Creating Global Citizens
Founded in 1947, CIEE was originally known as the Council on Student Travel (CST). It was part of a post-World War II attempt to foster harmonious relationships between countries. According to CIEE, the CST was one of “a number of organizations…dedicated to promoting peaceful coexistence and respect between nations through student and teacher exchange pro- grams.” In its first year of operation, CST was affiliated with 32 nonprofit and cultural groups that facilitated travel abroad.
Located in Portland since 2003, CIEE now partners with more than 300 member schools to offer study-abroad programs in 43 countries. This year they opened centers in Moscow, Toulouse, and Havana. “Instead of running one campus, we run 60 campuses,” says CIEE president and chief executive officer James Pellow. “You might go to the University of Botswana for public health, to Cape Town for language and culture, or to Sao Paulo for business.”
CIEE offers traditional yearlong and semester programs to high school and college students, in addition to shorter specialized courses, homestays, teach abroad, and faculty development opportunities. CIEE participants are looking for a broad-based experience. “It’s not enough for today’s student to go to Botswana (for example) and simply study public health,” says Pellow. “Students want intense teaching, intense clinical work, undergraduate research, high-quality community service, and internships.”
The demand for these programs has in- creased exponentially. “Whether you have chosen a traditional liberal arts setting to broaden your mind in critical thinking, or are looking to advance yourself profession- ally, international education today is vital,” says Pellow. “There isn’t a single university president or provost who isn’t trying to globalize their schools. This is happening even at the high school level.”
According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report, “U.S. student participation in study abroad has more than tripled in the past two decades.” While the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain have remained popular, 15 of the top 25 destinations are outside Europe. Most students who take advantage of travel opportunities are majoring in social science, business, or the humanities. Shorter-term programs are becoming increasingly popular: 58 percent of participants study abroad for eight weeks or less.
“At CIEE, we say that our programs change lives, and our alumni change the world,” comments David Fougere, chief operating officer of CIEE study abroad programs. “What’s fascinating to me is the impact we have on students. That’s what keeps me doing the work I’m doing.” Fougere, who has been in the international exchange field for two decades, came to CIEE in June 2012. As an undergraduate at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, he studied in Aix-en-Provence. “Spending a year living with a family and being immersed in a new culture permanently changed my views,” says Fougere.
Muncherian feels similar about her time away. A graphic design major at Stonehill, Muncherian had originally intended to visit a Spanish-speaking country. In high school, she participated in a two-week exchange program in Spain, and in college, she minored in Spanish. But “out of curiosity” she began studying Japanese on her own. “I thought, ‘Why not? When am I ever going to go to Japan otherwise?’” says Muncherian. Muncherian found herself in a country that was recovering from one of the earth’s most significant recent natural disasters: the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. This earthquake, which was responsible for almost 16,000 deaths, also caused environmentally devastating meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex. It was estimated by the World Bank to cost $235 billion, more than any other natural disaster in history.
In addition to studying Japanese fine arts and Buddhist art history, Muncherian took advantage of her historic front-row seat to work on an independent research project titled “The Effects of Design on the Community of Tokyo, Post 3/11.” Says Muncherian, “The design project helped me look at other cultures, and their interactions with design.”
While in Asia, Muncherian engaged in cultural metacognition, a term that psychologists use to describe the ability to collaborate creatively with individuals from other societies. “When I was in Japan, I socialized with a variety of people, not just foreign and Japanese students. I developed better communication skills and became more confident.”
Citing a 2013 study done by Booz Allen Hamilton, Pellow comments, “The modern workplace is increasingly globalized and competitive. Employers are under strong pressure to produce employees who are technically proficient, culturally astute, and able to thrive in a global work environment.” Muncherian’s Japanese experience was a key factor in her future employment. After college, she applied for an internship in web design with CIEE. In October 2012, she was hired as a junior web designer, and promoted to web designer in 2013.
“Moving by myself to Portland was big,” remembers 24-year-old Muncherian. “In some ways, it reminded me of my CIEE trip: it required independence, self-reliance, and adaptation to a new environment. Getting on the bandwagon and rolling with it.”
Previously based in New York and Boston, the nonprofit CIEE put down roots in Maine’s largest city after an extensive search of similar-sized metropolitan mar- kets. “We wanted something accessible and capable of growth,” says Pellow. “We knew that the type of expansion we sought would be possible in Portland.”
While renting space in the Old Port, CIEE built a modern glass and metal structure at 300 Fore Street, across from the US Custom House. Housed there since 2006, the five-level CIEE office features an open floor plan, large communal meeting areas, and a basement wellness center. “We want people to enjoy working here,” says Pellow. CIEE has added 70 employees in the past three years, swelling their number to almost 300 with the inclusion of summer interns. Forty-four of their employees (speaking thirteen languages) focus solely on supporting traveling students, who can contact the participant services department around the clock.
In addition to sending students and professionals out of the country, CIEE brings 25,000 individuals from 80 countries to the United States each year. The executive vice president of international exchange pro- grams, Elizabeth O’Neill, is responsible for “inbound services cultural exchange pro- grams and services.” O’Neill joined CIEE in 1995. Like Fougere, she first became a proponent of international education through personal experience. “Growing up in a small town in Michigan, I always knew I wanted to go abroad,” says O’Neill. “The first opportunity I had, I went.” O’Neill has lived in London, Boston, Portland, and Shanghai. “I loved having unique firsthand experiences in the world,” says O’Neill, who now works out of a CIEE satellite office in Washington, D.C.
O’Neill firmly believes that it is important for students and professionals to have the opportunity to visit the United States. “Most of CIEE’s inbound programs are run under the auspices of the State Department’s J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, which is tied to American public diplomacy objectives,” says O’Neill. “When visitors go home, they think differently about the U.S.” Countries like China, Brazil, and Russia have been especially motivated to send us their young people. “It continues to impress me that the United States is out there as a first-choice destination,” says O’Neill. “The U.S. is the place to go.”
A J-1 Visa allows individuals to study and participate in work-based cultural exchange programs. Created under the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, the goal of the J-1 Visa is to improve relations between the United States and other countries. Maine hosts many inbound J-1 students as seasonal restaurant and hotel workers. This year, CIEE launched a camp counselor program. “Maine has a lot of summer camps for students,” says O’Neill. “We bring in camp counselors, which helps internationalize their programs for young American campers.”
In 2013, when the J-1 Visa program was threatened by an immigration reform bill, Maine’s Senator Angus King stepped in. “The senate immigration bill draft had wording that would have made J-1 programs so expensive and difficult to run that they would have effectively been eliminated,” says Pellow. “This would have been bad for public diplomacy, the exchange world, and CIEE.” Working with O’Neill, King championed amendments that ultimately saved the J-1 program, while making important changes to current immigration policy. “I’m convinced that if it weren’t for Senator King, Maine would have lost significant revenue and countless jobs,” says Pellow.
For both inbound and outbound participants, success and safety are key. CIEE works with students, colleges, homestay families, host organizations, and local communities to ensure that transitions go smoothly. They also administer health and travel insurance programs. “Whether in a classroom or with a host family, we work with all the stakeholders to provide the appropriate tools,” says O’Neill. “We invite the student to come in with an open mind. We give the student, host family, and the host school the ability to deal with the inevitable challenges of two different cultures coming together.”
CIEE promotes social programs that advance cultural comprehension. Locally, they sponsor the Justice for Women Lecture Series, in collaboration with the University of Maine School of Law and Catherine Lee of Lee International. Past speakers have included Unity Dow, the first female high court judge in Botswana, and Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. In 2014, they welcomed Dr. Sima Samar, a physician and human rights advocate from Afghanistan. CIEE also partners with the World Affairs Council of Maine to host their Global Connections Lunchtime Series, which has included topics such as “Challenges to Women’s Empowerment in the Arab Awakening,” and “Human Rights in Iran.”
CIEE has made a three-year commitment to the organization Girl Rising. According to Pellow, girls who receive an education are healthier, more financially stable, and lead more harmonious lives. “Educating girls in developing nations gives you the single best return on investment for lift- ing communities,” he says. A film created by Girl Rising raises awareness about problems that prevent girls from becoming educated. These include early marriage, domestic slavery, and sex trafficking.
“People are people wherever you go,” says Pellow. “Even though they may dress or look different, their aspirations for peace and harmony, and prosperity for their kids, are the same everywhere. We believe in fundamentally understanding and giving back to the world.”
Over the past six decades, CIEE has contributed significantly to worldwide understanding, by exposing individuals, families, and communities to cultures other than their own. This is deeply satisfying to longtime employees such as O’Neill. “I feel that CIEE is the leader in what we do,” she reflects. “That has always been very motivating. We get to mix it up, keep it fresh.”
“There is a multiplier effect,” O’Neill continues. “The student, the family, the school, and the community can really articulate how they are doing something different as a result of hosting an inter- national student. It’s very tangible.”
Pellow is a strong proponent of the CIEE mission. “Rather than tossing students in the deep end of the pool of cultural immersion, we are creating touchpoints for students to interact with a host family, or interact with students their own age, to achieve an even greater level of cultural development.” Ultimately, says Pellow, CIEE does what it does because, “The world needs global citizens.”
From its Maine base of operations, CIEE is contributing to the pool of global citizens by making educational experiences available to students of every age, all over the world. It is enabling future workers to improve their “cultural metacognition,” and helping individuals create connections that will stay with them for a lifetime. “I pushed all of my friends to study abroad, too,” says Muncherian. “None of them regret the experience.”