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32 posts categorized "Work Exchange Alumni"


By Safia Dworjack, CIEE Intern

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

When I learned that I had landed the position to work on an environmental program for the City of San José in California, it was a dream come true.

California is a very appealing state with its beaches and its year-round sunshine. It is also, for an environmentalist like me, the state where innovation and challenges make your everyday job exciting. In the heart of the Silicon Valley, I had the opportunity to attend many conferences and workshops to build my skills and knowledge in the environmental field. I took the opportunity to speak to a conference, This Way to Sustainability, at Chico State University, to present the program I was working on.

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With the cohort of young American graduate students in Sustainability

For my job, I engaged local businesses in an energy efficiency program, Step Up and Power Down, to help them reduce their energy consumption. Being so close to the local community and building trust relationships in a culture and a language which were not mine was very rewarding.

I had the chance to work with an awesome young woman 8 hours a day who gave me a deep dive in the American and Vietnamese culture. Thirty percent of the population in San José in Vietnamese, the biggest in the US!

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Ready to go out into the field and engage businesses with my colleagues

I was also able to take part in a graduate program in sustainability. There, I was able to meet 30 American students who shared my passion, and also allowed me to discover the challenges and hopes of my generation in this leading country of the United States.

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With the Energy Champions for the behavior change campaign I led at City Hall

Finally, I had the honor to be selected for the CIEE I-LEAD program in DC, a 6-day workshop with 58 other J-1 interns from 30 different countries. Through workshops and activities, I was pleased to discover many kind-hearted young people which galvanized me in continuing my work to make a difference in my country.

Back in France, I am proud I did that experience as it made me grow as a person, and gave me professional experience that I already see is making a difference on the job market. If you have any hesitations or legitimate fears to live this experience, I would say go for it as it will be an amazing experience that will make you stronger on so many levels!

Transporting to the Future: How a Young Latvian Entrepreneur is Changing How We Fly

"BAFF gives you an opportunity to learn entrepreneurship, to see the world from a different point of view, and to create a network of skillful and talented international friends who you might cross paths with again in your future ventures."


The Alum of the Month for March is Elviss Straupenieks, former participant of the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) and creator of AirBoard, the world’s smallest manned aircraft. The young entrepreneur enrolled in the BAFF program to gain experience practicing and understanding the relational aspects of leadership on the path to pursuing his personal and business goals. For Elviss, participating in BAFF was the perfect opportunity. “Learning how to focus on gaining concrete leadership tools enabled me to create transparency and direction while at the same time involving individuals and groups of people in meaningful dialogues about goals associated with my business,” he says. “The most important factor that made me interested in BAFF, however, was creating a network of skillful and talented international friends for my future ventures.” Coming to Portland, Maine on the BAFF program offered Elviss an opportunity to make connections and gain the leadership skills needed to take his inventive idea one step further. But that’s not where his story begins.


Elviss’ interest in entrepreneurship and revolutionizing personal transportation started at a young age. He was only twelve years old when he began to recognize the lack of creativity in personal vehicles and contemplate the future of transportation. In an interview, he tells us, “It was obvious that on top of safety, functionality and ergonomic improvements over the last hundred years, a car still continues to be a metal box with four wheels and the fundamental way we move around has not changed for the better. In fact, many of the roads we used 100 years ago are still present, thus limiting the transport time from point A to B with countless relief projections and ground obstacles. It was clear to me that the future of personal transportation is going to be some sort of flying transport. For such an air transport to be mass-used it should be as simple as possible. Thus, the idea of an intuitive aircraft controlled by shifting the person’s weight (AirBoard) was born.”


Though technology on the consumer market wasn’t quite yet advanced enough to support Elviss’ idea, he patiently followed advancements in technology such as flight controllers, speed controllers, batteries, small brushless motors, and radio controlled vehicles until, two years later, he recognized that key parts reached a point of advancement and economic viability that would allow for his aircraft to turn from concept to reality. For years, Elviss spent all of his free time after school, on the weekends, and during summer breaks learning about aerodynamics and the engineering principles necessary to develop the aircraft. Then, things started to get serious. “I started computer-aided design (CAD), aerodynamic simulations, stress simulations, renderings, and lift-off calculations with hundreds of different iterations and virtual prototypes.” Elviss considers this determination and strong focus on his business to be the keys to success in his journey creating the world’s smallest manned aircraft, among other entrepreneurial pursuits. However, that’s not the only element needed to be successful, he says. “Having a fast-paced and tremendous work ethic, combined with the ability to overcome obstacles, is hugely helpful in day-to-day challenges, but patience is key for achieving the long-term goals.”


Determination, contemplation, innovation, and patience. These are the makings of an 18-year-old CEO.

We asked Elviss what it’s like to run a company at this age when most of his peers are going off to college, travelling on a gap year, or just beginning to craft their futures. “In my opinion, being a young, risk-taking entrepreneur is a competitive edge. When you don’t have the baggage from the past, it’s usually much easier to look at things from a totally different perspective.” With this fresh perspective, AirBoard was born despite the odds. “After faced with the challenge to open a business in Latvia at the age of 16, where the legal age restriction is 18, I found civil law Article 221 that allowed me to gain legal majority in the court of Latvia. After 6 months of rigorous paperwork and long processes, I gained the legal majority that allowed me to receive investment, employ people, and sign contracts. To this date, it is the single only case in Latvia where the court has given a positive decision for entrepreneurial reasons.”

“AirBoard is a Segway crossed with a hoverboard” – Daily Mail

Here’s how it works:
“AirBoard is the World’s smallest manned aircraft. It is an all-electric personal air vehicle controlled by shifting weight. It moves in the direction you are leaning. The rider is standing in a vertical position with his feet on the board and both hands holding handles. When turned on, the aircraft starts to hover in constant height from the ground. Pilot can use a button located on the handle in a thumb reachable area to adjust the flight altitude and lean further to accelerate the vehicle. The more a person shifts forward, the faster the vehicle flies forward.”


“AirBoard Remote App shows important data like AirBoard’s battery life, flight speed, compass, and level. User can control flight level or altitude in which the multicopter is moving. The board can be locked and unlocked with a free mobile application. When the board is locked, power button is inactive and motion detection GPS alarm is turned on. Vehicle can be unlocked without ever taking the mobile device out of the pocket because the vehicle senses when the paired phone is nearby. App allows the customer to update the board software when an update that contains crucial fixes or new features are available.” Learn more about how AirBoard works.

Thank you, Elviss, for sharing your story with us!

Do you have a story to share? Email to get started.

Exchange Experience Inspires Open-Mindedness and Confidence

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Nathan Britton Wunsonti Musah participated in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program in 2008, traveling from Ghana to experience working and living in Oklahoma City as a ride attendant at Frontier City amusement park. Nathan received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. He currently works for the major political opposition party in Ghana. In addition to political work, Nathan exercises his drawing talent in his spare time. We interviewed Nathan to hear more about his experience in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.

Why did you decide to do CIEE Work & Travel USA?

I decided to do the program because I saw massive changes in my best friends in many ways that I really admired, like time management, confident speaking, and focus.

What did you learn about American life, culture, and society during your exchange program?

I learned that in the U.S., there are different kinds of people and very different kinds of behavior and characters. In a nutshell, there is a diverse group of people living in the U.S. with different cultural backgrounds, and this has allowed me to understand that we are all one with different characters and cultural backgrounds. In order to get along with each other, you’ve got to adopt other cultures to be able to move on and to grow. Knowing this has helped me grow a lot.

What impact has your exchange experience had on your life?

My exchange experience has prepared me to be open-minded in everything I do, wherever I find myself. It has helped me to do things in the right way and maturely with confidence. I learned how to be more disciplined at my work place, how to keep to time especially. It helped in my education also; it gave me confidence in talking in class, seminars, and at juries. It widened my scope of analyzing issues and solving them as well.

Once you learn these skills, it becomes part of you and you apply them without even noticing it. I have been working with a political organization since 2012, and almost everyone down to the flag bearer appreciates my effort and attitude towards work. It has even helped me find myself in places I never thought to be or places people never expected me to reach. So, I believe the program has prepared me for the present.

What piece of advice would you give to others who are thinking about participating in an exchange program like CIEE Work & Travel USA?

I urge anyone who wants to travel to sign up with CIEE. It’s a program that will give you the experience of a lifetime. Travel as far as you can and as much as possible. Work harder to save your money. Take care of your needs instead of your wants. Come out of your comfort zone and find out how other people live and realize that the world is a much bigger place to live in.

By the time you’re done with your program and return home, everything may go back to normal but something in your mind will have changed – that’s the experience you need in this life. That will change everything around you.


Learn more about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.

CIEE Alumnus and Former BAFF Intern Elected to Lithuanian Parliament

Virginijus Sinkevicius, CIEE alumnus and former Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) intern, was elected to Lithuanian Parliament in November 2016. Virginijus received a bachelor's degree in economic, social, and political studies from Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom and, additionally, earned a master's in European studies from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Sponsored by CIEE, Virginijus came to Washington, D.C. to work at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) from 2013-2014 as a participant of the BAFF Professional Internship Program. The year abroad also offered Virginijus an opportunity to attend a meeting at the White House, visit the Embassy of Lithuania in Washington, D.C., and experience many facets of life in the United States, including holidays and sporting events. First-hand accounts from Virginijus about his internship and cultural exchange experience in the United States can be found on the BAFF blog.

Virginijus remarks, "I am thankful to BAFF for the unique opportunity provided. Extremely positive experience in the United States capital Washington, D.C. taught me exceptional lessons, boosted my self confidence, and encouraged me to reach for the highest goals in life. I am grateful that people of Lithuania evaluated my experience and gave me a chance to serve them."

Learn more about Virginijus's election to Lithuanian Parliament on the BAFF blog.

Virginijus Sinkevicius photo


International Exchange Experience Inspires Leadership in CIEE Work & Travel USA Alumna

Meet Ariana Sánchez Barrios, our Alum of the Month for November:

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Ariana in the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Born in Venezuela. English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) participant. Youth Ambassador. CIEE Work & Travel USA alumna. Civic Leadership Summit fellow. Volunteer coordinator. Dynamic public speaker. And she’s only nineteen years old. What has motivated Ariana to accomplish so much at such a young age? This alumna is on a mission to create positive change in her home country of Venezuela, using her leadership and exchange experience as the tools to help her achieve that goal.

Ariana’s journey with international exchange began when she was only thirteen years old as a scholarship recipient for the English Access Microscholarship Program (Access), which offers English language and cultural preparation for future exchanges and study in the United States. She then participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Youth Ambassadors Program, a four-week program that brought Ariana to the United States to engage in community service work, a home stay, educational workshops, and other opportunities aimed at increasing leadership skills and fostering community change in participants’ home countries. She says of the experience, “…that changed my perspective about life and made me realize how important it is to work for your community and also to keep on preparing yourself for the challenges you’ll face in life, always thinking of being your best and trying your best at all times so you can leave your mark in the world and in everybody’s hearts and minds.” The Youth Ambassadors Program was only the beginning of international exchange for Ariana. In 2016, she became a part of the CIEE family as a CIEE Work & Travel USA Access Scholar and Civic Leadership Summit fellow, spending her J-1 summer working at Six Flags in Queensbury, New York. For Ariana, the U.S. exchange experience was transformational:

“The Civic Leadership Summit was, with no doubt, the most meaningful experience during my program. It was such an important opportunity getting to connect with other leaders from all over the world with a similar idea of what the world should be like and how they are going to work in order to make it get at least closer to it. I got to share my ideas, my thoughts, my principles about life and the world with a lot of inspirational people that are definitely working to make their own countries a better place to live in.”

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Ariana presenting at the CIEE Employer Forum in Washington, D.C.

While she was on her program in the U.S., Ariana spoke about her Work & Travel USA experience at the CIEE Employer Forum in Washington, D.C. She was also invited to participate in the 2016 convention of Association of Binational Centers of Latin America (ABLA) in Houston, Texas, to speak about her experience as a volunteer coordinator with Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia or “Venezuelan American Center of Zulia” (CEVAZ), an organization focused on cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Venezuela and the United States. At the convention, she spoke of the challenges and responsibilities of being the coordinator of such a large volunteer group, while networking with organizational leaders and representatives from the U.S. embassies of five countries in Latin America, including her home country of Venezuela.

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Ariana speaking at a volunteer training session for CEVAZ.

Ariana’s international exchange and leadership experience has prepared her for creating positive change in Venezuela and around the world. Her ambitious attitude and love of learning has Ariana thinking big about the future, despite the challenges she may face:

“It is really hard to plan when we are going through uncertain times in my country. I’d like to run for presidency at some point, or at least have a position in which it gets easier to work helping people. I’m planning to have my own NGO aimed to develop my community in specific life aspects starting with volunteering because in this way, they will learn about different types of social work and at the end of it, they will be able to create their own projects and programs. I am truly committed to creating more and better citizens, no matter what position I have in life.”

We look forward to seeing what Ariana accomplishes next!

Do you have your own story to share? Email us.


CIEE Work & Travel USA Alum Finds Career Inspiration at Civic Leadership Summit

Salut! My name is Paul Runcan. I’m 23 years old and currently living in Timisoara, Romania – my home town. In 2015, I graduated from the West University of Timisoara with a degree in law, and now I’m following the courses of an awesome master’s program in public policy and advocacy. Since it’s the only one of its kind in Romania, I’ve been blessed with a unique opportunity of furthering my knowledge and honing my skills in both areas. However, even though I’ve always had an interest in politics and the development of my country and the world, it was only in 2014 that I was shown a path that could take me away from a lifetime of courtroom battles and into the world of politics. It was the year I decided to spend a summer abroad in the U.S. through the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, and I can honestly say that it was the best choice I could ever have made. A few of my colleagues had gone before and all the stories they came back with convinced me that it should definitely be on my to-do list while in school.

I flew to Chicago and made my way north through Michigan until I reached the beaches of Lake Huron. There, on Mackinac Island, I spent the summer working at Mission Point Resort and Mackinac Island Bike Shop. The island was beautiful, and summer was the best time to explore every corner of it. M-185, the only roadway in the US without cars, offers the best bike lane one could ever wish for and makes for a great ride around the island, with the crystal-clear blue lake on one side and the dark green forest on the other.

Paul runcan photo

Even though they had their ups and downs, like most jobs do, they taught me a lot of life lessons, which I’m sure everyone who has participated in such a program knows and values greatly. I learned patience and humility, and I learned to be proud and value my work, whatever it may be. It taught me how different people can be and it gave me a unique glimpse into the American way of life. That could’ve been it – a summer well spent abroad, a couple of lessons learned, lots of new places explored, and a happy Paul. However, CIEE decided to make it even better, so they offered me one more opportunity, which ended up turning a great summer into one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’m talking about the Civic Leadership Summit and the huge influence it has had on my life since then.

I think everyone has a calling, and I think CIEE has helped me to find mine.

Throughout four days of lectures and workshops, I was taught the importance of an active civil society in sustainable global development; I was taught to (even though it might sound like a cheesy cliché) be the change I want to see in the world. And, last but certainly not least, I’ve met some of the most dedicated people I could ever dream of knowing. I think we all left Washington, D.C. with renewed faith and inspiration, maybe even with a new sense of purpose. I know I did, and so far it’s served me well. It was shortly after I returned home in October that I decided that, 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 – much too long – and poorly crafted laws, corruption, and the general lack of faith that people had in ‘the system’ would delay any form of much needed change.

Now, two years later, my career is still in the making, but there’s progress. I’ve learned a lot more, I’ve met like-minded people, and slowly but surely we’re making our way into the world of politics, educating the local youth, and hoping to bring a much needed breath of fresh air to an antiqued system. Looking back now, I realize just how big an impact the Civic Leadership Summit had on my life and career choices. Through carefully thought-out lectures, challenges, and a great mindset, they showed us the possibility of a brighter future. I think everyone has a calling, and I think CIEE has helped me to find mine. Civil engagement in politics is the way for the future, and the future needs great leaders. Do your part for the future, become a leader.

To learn about this year's Civic Leadership Summit, visit the CIEE Work & Travel USA Facebook page.

The CIEE Work & Travel USA Experience: Andrada Birla's American Adventure

My name is Andrada Birla and I am from Timisoara, Romania. Last year, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and since have been working in a small company here in Timisoara.

I always dreamed about going to the United States. When I became a student, I saw advertisements for CIEE Work & Travel USA around campus and knew it was my chance. In my first year at university, I was afraid I would not be able to deal with exams and also prepare for an American adventure, so I missed that chance. The second year came and I was confident; I already knew what I would do next summer. The idea of getting out of my comfort zone terrified me but at the same time I was excited to go and experience what we call "the American dream." I always loved the idea of getting in touch with other nations, which attracted me the most to this experience. Going in a foreign country and working with people, dealing with everyday situations, celebrating with them… I believe this is the good way to learn about a culture.

When in Maine, eat lobster.

So once the summer came, the adventure began. I got a job as a shop assistant in a small shop near the beach in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I consider myself so lucky. At a glance you would think that there aren’t so many things to do there, but believe me, the beach, the city, and the state are just perfect for a wanderer’s soul. It was hard in the beginning – I had to learn all about American money and coins, I had to be patient with the customers, I learned a little bit of Russian and Bulgarian because of my roommates, and I became fluent in "American language,” as my boss would say. I became good friends with my roommates and my co-workers, so every day at work was a pleasure. No matter how tired you come home after a day at work, we would still go to international parties or simply talk with other CIEE Work & Travel USA participants in the house.

On our days off we would go out for dinner or shop in Freeport, or just wander around in Portland. At the end of the summer, a Russian friend and I decided to travel together on the East Coast. We visited Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Everything went smoothly. We had the best summer!


As I mentioned before, I became good friends with my roommates and my co-workers, so we kept in touch after we all got back home. The next day after landing in our hometowns, we decided to return to Maine for another summer. The second year was even more amazing; every week we would travel to some beautiful place nearby (Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, Acadia National Park, Moxie Falls, and the list goes on). We were known as the “magic 4”: me, the Russian girl, the Bulgarian girl and the American girl. I must admit, I fell in love with "Mainers" and Maine’s landscapes.

At the end of the summer I decided to visit the West, so I took my backpack and my friend from Atlantic City and we visited L.A., Las Vegas, and San Francisco. I believe the Grand Canyon is a destination that everyone must see at least once in a lifetime. We had a perfect end to the summer! We were barely back home before we planned to see each other in the winter; the four of us did a trip in Bulgaria and Romania. I am looking forward to our next meeting.

The most I think I learned was about myself.

I can say that America had a big influence on my life. I got back home with my suitcase full of dreams, positive vibes, new friends, and memories. The experience gave me confidence and the power to follow all my dreams. I learned to manage my time and money efficiently, and I improved my communication skills – my English is way better since working in the U.S. The most I think I learned was about myself. I learned to deal with daily problems and, at the same time, to enjoy every little moment in life.

Now I work in a company whose headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., I get in touch daily with people from America and in this way I still get positive vibes in my life. I am looking forward to visiting the U.S. again. I am so grateful for those two summers spent in Maine, and I would advise every student to take advantage of this great opportunity. Go to the United States and live on your own – live the American dream, experience new things, be open to a new culture, and you will become the richest person.


CIEE Work & Travel USA Alum Builds Successful Career in Art and English Language Teaching

Our June Alum of the Month, Alisa Mustafina, is from Prokopyevsk, Russia. She participated in CIEE’s Work & Travel USA program three times—first in 2010 at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Portland, Maine, then twice working in Customer Service at CIEE’s headquarters, which is also located in Portland, Maine. In 2013, Alisa returned to CIEE for a yearlong internship in Participant Services through CIEE’s Internship USA program. She is an accomplished artist with a talent for painting landscapes and a love for travel. We interviewed Alisa to learn more about her experience with CIEE and her career in the arts:

You participated in Work & Travel USA three times – what impact did this have on your life?
Participating in these programs helped me to follow my dreams. A lot of my dreams came true while I was in the U.S. When one of my dreams was coming true, a new dream was appearing and I just wanted to come back and let it come into reality! When this happens, it brings happy emotions, incredible feelings, and lifetime memories.

I learned a lot of things during my programs. I think what is really important to me is what I learned about myself. I just got into the atmosphere where I discovered new sides of my personality. That was really interesting and surprising. Being far away from home and family, being in a foreign country where everything is unusual, and living with people of absolutely different cultures – all of these just make you grow up and mature. That was a priceless life experience.

Another invaluable side of the exchange programs is an opportunity to travel. Participation in CIEE programs opened a new world for exploration in travels. I had a dream of visiting lots of places in the U.S. since I was a child, so I finally had the chance to follow my dreams. The more I traveled, the more places I wanted to see. I traveled across the U.S. visiting 23 states during my programs. I’ve been to many big cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and many others. I’ve seen the cherry blossoms in D.C., Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, orca whales in the wild, Maine shores, and many other breathtakingly beautiful places.

I also took advantage of a unique opportunity to get acquainted with the masterpieces of world art by visiting several famous art museums, such as the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida), as well as many others. I am endlessly thankful for all these opportunities I got because of these exchange programs!

What did you learn while working at CIEE’s Portland, Maine office?
One of the most important things about the programs is that they helped me to improve my English. My work experience in Customer Support at CIEE also helped me learn how to work in a team and how to be a part of a team. I learned how to ‘hear’ people and how to find a way to help and support them. I was trained to work with various computer systems and taught how to maintain lots of information at the same time. I also learned to work with people of different cultures and ages. Such experience is useful for any profession. My experience at CIEE helped me to become more confident in myself.

CSC team, 2013

How did exchange in the U.S. help you in your career, especially as an artist?
I currently teach English to children at school and privately. I also work with adults who would like to learn colloquial English. My English skills, which I gained during my exchange programs in the U.S., help me in this career significantly.

Another career that I’m developing and is very important to me is a career in art. My exchange in the U.S. played a big role in that also. I started taking classes at the Art Studio (Russia) when I was four and continued attending them until I graduated from high school. However, I decided that I didn’t want to be a professional artist and entered the university to study world economy.

Since my first visit to the U.S., my point of view about art started changing. Living in Maine inspired me to return to painting. I’m a big lover and admirer of nature, especially of the ocean and lighthouses. They always beckoned me. I collected images with ocean views and lighthouses even before I learned about the Work & Travel USA program – before I learned about Maine and Portland. And it just so happened that life brought me to the place where the ocean and lighthouses are main attractions. This occasion became a source of inspiration for a new creative phase. Personal acquaintance with the ocean and lighthouses has left and indelible mark on the soul and on the canvas.

While I was studying, I didn’t have enough time to paint. However, when I returned to the U.S. for an internship with CIEE, I was able to dedicate more time to art. I started with very simple art, using simple paint and paper, then moved to more complicated subjects. I didn’t take any classes while in Portland; I just enjoyed painting whatever I wanted and then shared it with others. I painted several views of lighthouses and oceans based on my memories and imagination. Several compositions were painted right away after my trips to some places, like Peaks Island and Boston.

Visiting Head Light

Tell us more about your artistic journey and process.
To make my painting process even more enjoyable and emotional, I usually listen to classical music. My musical inspiration is Jackie Evancho, who I discovered thanks to the exchange program way back in 2011. The incredibly beautiful voice of this young classical crossover singer just couldn’t leave me unmoved. Again, thanks to the exchange programs in the U.S., I was able to attend seven of Jackie Evancho’s concerts and enjoy her voice live. These events are among the most incredible highlights of my programs. Therefore, my artwork is imbued with the scents of the Atlantic Ocean and the music of Jackie Evancho!

When I returned to Russia in the fall of 2014, I showed my paintings to my art teacher. She appreciated my artwork and asked if I wanted to exhibit it. I definitely agreed. So, in March of 2015, I had a solo exhibition of my paintings in a local Palace of Culture in my hometown. By that time, I learned to paint with oils and acrylics, which improved my artwork. Also, just a few days before this exhibition was opened, I became a winner in the international Internet project, “Seasons,” which involved artists from 14 countries. My landscape was considered the best in the category of “Winter.”

Based on results of my solo exhibition, I was invited to exhibit my artwork at the main Cultural Exhibition Center in my home city, Prokopyevsk. The exhibition at this center opened on March 11, 2016 and will be running until May 1. I don’t know if this exhibition would have happened if I didn’t participate in exchange programs and if I didn’t come to Maine, but I definitely know that my participation in these programs played a signification role in my art career. For that, I’m endlessly grateful to CIEE.

Paintings by Alisa Mustafina 2

Words of Wisdom from Alisa:
Another important thing that I learned from participating in exchange programs is that we shouldn’t be afraid of dreaming impossible dreams. Just dream big and then follow your dreams! We just never know where they can bring us to.

The big dream I dream now is to come back to Portland with my art exhibition and to bring joy to CIEE through my artwork as a gratitude for the priceless joy CIEE helped me get while I was in the U.S. And to make my dream even more impossible, I dream to have Jackie Evancho sing at the opening ceremony of this exhibition! Dream BIG!

Alisa also shared with us a video about her exploration of painting and art:

Thinking about having an American adventure of your own? Visit the Work & Travel USA website to learn more!
Want to share your CIEE story? Email to get started.

May Alum of the Month: Maxim Strelnikov

CIEE's Internship USA Program Prepared Student for a Career in Materials Science

Today we’d like to highlight Internship USA alum Thomas Chenal and his career in materials science. Thomas participated in the program in 2012. As a French student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science, he wanted to gain practical experience in the field while improving his English language skills. Utilizing the connections of his professor and other contacts, Thomas was able to secure an internship and receive support from CIEE through the Internship USA program.

Thomas 2

Why Go to the U.S.?
Thomas’ motives to pursue an internship in the U.S. were to improve English skills and to engage in practical experience relevant to his studies on materials science in Switzerland. The company that he secured an internship with, Constellium, is one of the biggest global producers of aluminum semi-products in the world and a great place to gain first-hand experience in materials science. His previous coursework on the basics of metals, such as crystallography and chemistry, gave him an educational background in materials science that prepared him for an internship at Constellium.

Internship Experience
Internships are a great way to gain a new skill, learn how a company works, and apply university knowledge to a real-life setting. For the first two months of his internship, Thomas worked at the Constellium office in Chicago where he gained valuable skills in customer/technical support by writing technical reports, communicating with clients, analyzing lab data, and participating in internal development. The next four months of the internship were spent in Ravenswood, West Virginia working in the laboratory of one of Constellium’s well-known plants, which is also one of the largest production plants in the world. At the plant, they design alloys and tempers for items such as the Airbus A380. Thomas had the opportunity to engage in production analytics and investigate various production issues at the lab. He says that working at Constellium gave him basic exposure to processing and was a way to “experience how a company works and what it’s like to work there […] it was most interesting to see how the plant works.”

Traveling in the U.S.

“You don’t see the country the same way as a tourist as when you live in it.”

While working at Constellium, Thomas was able to travel around the U.S. a little bit. However, it was after his internship, when Thomas returned to the United States to pursue higher education at Purdue University, that he experienced most of his U.S. travels. He has visited Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Utah, northern Indiana beach, Detroit, Charleston, Columbus, Chicago, California, Miami, Key West, Orlando, and more. Many of these travels were road trips with friends in Camaro and Mustang convertibles—what fun! He’s seen NASA launch sites, gone skydiving over the Wisconsin cornfields, visited many national parks, and driven over the border for a brief visit to Canada.

Most Memorable Experience
“When I look back at it, what I remember most is the whole experience of going somewhere I didn’t know anyone—especially a place that’s sort of in the middle of nowhere (West Virginia) where there was no chance of finding non-English speakers. There is also the overall experience of living in a different culture where you experience things like going to the supermarket to try different brands and products.”

Thomas skydiving

A Career in Materials Science
Thomas currently serves as a Product Development & Processing Engineer for DuPont, an American company in Switzerland with product offerings in the areas of agriculture and crop protection, performance materials, coatings and color technologies, electronic and communication technologies, and safety and protection. In his role, Thomas works on new product development, new processing techniques, and new testing techniques. “Sometimes clients come to me with a project and I have to find the right polymer and design, or they have the materials and they need help processing it.” Although working full-time doesn’t leave much room for traveling, Thomas plans to make time for it. He is currently in Thailand on vacation—who knows where he’ll go next!

Advice for Prospective Internship USA Participants
“The advice I can give is quite simple: Just go, do it, and don’t be afraid of anything. Getting lost and not knowing where to go and what to do is actually one of the best life experiences you can have. Plus, the good thing about the U.S. is that Americans are super friendly and easy to talk to, especially if you are a foreigner.”

Did you participate in CIEE’s Internship USA program? Want to share how your internship helped you in your career? We want to hear about it! Email to get started.