I’ve worked as a Program Leader for the CIEE Global Navigator program for high school students going abroad, first in 2019 in France and then in Denmark in 2022. I wanted to write about my experience for other potential Program Leaders who are looking for a summer job with CIEE. Keep reading to find out if this sounds like a job for you!
Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored by CIEE; it is meant to provide information for educators who want to find out more information about working with CIEE. All opinions are my own. If you decide to apply and this post was helpful, I would love it if you used my referral link to help support this blog!
What is CIEE?
CIEE is the Council for International Educational Exchange, a non-profit that has been around for almost 75 years. I was familiar with CIEE because I looked at their study abroad programs when I was in college. They have permanent CIEE study centers in dozens of countries for university exchange programs. A few years ago they started offering summer programs for high school students and received a huge donation to provide scholarships to students. This means that the participants are very diverse and many of them are going abroad for the first time.
A few years ago my high school had a visit from a CIEE representative to talk to our students about the program opportunities. Two of my students got full and nearly full scholarships and traveled to Chile and Morocco. I was so impressed by their experiences that I decided to apply the next year to be a Program Leader.
Applying and Interviewing
The Program Leader Application opens in the late fall. Obviously, the earlier you apply the better chance you have of being hired. There are two different types of programs, and the requirements for each vary slightly:
Language and Culture: This is program type makes up the biggest group of participants, as there are programs in seven languages (some in multiple countries) Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. Program Leader applicants for these programs must be current language teachers and fluent in the language. Ideally they would also be familiar with the city and country of the site they apply for, although it does not always work out this way. All programs are 4 weeks long.
Global Themes: These 3-week programs are for community service and cultural learning. They each have a theme such as conservation or the arts. Program Leader (PL) applicants do not need to know the language, but again, familiarity with the language and culture would be a huge advantage because you may need to talk to host families and community members. Based around a theme that ranges from the arts to queer activism to global entrepreneurship, Global Discovery programs are for applicants that have knowledge in a specific subject. Are you a science teacher? You could apply for wildlife conversation in Australia or Botswana. Music teacher? Check out K-pop immersion in Seoul.
I’m a Spanish and French teacher, so when I applied I think I chose like 9 different programs, figuring it would give me the best chance of being hired.
The interview was done over Skype and I was posed the typical questions. I was also asked again about my availability. Thanks to the polar vortex of snow and cold that year, my school year was actually not even over by the time Session 1 started in June, so I would only be available for the Session 2 programs that started in early July. Most programs are offered both sessions, but some of the smaller ones are only offered one.
It sounded from the beginning like they had me pegged for a French position, which was fine with me because I don’t have many opportunities to speak French now that I’m teaching Spanish all the time. One thing that is important to note is that some language programs are intensive immersion programs, meaning students need to have had at least two years of a language and PLs are expected to be speaking in the target language with them at all times. If your language skills are lower you may want to avoid the immersion programs.
A few days later I was offered and accepted a job in Rennes, France, yay!!!
I have worked with a lot of camps and programs, but CIEE’s training was INTENSE (in a good way). PLs have to complete an online course on Canvas that is over 20 hours long. Canvas is the platform that the students use and PLs later use for grading, so it’s helpful to have the training on the same platform. There are videos and discussions on program logistics, potential mental health issues, leading activities and more. Even though I had lead many student trips before, I found the training very useful.
Additionally, CIEE requires and pays for leaders to get certified in CPR and First Aid. I was easily able to find a course at my local Red Cross that was half online half in-person and I got reimbursed by CIEE afterwards.
In late April Program Leaders from all over the US and even the world came together for a weekend in Minneapolis to participate in the in-person training. We learned about CIEE, what our duties would be, and how to work with participants. The workshops were good, but honestly the best part was just getting to know the other Program Leaders that I would be working with over the summer. It was also really impressive to hear that over 50% of the PLs were returning staff members. A good staff retention rate really says a lot about a program. Because of covid this in-person training hasn’t happened since 2019, but I hope it comes back!
Another aspect that impressed me about CIEE is the diversity. Because of the scholarships offered, the participants are very diverse racially and socio-economically, which adds a lot to the program. CIEE also supports participants who are LGBTQ and provided training for working with trans and non-binary students.
All meals, lodging and travel expenses for the training weekend were paid for by CIEE.
So what does a Program Leader job actually entail? One of the main duties is being a flight leader. CIEE picked a centrally located U.S. airport as the meeting place and students who chose to be on the group flight flew from that U.S. airport to the host country. There are a number of participants who have never flown before, and often multiple group flights, so it is an all-hands-on-deck mentality and generally all PLs need to be flight leaders. Unfortunately, this means that PLS can’t travel around the host country on their own before or after leading a program; they must fly to and from the U.S. with participants.
Once on the ground the schedule and logistics are taken care of by the study center staff. Each site is run by the in-country team, so expectations are slightly different. The Language and Culture programs are a week longer but PLs get more free time since students are with host families. For the theme programs, PLs are with students 24/7 and are especially “on-duty” at the dorm or hotel. Language and Culture PLs have the additional responsibility to grade students’ reflection journals and facilitate afternoon mini-lessons out in the community. These were already set up, we just needed to brief students and practice with them before they found community members to talk to.
Another duty is blogging. PLs on all programs are expected to write short blog posts for the CIEE website to update families about what’s going on in the program. 3-4 posts a week is the norm, but that is split by all of the PLs on site, so it is usually about one a week.
Supporting participants’ social and emotional well-being is our biggest job, so that might mean calling a student to check how they are doing, going to a pharmacy to get them medicine, dealing with issues with host families, etc. The hardest part of the job is being on-call and not knowing when something might happen. For this reason PLs needed to stay in town at all times. We did get Sundays off when participants had host family days, but again, we were always on call.
The best part of the job is Program Leaders get to do all of the cultural activities with participants. It is touching to see the participants’ excitement as they see and try new things and have small successes with their new language skills. Each program also has two day trips and one overnight excursion. To learn more about where the Rennes program went, read my blog posts about St. Malo and Day trips in Bretagne.
All travel expenses to get to both the Minneapolis training and the program site are paid for. Even food expenses while traveling are reimbursed. Fees for any required visas are also paid for. Once on-site, meals are provided through host families or through a meal stipend if PLs are staying in a hotel. For 2023 new PLs get a $400/week salary stipend with opportunities for increases for returning leaders. Overall this is a very good stipend for those looking to get paid to travel!
Things to think about when applying for a program:
Your dates and availability: Are you really going to be able to be your best self if you are leading a program that starts the day after the school year ends? Or coming back right before you have to report back to work?
The weather: July and August are hot and many places don’t have air conditioning. Temps in Europe and Northern Asia might be cooler in June. Don’t forget that if you apply for programs in South America the seasons are reversed so you’ll be wearing your jacket most of the time.
PL housing: Most (but not all) PLs in Language and Culture programs stay with host families. Most housing for other programs is in dorms. Make sure to make your preferences known in the interview if living with a host family is a deal breaker.
Medical and Dietary restrictions: Some sites are more remote and some are less suited to people with specific dietary restrictions. For example, just about everything in Spain has meat in it and Senegal would not be a good place to go for those with peanut allergies.
Overall, I have been very happy with my experience with CIEE and hope to be a Program Leader again in the future. It can be a tough job, but it is a great learning experience. If you are free this summer and think being a PL could be for you, check out the application with my referral link here. If you have students who are interested in the program, if they create their application with this referral link they’ll get $200 off. Good luck and happy travels!