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13 posts categorized "Civic Leadership Summit"

At home in the Galapagos: Alejandra's Story, Part II

By Alejandra Cox, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant, 2011, 2013, 2014, and Civic Leadership Summit fellow, 2014. Read Part I from Alejandra's story first!

I graduated from University two years ago and I have returned to my islands. I can spend more time with my family again even though we live on separate islands. I’m working as a communicator at an institution of cultural management in Ecuador and also with an NGO called Ecology Project International (EPI). Its purpose is empowering the next generation of conservation leaders. I have the opportunity to be close to children and young people in my community and we teach them Galapagos topics such as geology, protecting the environment, natural history, climate, human history, and evolution through disciplines such as painting, dance, and music. I believe that the experience of having been in the United States, and specifically being part of the Civic Leadership Summit, helped me to realize how committed each of my colleagues was with their personal aspirations, and how important it is to set a goal to reach it. I also loved that CIEE encouraged us to do something in our community back home.

These photos are just some of the hundreds I have from a recent summer camp we had during school vacation. The teachers from Casa de la Cultura Galápagos (CCENG) were in charge of teaching the kids: dance, painting and music, while the EPI teachers taught them conservation topics.
Alejandra Camp 1
Alejandra Camp 2

At this time of year, the children of Galápagos are on school vacation. So, we created a summer camp with countless activities to keep the children occupied in a productive way. I asked my boss if could teach a mobile device photography workshop to children on Floreana Island (located two hours away from mine by ferry) and he said YES! These children are far from all luxuries and resources are scarce. For example, there is not much water on the island and they must wait for long periods of time for the cargo ship to arrive with food. The resources and opportunities are not the same as in the other islands.

Alejandra Camp 3

During the photography workshop in Floreana, classes were taught in the classroom of the only school that exists on the island. First I taught them a theory class and then we went out to take pictures of the beach or of the pier. They took photos of pelicans, land and marine iguanas, turtles, crabs, sea lions and plants, in this living laboratory as is Galapagos!

Alejandra Camp 4

While I was on Floreana Island, I took pictures of the people who live on the island for my personal project called “Gente de Galápagos” or “People of the Galapagos”. I photograph the people of Galapagos from the first residents to the new generations, accompanied by a text where they tell me a little of their daily life. I usually choose people who do some work that contributes as a good example to the rest of the community.

Alejandra HONY 1
Alejandra HONY 2
You can follow us on Instagram @gentedegalapagos and Facebook: facebook.com/gentedegalapagos

Sometimes, when I walk through the streets of my island, there are some sites that come like a small breeze accompanied by the warmest smells of my summers: smells like Lake Erie, cotton candy of many flavors, and fresh almonds just made. This is when all my senses get activated, and here's when I can hear and I can see the birds flying over me in a wide orange sunset of July.

 It’s interesting because people are always asking me how did I do it, how did I apply for the CIEE Work & Travel USA Program, what are some tips I can give them. Every time I tell them about the process and the experience behind all of this, it creates a mixture of feelings inside me that contains joy and sadness; it means talking about a time in which I would like to return again and again!

At home in the world: Alejandra's story, Part I

By Alejandra Cox, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant 2011, 2013, and 2014; Civic Leadership Summit fellow, 2014. Check back later this week for Part II of Alejandra's story.

 Hello! My name is Alejandra Cox. I’m 27 years old; I’m originally from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. I was born and raised in a little Island called San Cristóbal. After I finished high school I moved to Quito, the capital of Ecuador to study Advertising at “Universidad de Las Américas”. During that time I was always trying to keep busy, so I started taking some basic photography courses, and since that moment my love for photography began.

I got to know about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program because a friend of mine told me that she was going to spend her summer in at amusement park called Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. She would talk to me about her trip while we were working together at a restaurant in Quito, but I never gave her much attention until the time she got to the U.S and started sharing photos of her summer! I waited for her to come back from her trip so I could ask her all of the questions I had. She told me that it was a totally different experience because there were people from all over the world; she also told me that the work was hard but was worth it because at the end of the program you had the chance to travel around the U.S.

Alejandra 1
The sunsets are my favorite moments to capture photos. This one, was taken outside the park, from here you can see my favorite roller coaster: Millennium Force. (Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio)

At the age of 20 all I wanted to do was travel and get to know more about other countries. I wanted to go somewhere else instead of taking my vacations in the same place. Now, I realized that it was my time to go to the U.S.

The opportunity to travel abroad without my parents for the very first time gave me the impression that it was going to be a very special trip. I was a little bit scared, of course, because I knew it was going to be a challenge learning how to develop myself in another country. Plus, the fact of speaking a language that was not mine! So I took this as a valuable gift. From the moment I arrived in the United States I was always sharing my adventures on social networks, posting stuff, talking about everything because of my love for photography and videos.

In 2011, I went to Sandusky, Ohio with Karla, one of my best friends. Here I was working as a sweeper and she was working as a housekeeper at “Breakers Hotel”.

Alejandra Sweepers
With the whole group of sweeper girls who were in charge of cleaning the entrance area of the park. In this photo we’re in front the main arcade. Most of my colleagues were European. I was the only girl from South America. (I’m the girl wearing the blue sweater, always cold used to my tropical weather)

I really enjoyed my job, my uniform, my co-workers, my long walks around the park that gave me a beautiful summer tan (crazy tan lines also!). What I learnt during this time about myself was that I enjoyed helping the guests and giving them information about the Park. At the same time, I was improving my English. American people are funny and very kind; I felt like I was home.

In 2013 my classmate Verónica traveled with me. It was not difficult to convince her to join me- she just listened carefully to all my stories about my first summer in the United States! I was working in foods, selling ice cream (Dippin' Dots yummy!!) in a wagon between my favorites roller coasters. My last year at Cedar Point was the summer of 2014. I went back with my dear friend Verónica. This time I was a waitress in a Restaurant called “Chickie’s and Pete’s”. I always told myself that if I returned each year to the same place, I should at least change my job position to experience and learn about new things.

Alejandra Server
Working as a hostess at Chickie's and Pete's restaurant inside Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky, Ohio

2014  was also the year I was selected for the Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. 71 youth chosen from over 900 applicants of 34 or more countries, how great are we? Great enough to change the world! Of course it was an honor for me to be able to attend the Civic Leadership Summit and be the only Ecuadorian person who can act as ambassador of my country during those 3 days. I felt a big responsibility over my actions, because I was the image of my country. When I set foot in Washington D.C., I knew I was going to network with valuable and interesting people, and indeed they were. We had many things in common such as personal aspirations and clear objectives that each of us wanted to achieve. We still message each other to see how everyone is doing.

At the end of my trip I made a collection of the best Civic Leadership Summit moments and made a simple but significant final work video.

CIEE Civic Leadership Summit from Alejandra Cox on Vimeo.

I think the most meaningful experience I had in the U.S was spending time with the right people, and by this I mean people who teach you something, who make you grow as a human being. I also learned to live in the moment because you never know if you'll ever see those people in your life again. I once read a quote from Miriam Adeney that said: “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” I totally identify with this phrase because good friends become family, and when you have to leave a place it’s like if a piece of your heart is staying there. Sometimes when I say I miss a place, it is not mostly because I miss the geographical site, but the times, friends, people.

Alejandra CLS
With my fellows from the Civic Leadership Summit during a guided tour around the city of Washington D.C. (Yes! I’m in the back row, 5th from the right :) )



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


Bruxelles EP Traineeship

This post originally appeared on the CIEE Alumni Blog 

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 Timi?oara 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: https://www.ciee.org/in-the-usa/work/work-travel-usa

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

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! 

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

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.

Naoel's Work & Travel USA Journey

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

Emma's Search for Answers at the 2017 Civic Leadership Summit

By Emma Movsesyan, 2017 CIEE Work & Travel USA and Civic Leadership Summit participant from Armenia

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I was about to finish my undergraduate degree and celebrate when I understood that everything was pretty good but that there was something missing in my life. I had a lot of goals, but at the same time I had a lot of questions that hindered their accomplishment. I was trying to find the answers to those questions, but it was difficult to do so in Armenia, a small country where the majority of the population holds the same beliefs and ideologies. So I decided to challenge myself, and search for the answers I was seeking in the land of diversity and opportunity.

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I was lucky enough to come across the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.  It was exactly what I was searching for. It offered me the three-month opportunity to find the answers to my questions, through challenging myself by working in spheres that I had never experienced before.

The greatest part was that the work experience was really challenging and diverse. It included people from around the world, most of whom came to the U.S. for the same reason I did: to find their inner selves.

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My first week of work as a busser, to be honest, was a hard one, as everything was extremely unfamiliar to me. But I knew that I must either deal with it and adapt to new conditions. Going back home was not an option, because that would mean that I would return without answers. Very soon, I was promoted to a cashier in my first workplace, and was working a second job as a housekeeper in the mornings in the hotel.

When I began to understand the essence of caring, I approached my work in a different way. Every day I went to work, I had the responsibility to try to make the day of the hotel and restaurant visitors better with my services. Each day I appreciated the opportunity that CIEE had given me to find so many answers for myself and to meet so many bright people who helped to shape my current beliefs with their intelligence, kindness and empathy. 

 

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More became clear to me when I was granted an opportunity to be a part of CIEE’s great Civic Leadership Summit program.

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I applied for it just after finding out about CIEE, because I felt that it would be another great experience that would bring me closer to the answers to my questions. I always thought about life as being an unbound circle, where every decision I make either distances me from or brings me closer to the center, which I consider as the purpose of my life. The more I questioned the different things occurring around me and the more I cared about the things and people surrounding me, the more I felt that I was approaching the center of the circle.

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Those three days in Washington, D.C. for the Civic Leadership Summit were life-changing for me, because I found the center of my circle, due to those unique students from 45 different countries, those CIEE representatives, and those guest speakers. We were all different, but there was one thing that united us: we all wanted to make a change. And when I tried to understand what drove those 45 very different students of diverse sexes, races, and religions to make a change, I realized that what drives us all is caring, questioning, and being attentive to the world that surrounds us.
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Civic Leadership Alumni Organize First Annual Green Art Festival in Kosovo

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

CLS 1
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. 

GAF 1
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.

 

Changemaking in Action: the 2017 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit

During the first week of August a select group of participants from the Summer Work & Travel (SWT) program gathered on campus of the American University in Washington, D.C. for the 5th annual CIEE Civic Leadership Summit. This is the third time two different designated J-1 sponsor organizations (CENET and CIEE) partnered to bring together 45 fellows from 40 countries. This amazing diversity intensified the richness of the Summit experience and challenged the fellows to reach out deeper across country, culture and language borders.

These young leaders competed with over 2,100 applicants for a chance to participate in this year’s Summit. The three day program comprised of a series of dynamic workshops designed to build intercultural awareness, social entrepreneurship skills, understanding of civics and rule of law.

Participants share their stories and observations:

Mahmoud Abdelkareem from the West Bank

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CLS participant Mahmoud Abdelkareem

During the summit I had the opportunity to meet 45 students, innovators, motivators and thinkers from all over the world. The same people all shared one common thing and that is they want to make the world a better place, they shared common grounds and cultures despite being thousands of miles away from each other, they shared respect, thought, innovation and many other attitudes of great world leaders. I made some deep connections with all of them basically, and learned something new about every single one of them. This Summit taught me how to think in a different way, and how a couple of people from different cultures can get together and solve common issues in little or no time, because you don't need time or lots of money, you just need some mutual respect and support, that's what will get us through at the end of the day.

I realize now that this wasn't a trip to Washington DC, this was a trip all around the world, DC was just a connecting flight.

Amy Allen from the United Kingdom

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CLS Participant Amy Allen

It may seem as though the tour of D.C. would be an obvious favourite part of the week, but for me, I loved the cultural development sessions and the other deep conversations I had with the fellows regarding our cultures and global issues. This week has ignited something within me to make a change and difference, as well as travel to all these amazing countries and experience their cultures for myself. “You can make a change if you have a passion, the willingness to take a risk and taking this risk”, (Kevin Saba, 2017).

Gresë Kosa and Guxim Klinaku, Civic Leadership 2016 Alumni from Kosovo

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Gresë Kosa at the Green Art Festival

As the Summit was coming to an end, participants were inspired by the message received from the 2016 alumni from Kosovo, Gresë Kosa and Guxim Klinaku, who shared their changemaker success story about the project they started at the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit. With the support of their fellow changemakers from around the world, Gresë and Guxim took their Summit venture idea, developed it further, and started an environmental non-profit in Kosovo “Keep it Green,” whose primary mission is to develop and create projects that are related to environmental protection. The organization recently hosted its first Green Art Festival to raise awareness about environmental issues among citizens.

Guxium shared his reflections: “Me and Gresë just finished a wonderful project in Obiliq, Kosovo. This idea, was developed in CIEE Leadership Summit last year. We worked with a lot of friends from all around the world to implement this idea that I've had for a long time. Green Art Festival, the first of its kind in my country started its first edition with a painting and photo competition. The CIEE leadership fellas contributed a lot to make this idea perfect. A profound thank you to everyone for their feedback and contribution!!”



Want to learn more about this event? Watch this video and read this blog entry from last year’s Summit.

CIEE Work & Travel USA Alum Receives Prestigious IREX Scholarship

Amir Ammar is a 2016 CIEE Work & Travel USA alum, Civic Leadership Summit Fellow and Access Scholar from Tunisia. Amir is the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship through IREX, and will be studying Business Administration in the United States for the 2017-2018 Academic Year.

My name is Amir, and I was blessed by the opportunity to work in the United States during the summer of 2016, in a resort on Lake Powell in Arizona. I was the first Tunisian to be selected for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program as an Access Scholar, a CIEE scholarship that allowed me to come on the program.

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Amir at the Grand Canyon

My job was in a restaurant as a busser. I worked with many international students, and I met my friend Martin from Russia. Every time we finished work we would sit down by the lake and chat. Martin asked me once about my religion, Islam. He had a very negative perception of Muslims because of depictions in the media. I told him that Islam is all about love, peace and compassion, and that we are open to all religions and accept them as they are. My friend apologized to me and told me that he is more eager to know more about Islam and will never believe something without proof anymore. He said he will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart.

He will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart

But that’s not all, I was also selected to be a part of the 2016 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit, a week in Washington D.C. that changed my life forever. It give me the motivation to plan to be a very active global citizen in the future by being an ambassador of the Tunisian goodwill and culture to the world. I want to give the world a glance of our amazing traditions, and the first step is to start local and then go global, we need to educate people about international culture and how to manage across cultures.

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With friends at the 2016 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.

 My experience in the United States supported my academic success, and I am inspired to reach position where I can make decision that will contribute in the building of the sustainability of our emerging global world. I want to reach the level of education where I can accurately analyze the different roles everyone is taking and be a great leader to solve conflicts related to management to maintain the evolution of globally effective organizations.

By participating in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program and the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit, I now have the skills and tools to be a very effective global citizen and contribute in the solving of the world problems. Through living and working in a nation that is known as the most diverse nation in world, this experience opened the doors for me to study more cultures and learn how to manage to adapt to a culture different than mine. I encourage everyone to participate in an exchange program because it is just the right opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and open the doors for you to explore this big world. 

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Building bridges at the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit

This fall I will have the opportunity to follow my dreams to pursue higher education through the IREX scholarship. I tried one part of the American life and now I need to explore the other side and that’s studying in the U.S. I’m committed to the evolution of my country and trying to make the future look brighter for our future leaders which are us, you, and me, hand by hand we can change the world to a better one.