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39 posts categorized "Work Exchange Alumni"

ExEgypt: How one CIEE Alumnus is Making Change in his Community

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Alaa Mahmoud, 2016 CIEE Access Scholar, Civic Leadership Summit Fellow, and Work & Travel USA participant

Hello everyone! I’m Alaa Mahmoud from Egypt, a CIEE Work & Travel USA and Civic Leadership Summit 2016 (CLS16) alumnus. I’m currently enrolled as a fourth year medical student in Suez Canal University, Egypt.

ExEgypt Volunteers_Blog

Alaa (red shirt, center) with ExEgypt volunteers

 After taking part in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, participating in CLS16, having the privilege to meet 62 young leaders from all around the world, and getting to know the CIEE staff, I was inspired to launch an organization concerned with environmental and public health issues. While attending the summit, I gained skills that gave me the motivation to create ExEgypt (Exchanging & Empowering Global Youth Potentials & Talents), an initiative involving young children to help create young leaders.

Alaa with ExEgypt Sign_blog

Alaa with the ExEgypt logo

 Since I came back to Egypt, I started thinking with three of my colleagues about how to build something that would have a good impact and make a difference—not only in our community, but all over the world. Therefore, we figured out that society means everything. It's why we started, how we achieve, and whom we'd like to affect. Our practices are directed toward every human being in the society, starting with children and ending with adults. We aim to increase green areas, raise awareness of pollution and public health, and bring to life the idea of recycling and emphasize its significance. We presented the idea to our university administrators and they completely supported us, made some suggestions, and gave us the motivation to start working on that project inside the university and in our city.

Prof. Aziza Omar  ExEgypt_Blog

Professor Aziza Omar, ExEgypt consultant and Vice Dean for Environmental Affairs and Community Service

 Thankfully, many professors offered to volunteer with us and to be supervisors of the project, to make sure it went as we planned. My friends and I were completely responsible for our first green children camp and we organized it using our own money, because we believed in every single step we took. After the great impact of the first camp, many people started asking about our program and how could they help us, either by donation or by volunteering themselves. One touching story is that we got a message from one of the parents thanking us for what we did with their children, and that they started becoming more independent and following a healthier lifestyle because of our camp.

ExEgypt Activity_Blog

ExEgypt campers enjoying an interactive activity

 ExEgypt activities include organizing educational camps for children to increase their knowledge of fundamental topics such as healthy lifestyle, first aid, and keeping the environment clean by planting and recycling. ExEgypt encourages college students to volunteer in community services, organize camps and events, and spread awareness on topics that have a global concern and must be given attention, such as gender equality and global warming. ExEgypt also focuses on conducting workshops by professional trainers on important skills—mainly leaderships skills and how to be change makers. We also organize seasonal schools in the winter and summer for international students, conducting a scientific medical program and a social program showing them around Egypt. We’ve created a Facebook event for our ExEgypt Annual Medical Summer School--maybe some of our international friends would like to participate?

Recycling _ Planting Sessions_Blog

Campers learning about recycling

You can find our Facebook page at this link, where you can have a deeper look at our activities:

You can also check out our video on our first Children Green Camp that we organized, which was free of charge.

2nd Children Green Camp_Blog
Campers and counselors at Green Camp

ExEgypt aims to be the most influential association concerned with environmental issues and public health. This can be measured by seeing our impact on the upcoming generations' behaviors. We also plan to leave a substantial fingerprint on the environment by restoring more green areas and living in a healthier environment.

I am very thankful for the magnificent chance I got from CIEE, which really influenced me as a person and made me a changemaker.  Thank You to all the CIEE Family! 

The Best Summer of My Life: Irfan's Story, part II

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Irfan Tahir, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 Participant from Pakistan

Make sure to read Part I of Irfan's story here.

The summer of 2017 was a summer of intellectual stimulation.

In August, I got selected to participate in the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit to represent my country, Pakistan. The summit’s organizers selected some of the most talented change makers from 40 countries and gave us a chance to share our ideas together during a 3 days event at the American University in Washington D.C. Being a part of this event was one of most exciting yet daunting experiences of my life. Exciting because I was never in a room with so much diversity before in my life. Daunting because every single person was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Every student was full of ideas on how to make the world a better place. I could envision how these students will grow up to become future presidents, prime ministers and CEOs. My team came up with the idea of a start-up called “Lighthouse” which was a pre-college program for students to help them find their passion. Our team won in our group and then we got a chance to represent our group in the final round. This was a huge boost of confidence for me as we had to come up with the idea under limited time and at the same time make it creative. We also had to pitch our idea to random people on campus and ask them if they’d invest in our start up. That was again, a really interesting experience which made me realize that people will always listen if you have something worthwhile to say.

Irfan CLS 2017
Irfan with Civic Leadership Summit fellows and CIEE staff in Washington, D.C.


Irfan WH 2017
With CLS friends in front of the White House

 In addition to gaining inspiration from my fellow Work & Travel USA students, I had the fortunate opportunity to interact with a number of Fulbright scholars from Pakistan, who are studying at some of the most prestigious universities in U.S for their masters program on a full scholarship. As this was my last summer before graduation, talking to these scholars (who were friends of a friend) was decisive for me in a number of ways. They provided me with first-hand information about applying for masters programs in the U.S and a lot of valuable advice which is not available on traditional platforms. What added to my positive interaction with them was the fact that many of them had a similar background as me. For example, one of the scholars was conducting his research in biomedical engineering, the same subject I want to pursue my masters in. Or another scholar was from the same exact high school as mine, currently pursuing her masters at Columbia University. Before last summer, I was quite confused on what to do after graduation, but hearing the stories of these Fulbright scholars who have gone through the same road as me helped me a lot in deciding what direction to go in. I live in Turkey so I don’t think it would’ve been possible to meet them anywhere other than the U.S.

Irfan with Columbia Univ friend
Irfan and his friend from Columbia University at Times Square

The summer of 2017 was the best summer of my life.

An avid soccer (read: football) fan, it’s no surprise that I took the first opportunity I got of buying tickets for the International Champions Cup clash between Barcelona and Juventus at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The stadium has a capacity of 82,500 seats! All in all, it was an unimaginable atmosphere! To see soccer legends like Messi, Neymar and Buffon play live was absolutely unreal for someone who comes from Pakistan, where professional soccer is basically non-existent.

Irfan Barcelona Match
Taking it all in at the match

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really amazing summers. However, nothing can top spending my summer in New York City, living with 30 exchange students from all over the world, travelling to more than 10 states in the U.S and making so many of my dreams come true. I will never forget the absolutely enthralling experiences I had. Now that I’m back home, I am profusely emitting positive vibes and I’m super excited to use what I learned during the summer into practice. The interactions I had this summer taught me that there are no limits. No mountain is too high to climb. No ocean too deep. Life, let’s see what you got. I’m ready!

Irfan Rocky
In Philadelphia living out my “Rocky Balboa” moment!

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

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

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

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

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

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

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

Irfan Hampton Jitney
Irfan with Hampton Jitney co-workers

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

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

The summer of 2017 was a summer of concerts.

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

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

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

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

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

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Modestas Ciparis, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2017 participant

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

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

Base camp
The Flying Moose Lodge base camp

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

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

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

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

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

Modestas at camp!

Peiyi's Oasis in America

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

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

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


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

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


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



598fb5574aa23-DSC00212 (Peiyi)

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



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

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

Boda-Nueva-Orleans-felixfaura-92 - Copy

Julee Powers

(CIEE Teach Abroad, Spain, 2013 - 2014)

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




Franziska Hodde

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

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




Mariam Aghayan & Tayler Rose

(CIEE Study Abroad, Berlin, Spring 2017)

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



Olesya Baranova 

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

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



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

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

International Stories of Love: Olesya Baranova


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

It started as a first love.

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

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

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

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

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

Yet I still loved “someone else” – Russia.

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

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

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

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

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

Changemaker in Action: J-1 Exchange Program Inspires Political Career

Bruxelles EP Traineeship

When we interviewed three-time CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus and Civic Leadership Summit alumnus Paul Runcan from Romania last year, he was pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and advocacy after his exchange experience convinced him to switch from a career in law to politics. His thoughts were, “…even though practicing law would allow me to help those around me, it would only affect a small number, and mostly one at a time. It would take too long to create real change…” Paul made a commitment to politics in order to be the kind of leader that the future depends on. Having an international exchange experience was the catalyst for change.

“I've had a mild interest in politics and public administration for years now, but I was lacking a... call to action, for lack of a better expression; something to get me going. I was, as most people do, watching corruption spread through the administration, thinking that there wasn’t anything I could ever do about it and that's just the way the world works. Even in law school I had colleagues who were very open about wanting to go into politics because ‘that's where the money was.’ It was really frustrating at the time and in a way contributed to the apathy I had towards politics.

“The Civic Leadership Summit was the first time I actually ran into like-minded people – young adults who still had that drive to change things for the better. It showed me that what I wanted to do wasn't a losing battle, that there are plenty of others out there who wanted the same thing I did – a better tomorrow for themselves and for their community. It inspired me to sort of turn my back to the legal system, which was where I aspired to work in until that point, and instead focus on public policies and politics.”

“I strongly believe that international experiences are one of the big keys to solving many of the problems that plague today's society.

Paul has since graduated from West University of Timișoara with a master’s degree in public policies and advocacy and completed a comprehensive analysis of tendencies of transparency in the decision-making process in Romania for his thesis. As a part of his work on transparency, he collaboratively published a political map of the distribution power in the Romanian Parliament that has been an excellent resource to help journalists, interest groups, politicians, and the general public understand who holds power and influence in the country. He is now working as an intern with the General-Directorate for the Presidency at the European Parliament in the transparency unit. Aspects of the role include dealing with Parliament’s relations with interest representatives, working on implementing the Parliament’s transparency policy and helping prepare negotiations on its evolution, and helping to manage the Joint Transparency Register run by the Parliament and the Commission. Paul credits his time in the U.S. as a major inspiration to where his career is today, and believes that it’s an experience that can change the world for the better.

Political map snapshot
snapshot of collaborative political map work 

“I strongly believe that international experiences are one of the big keys to solving many of the problems that plague today's society. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, and so many more, these are all the product of fear and a deep lack of understanding of other cultures. Growing up, most of us are used to living in our own private bubble, our comfort zone and almost never have to leave it. It prevents us from seeing the beauty of the world as it actually is, and makes us uncomfortable with everything that we're not familiar with.  To a certain extent, I understand that it's normal to fear what you don't understand. It's part of human nature. But at the same time, it's the 21st century. We can have access to almost any culture with a few clicks of a button, or a 12-hour flight at the longest. It's impossible to get accustomed to people who are different than you if you don't expose yourself to them, and staying in that safe and cozy bubble you call your comfort zone won't ever let you experience the true beauty this diverse world has to offer. I know it's hard to do so, because I've been through it, but my humble piece of advice is this: Get out, seize every opportunity life puts in your path, force yourself out of your comfort zone and explore the world. The only way we'll ever even begin to solve this world's problems is through mutual understanding, and the only way we'll reach mutual understanding is through international experiences. As cheesy as it sounds, we're the future. It's up to us to make sure we leave this place better than we found it.”

What does mutual understanding look like when on an exchange program? Paul experienced it himself on his first visit in the United States through the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. “Before that, all I knew about it [the U.S.] was from TV, books, and the internet. Somehow, I never met someone from the U.S. before that. Obviously, when I first arrived, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. But once that passed, I began understanding American values, the American work ethic, and I think most importantly the American people. Those I ended up working with began to understand me. Most of them were college students – some fresh out of high school, some had never left their home state, and most had never left the U.S. Of course, they knew about the rest of the world, but in the same way I had known about the U.S. – from books and the internet.”

Working closely with Americans was a big part of Paul’s cultural exchange experience. Friendships were made, cultures were shared, and knowledge was transmitted across a multi-cultural group. “We had traditional meals together, we shared stories and life experiences, and a few friends even started learning Romanian and made plans to visit. […] All of us were different, but we were brought together by, if nothing else at first, the fact that we were open to new experiences.” It was first the exposure to people of other cultures in the workplace and housing that laid the groundwork for mutual understanding, then the willingness to share and receptiveness to learning that made understanding happen.

What Paul learned by staying open to new experiences has changed his behavior and will accompany him on future travels around the world as a global citizen. “[Americans] amazed me by how welcoming they could be to a complete stranger from the far side of the planet. Not once while I was there did I ever feel that I didn’t belong there, and the kindness they showed me there, I now do my best to show to everyone around me. In the end, I think that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the U.S. – kindness towards others will lead to acceptance, which will bring the world together.”

Find out how you can have a life-changing international experience of your own Visit:

Naoel's Work & Travel USA Journey

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

by Naoel Cherif, 2017 CIEE Work & Travel USA alum and CIEE Access Scholar from Tunisia

My name is Naoel and I am from Tunisia! I worked this past summer at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey in Water Park Admissions and as a Game Operator. I was part of a team of 17 people from 8 different nationalities so I was exposed to a difference of culture and traditions every single day. One of the main reasons I participated in Work & Travel USA was to learn more about others and their perception of the world, and hearing about all of their stories, their lives, and their countries was very enriching. Every Thursday I used to go to a party called "international cafe” that was held by my American friends for international students. We would chat about life, religion, food…and eat s'mores (my favorite American snack!). 

Naouel Cherif Smores

I met some amazing people that are now my friends and will remember those nights forever.

In Wildwood, I made friends with whom I traveled with around the U.S. after I finished working. Living and experiencing the American life is completely different from what I was expecting even though I have been to many places around the world. One thing that I was astonished by is how nice people are! They also smile a lot, even if they don't know you!  

In my journey, I was chosen to participate in the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.! I don't even know where to begin to describe how life changing those 4 days were. Cultural understanding was one of the things that marked me forever. I realized how important it is to educate others on those aspects. It gave me the passion, drive and motivation to continue to be involved in my community. I was inspired with many ideas that I could implement in organizations that I am involved with in Tunisia. I want to lead a future generation and help them acquire the sets and skills they need to become creator and innovators and contribute to our country's development.

  Naouel Working on Pitch CLS

This experience opened my eyes and inspired me to take part in my country and be a leader.

I took part a year ago in a social enterprise called Young Tunisian Coders Academy. Its main goal is to develop young kid's technological skills by teaching them coding, robotics and entrepreneurial skills. This helps us become creators of technology and not only consumers. I am currently the external relations manager of this group and having this responsibility is great. It enables me to build a professional and personal network and work to maintain relations with other organizations and NGOs. We constantly try to identify opportunities to build partnerships and evolve to become known in the whole country.

Our group recently competed at the 2017 Social Impact Awards regional competition that was held here in Tunisia. The first time I pitched an idea like this was at the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit. I don't know if I would have been able to help my Coders Academy team if I hadn't learned how to pitch an idea at the Civic Leadership Summit. (Thanks to my Civic Leadership Summit team leaders and the whole CIEE staff!). One of our team members was able to travel to Serbia to attend the SIA Summit where we were awarded funds and development assistance to support our project in Tunisia. (You can watch their SIA Tunisia 2017 Finalist: Youth to Youth video here!)

Naoel Presents

I had the chance to help create our pitch (which was in French) and it was only my second time working on a presentation like this!

This experience truly changed me. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity and I encourage anyone that hasn't experienced an exchange program to get out in the world and do it! I really believe it changed me for the better!

Naouel and Friends CA


*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Guxim Klinaku and Grese Koca, CIEE Work & Travel USA  and Civic Leadership Summit alumni

Grese and Guxim at the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit

Grese and I are cofounders of an environmental NGO in Kosovo called Keep It Green. The idea for the Green Art Festival was created in 2014 and developed even more at the Civic Leadership Summit last year. The CLS was an extraordinary help to the project. The group work on the summit was a great push for the idea and the project in general. The lessons and activities of CLS had a huge impact on developing and strengthening the skills needed to get back and do community service.

The first annual Green Art Festival was held in Obiliq in 2016. We wanted to raise the voices of young artists through a festival that shows the huge environmental problems that our country deals with. Obiliq is one of the most polluted cities in Europe according to the World Bank report published in 2016. We envisioned a green festival in the backyard of power plants raising awareness through art about the hazardous levels of air pollution in the area. This was our first year, and we faced a lot of problems, but personally I think we learned a lot from the experience. The true challenge of organizing a festival is managing the human resources, and working in detail to make it fun for the audience and the participants. The festival was supported by the U.S. Embassy in Prishtina, Kosovo United States Alumni, and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. 

Grese, Guxim, and Keep it Green Council Member Muhamed Sallover at the 2017 Green Art Festival, Obiliq, Kosovo (l-r)

Now we are working on the Green Art Festival 2018 to make it even bigger next year. We are also submitting project proposals to a couple of organizations with concrete projects that would make significant changes in our communities. We have established a firm partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo and American Corner here. From CLS 2016, we started to believe that everyone has the power to make a change in their community, no matter how small you start. We learned that by taking smaller steps first, one can make the huge jump in the future.

Apart from our week in Washington DC, we worked as ice cream specialists in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We dipped and served ice cream in a small store near the beach, talked to locals, made new friends and had the chance to explore the American lifestyle. For us it was extremely interesting to learn about a new culture and share bits of our country with Americans. For us, this exchange was not about working in the States, it was about creating bridges of friendship and understanding between two countries at a level that only a program such as Summer Work Travel can provide.

Rehoboth 1
Riding bikes in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

This exchange experience has been life changing for us. It helped us be more independent and shaped our personalities for the better. We were able to take the good examples of the United States and bring and implement them in our country. We are glad that we made the most of this experience and beyond thankful for the opportunity.

See more from the Green Art Festival in the video below. To learn more about how to support Grese and Guxim and their nonprofit Keep it Green, visit their Facebook page or GoFundMe.