Alexa Schwartz grew up travelling and living in different places in the US and abroad, but her study abroad semester was an experience that shaped her both personally and professionally. Read her story (below) about her semester with CIEE in Santiago, Chile – and about how she turned her passion for international exchange into a career.
International and cultural exchange has always been a major part of my life. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to travel around the world with my family and live in various parts of the United States. I have never lived anywhere longer than five years! However, the challenges of truly living and breathing another culture emerged when my family moved to Mexico City in the fall of 2005. While the experience was challenging, I fell in love with Latin American culture and truly identified with the "Third Culture Kid" mentality. Having the opportunity to get to meet so many different kinds of people and be exposed to such a range of cultures was an invaluable part of my personal development. When I started college at Tulane University in New Orleans in 2009, I knew that I absolutely wanted to study abroad and have the chance to get to know another country and culture.
I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile through the CIEE Liberal Arts Program in the spring of 2012. It was a fantastic experience, filled with wonderful friends and memories that will last a lifetime. Studying abroad pushed me out of my comfort zone in all senses of the term, from traveling alone on an overnight bus to Mendoza to interviewing a Chilean family who lost five members of their family during the dictatorship. My semester abroad also afforded me the opportunity to serve as an ambassador of U.S. culture and promote cultural exchange, whether that was through explaining what Mardi Gras was to a fellow university student to discussing typical foods in the United States with my host mother.
My semester abroad also afforded me the opportunity to serve as an ambassador of U.S. culture and promote cultural exchange.
My semester abroad marked the moment when I realized that I could turn my passion for international exchange into a career. The Assistant Resident Director for the CIEE Santiago office at the time, Elsa Maxwell, was and continues to be an important role model for me, and was one of the first people to encourage me to pursue a career in international education.
Alexa visits children on a field trip with Fundación Súmate.
Happily, as of August 2014 I am back in Santiago through a fellowship with Fundación América Solidaria, which recently launched its U.S. office in Washington, D.C. I work with Fundación Súmate, an educational nonprofit that focuses on guaranteeing the right to education for students living in contexts of social vulnerability. My familiarity with and love for Santiago that were fostered through my CIEE experience were a critical part of my decision to return to Chile. Thank you, CIEE!
Did your experience with CIEE have an impact on your life? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.