tanzania. Katrina worked on laying the foundation for a children’s rescue center in Kisumu, Kenya during her nine months as a Global Advocate Fellow. Global Advocates finish their fellowship with a capstone project, and they receive support and training from Mama Hope. “I think there’s such a variety of skills that you gain from doing this program… what you’re actually getting out of it is so much more than you could ever imagine.”
Interested in becoming a Global Advocate for Mama Hope? The next application deadline is January 22nd, 2015. Apply on their website, mamahope.org.