CIEE offers unique opportunities to high school students this summer

Traveling abroad this summer, alone, through the Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE) three students will get the opportunity to expand their knowledge and gain authentic cultural experiences in Tokyo, Japan, Madrid, Spain, and Cape Town, South Africa.

CIEE is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that offers opportunities for students to study abroad and join intercultural exchange programs. For high school students, CIEE offers three kinds of programs and 22 different locations. The organization also offers students scholarships for these trips.

Rising sophomore Jasmine Voon and rising junior Jessica Nguyen will be going to Tokyo and Madrid respectively through CIEE’s Language and Culture program to immerse themselves in the city’s culture and grow their understanding of the native language. Rising senior Jack O’Grady will be heading to Cape Town on the Service and Leadership program to volunteer his time.

After finding out about CIEE through her Spanish teacher Claudia Garcia, Voon jumped on the chance to travel abroad. Although she has never traveled alone she says she is excited gain independence. “I’m a bit nervous because this will be my first time traveling alone but I’m kind of thrilled too because [I’ll have] independence,” says Voon.

During most of her month in Tokyo she will be living on a school campus. She will be learning Japanese in the morning and exploring the city in the afternoon. For the last week of her stay, Voon will be living with a host family.

Voon says she chose Tokyo because it is an advanced city and learning Japanese in Japan is important to her. “Tokyo’s culture is pretty advanced [and] . . . I’ ve heard a lot of great things. Also learning a new language is always a plus,” says Voon. Above all, Voon says she is excited to gain a new perspective while learning about a new culture and language. “[There are] different cultures from all over the world so it’s better to broaden your viewpoints upon all cultures because they are not the same, they are all different in some way,” adds Voon.

Nguyen, who has been studying Spanish in the classroom for five years is headed to Spain to test and expand her knowledge in the language. Not only is Nguyen going to be expanding her Spanish she will be getting to know herself more she says, “ I will discover a lot about myself by being [in Madrid] because [when you are] going abroad you really get a chance to connect with yourself and the people around you.”

While in Madrid, Nguyen will be living with a host family from July 9 to August 5. She will be  traveling with the CIEE Spanish Language and Culture program and will be required to take morning classes. However, in the afternoon she will be exploring the city with her host family or otherwise going on excursions with CIEE.

O’Grady, another student chosen for the CIEE scholarship this year, will be traveling to Cape Town, South Africa through the Service and Leadership program. He will be spending his mornings volunteering at local schools and shelters and in the afternoon he will be involved in educational activities to grow his knowledge on the local language and history. He, like the other students, received guidance from teachers in order to complete the application process.

World languages resource teacher, Vanessa Hawkins, informed O’Grady of the opportunity to travel abroad as she is the one responsible for bringing the CIEE program to  Blake. Ms. Hawkins first became aware of the program from Principal Christopher Berry, who had forwarded an email from MCPS World Languages Supervisor Françoise Vandenplas regarding the program to Ms. Hawkins.

Despite being advertised to all schools in MCPS, Blake was only one of two other schools to apply to participate in the partnership with CIEE. “They asked us [If we could] please promote [CIEE] and in return we’ll have students that’ll have a wonderful experience studying abroad,” says Ms. Hawkins. Despite this partnership CIEE remains completely independent from Blake and Blake has no say on who gets chosen for the programs.

Ms. Hawkins studied abroad herself in her junior year of college in Spain for a semester, and found that the experience was irreplaceable. Ms. Hawkins says, “[it] gave [me] a different perspective on life and on the world.” She says she hopes the experiences the three students will gain this summer will have a similar impact on them.