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Multiculturalism in Portland, Maine

Last week, we welcomed our in-country coordinators to Portland for a week long summit on all things teaching abroad. We had an amazing time showing our foreign friends around our little city, filling our off hours with food, outdoor concerts, lobster boating, picnics in the park, and lots more.

As always with these meetings, our hope is to grow and better the programs that send participants far and wide to partake in culturally immersive and globalizing experiences. While we can’t deny the immense value of living abroad, we would be remiss not to mention the multiculturalism that lives in our own backyard and what we can learn from it being there.

Today we zoom in on the people and places that make Portland one of our favorite cultural hubs in the world, starting with our very own staff! Between our respective international experiences and wide array of nationalities, the CIEE represents dozens of countries and speaks numerous languages.

Sagan  kerry  allyFrom left to right: Kerry in Macedonia, Sagan in Spain, Ally in China

Among the ten team TEFL and Teach Abroad team members alone, we have lived long-term in a whopping 23 different countries and speak eight languages collectively! Our coordinators have brought back tokens of culture from their time living in (deep breath) Denmark, China, Canada, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Spain, Chile, the Philippines, Palestinian Territories, Egypt, France, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Costa Rica, Macedonia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, and Peru!

We are also able to converse in Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish, English, Russian, Macedonian, or Albanian. And this doesn’t even include our in-country coordinators who were here last week (but that list might be too long for a single blog post)!

Maxine  molly  emmyFrom left to right: Maxine in Ukraine, Molly in Jordan, Emmy in France

Outside of the organization, Portland is home to a growing immigrant population. Did you know Portland has the largest Sudanese immigrant population in the United States? The Portland Press Herald also reported that Central Africans have become the city’s fastest-growing immigrants group. Portland has provided refuge for immigrants and important cultural exchange for locals, sometimes in the form of language groups.

Portland’s public school system plays a leading role in promoting the city’s multiculturalism. The Multilingual and Multicultural Center within Portland Public Schools facilitates language retention and acquisition for non-native English speakers and students learning Arabic, French, Latin, Mandarin, and Spanish. Deering High School showcases their cultural diversity each year with their “Best of Both World” talent show.

Our HQ’s city is also home to a number of language schools and programs. Lyseth Elementary School is steadily growing its Spanish Immersion Program and La Petite Ecole offers a French language program for pre-school and kindergarteners. The Language Exchange also offers language classes and social events in over twelve languages!

Turns out our participants aren’t the only travel and culture addicts here. We are lucky that Portland’s thriving multiculturalism can feed our appetites for cultural immersion by offering language and exchange opportunities. We're also lucky that of all the places we could have ended up in the world, we are all right here in Portland. Cheers to this amazing multicultural hub!

IMG_7438The TEFL and Teach Abroad team (with other CIEE friends!)



My name is Emmy and I am a TAPIF survivor. Ok, that was dramatic. My year teaching abroad in France really was the best time of my life. But it’s no secret that TAPIF can be a logistical nightmare. The good thing about TAPIF is that you save money by not going through a provider. The bad thing is that, well, you don’t have a provider which leaves a lot of TAPIF-ers feeling under-prepared.

As you know, there is sometimes no rhyme or reason for how TAPIF works. I was one of the unlucky assistants who didn’t receive their contract until late summer and quite frankly had no idea if I’d be landing in France on the date written on my plane ticket. I was also one of the majority of assistants who walked into the classroom and felt like a total fish out of water.

I didn’t study education or English as an undergraduate and it was my first time ever in a classroom. How should I know how to teach English?! It’s since occurred to me just how weird it is that one of the requirements to be an English teaching assistant in France is a basic level of French when what would be infinitely more useful is having a basic level of English and specifically English teaching.

Which leads me to two questions that have boggled my mind since I starting working at CIEE two months ago: Why don’t TAPIF participants know about TEFL?! and If TAPIF-ers knew about TEFL, would more of them take it? I know I certainly would have!

In light of my new role on the TEFL team at CIEE and my past experience as a TAPIF English teaching assistant, I am here to fill you in on all things TEFL. Here are some of the common questions I’ve already received from some of you:

What the heck is TEFL?

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a 150-Hour accredited course that certifies you to teach English as a foreign language almost anywhere in the world (almost as in you probably can’t go to North Korea anytime soon). TEFL trains you to take charge as an English assistant and gives the tools and experience needed to establish a strong rapport with students, employers, fellow teachers, and other school administrators.

TEFL, TESOL, TESL, ESL…too many acronyms. What do they all mean?!

I get it, it’s confusing. All of these acronyms are related but each certification prepares you for a different kind of teaching environment. To make a long story short:

TEFL refers to teaching English as a foreign language within a country where English is not a primary or native language. If an institution lists a TESOL or TESL certificate as a prerequisite, you’ll be able to use a TEFL certificate earned with CIEE to fulfill this requirement.

TESL qualifies you to teach English as a second language to those living in a native English-speaking country. This is typically used by those looking to teach English in an English speaking country. As far as France goes, it doesn’t really apply.

TESOL is the umbrella certification includes the overarching concepts of both TEFL and TESL  This is a less specified course, likely more expensive and most commonly taken by those who aren’t quite aren’t sure if they’d like to stay abroad or head home to teach English.

Check out this article and acronym guide to get down to the nitty gritty of these different certs.      

How much does it cost?

The CIEE course fee is $1000 (unless you happened to have studied abroad through CIEE). Keep in mind that all TEFL certification courses should fall right around this price point if they are legitimate, accredited, and well-regarding by English teaching institutions and reviewers. Plus, the certificate never expires. Ever.

Do I have to get certified?

Getting a TEFL certification is not required to work as an English teaching assistant by the French Ministry of Education but could benefit you depending on your career path. For those who are one and done assistants, I would say you don’t really need to get TEFL certified (unless you are entirely freaked out by the idea of being in a classroom for the first time).

For those looking for a longer term stint as an English teacher abroad or at home, this certificate could be the jumpstart you need—especially if you’d like to stay in France and are worried about maxing out your two-year assistantship contract with TAPIF.

How does a TEFL certification work in France?

With a TEFL certificate, you can teach pretty much anywhere in the world. But if you’re looking to stay in France, you’re in luck. France has a pretty sizable English teaching job marketing between public and private schools, language institutions, and private tutoring.

With a certification and direct application to these positions, you’re bound to make some good money (especially compared to the TAPIF stipend). I tutored while I was in France and was able to make 15 euro per hour. If I had the TEFL certification, I would have been authorized to charge even more. You really could make a living off private lessons in France if that’s the route you choose to go!

P.S. Job assistance is included in CIEE’s course fee so if you’re having a hard time navigating the job market, you won’t be left stranded.

What’s the format of the course and could I really do it in France?

CIEE offers 150, 60, and 30 hour TEFL courses. The 150 hour is the one that employers look for but the others are great alternatives if you’re looking to save some cash and/or get a more succinct training before you leave for France.

Completing the 11-week certification in France is totally doable given that assistants only work 12 hours a week and ten of your teaching hours in France could count towards your 20 hours of practicum. If you don’t feel like getting that serious while you’re in France, doing it during the summer months is a great alternative.

* * *

Ok TAPIF friends, that’s all I have for you for now. If you have any more questions or still aren’t sure if TEFL fits into your plan, feel free to reach out and I can put you in touch with the real TEFL gurus over here at CIEE. I hope all of you have amazing years in France and may the arrêté be with you.

Contact me on Facebook (I'm in the 2017-18 TAPIF group - Emmy Ham) or at eham@ciee.org. 


Emmy is a 2016-17 TAPIF alumni who taught for the Academy of Nice in Hyeres, France. She worked in two elementary schools with kids age 6 to 11. Upon her return, Emmy started a working for the CIEE Teach Abroad and TEFL programs as their content marketing intern. She hopes to continue to facilitate teach abroad opportunities for years to come and help TAPIF participants in any way possible!

Reverse Culture Shock: the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre

The weeks and days leading up to moving abroad look more or less the same for everyone: constant back and forth between nerves and excitement, everyone you encounter asking if you’re ready, packing crises and double, triple, quadruple checks of travel documents. And of course culture shock worries that will make your head spin: What will it be like? Can I live without peanut butter? Will I like the food? How easy in the transportation system? Do I even speak Spanish?!


Yep, anticipating culture shock to the point of obsession is totally normal no matter who you are and where you are going. But what we all tend to give less thought to is what will happen on the other end of your journey. I’m talking re-entry and reverse culture shock.

Re-entry might feel a little different depending on where you are and when you’re coming back. Whether or not you’ve traveled before and how long you’ve been away from home are big factors. If returning home from my second 8-month jaunt in France was difficult, I can’t imagine what it would be like to come back from a one to two year stint in a non-Western country. Still, I think it’s safe to say that everyone—everyone—experiences some degree of reverse culture shock.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre things you will experience upon re-entry:

The good:

    • Friends and family. This is by far the most exciting things about coming home after being abroad for an extended period of time. It's a mini reunion party everywhere you go!
    • Home cooked food. Your mom is so happy to have you back that she’ll cook you all your favorite meals for about a week (warning: this wears off quickly so take advantage while you can). Plus your dog is there. 
    • Everything is so darn easy! You know exactly where everything is located in your home town: Your bank, post office, grocery store, favorite restaurants—they’re all right there. Plus, no language barrier! You’re suddenly the most competent person in the world. #adulting


The bad:

  • Missing foreign friends and family. Returning to one set of friends and family inevitably means leaving another. The first couple days back will have you feeling a little off kilter in light of their absence.
  • No more delicious, foreign food. This is one of the greatest tragedies of leaving abroad life—no more melt in your mouth baguettes or steaming bowls of bun cha or juicy, green olives. Get ready to cling to any restaurant that comes close to recreating your favorite delicacies.
  • Everything is so darn easy! Yep, this is a good and a bad. While knowing your home town by the back of your hand feels nice for a while, it will eventually feel too The challenges of living abroad can be exciting and overcoming them results in incomparable growth.


The utterly bizarre:  

    • Everyone is speaking English! It is so weird to walk around and not have to have your translating hat on all the time. Get ready for the first time you try to order a coffee in a different language.
    • Readjusting to customs and rituals. No more cheek kisses, no more language barrier, no more wondering which greeting you should use or how to address someone. The customs and rituals that were once second nature suddenly feel foreign!     
    • Going back to “the real world.” For many travelers, going home often means buckling down. Desk jobs and time clocks can feel really strange for people who have just spent a year or more in an unconventional work setting like a foreign classroom.


In your moments of panic and frantic searches for plane tickets back, take time to remind yourself that switching gears can take some time. Re-entry should be treated as delicately as initial culture shock since it is similar in so many ways. Be patient with yourself and those around you who might not fully understand the experience you’ve just come from.  

For those who have yet to squash their travel bugs, remember that travel isn’t going anywhere—especially with the option to teach English. A nomadic lifestyle requires some give and take so if you’re not ready to be done, trust that you’ll find a way back after some time of hard work and patience.

Good luck with the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre aspects of re-entry and remember, we’re all in it together!

This week’s hottest couple: Study Abroad and TEFL

Here at CIEE TEFL, we’re pretty much teaching English as a foreign language gurus. We understand exactly the kind of person who is getting TEFL certified: young, adventurous, nomadic, but also career-oriented and practical people. TEFL-ers are out to achieve the best of both world scenario: professional development and serious adventuring all at the same time!


But there’s one thing we just can’t seem to figure out: if these are the kind of people getting TEFL certified, why the heck aren’t more study abroad students doing it?!

Anyone who has studied abroad—which is almost anyone who is now teaching abroad—knows firsthand what a semester in a foreign country does. Some do it to push themselves outside of their comfort zone. Others hope to satisfy a budding sense of wanderlust. For some, it’s an integral part of their academic track. Even though everyone has different reasons for going in the first place, most come to the exact same conclusion: study abroad is just the beginning of their international adventures.


We get it! Four or five months just isn’t enough time for those who had their worlds rocked by the transformative power of cultural immersion. Chances are you’re already thinking of ways to get back if you are currently studying abroad or recently arrived home.

Stop thinking so hard and get on board with TEFL! Whether you want to return to your study abroad host country or try somewhere new, a TEFL certificate can and will get you there. It really is the simplest and most practical solution for rising seniors or recent graduates looking to get back out of dodge as soon as the caps and gowns come off.


Here’s are five key reasons why:

1. You don’t have to put off professional development to travel. In fact, with TEFL and teaching abroad, career growth and travel adventures are kind of a package deal. So no one can give you any heat for traveling after graduation. Ha!

2. Keep that professional momentum going! You’re coming off a huge milestone in your professional and personal timeline and are now more qualified than ever. But at graduation, you’ll realize just how many people are leaving with exactly the same qualifications. A TEFL certification adds a gold star to that diploma and helps you stand out in a huge stack of applications that look more or less the same.

3. If you’ve studied abroad, then you’ve undoubtedly gained huge confidence and independence. Although they offer some fantastic programs, you don’t really need a middle man to apply for positions abroad if you have a TEFL certificate. This means you could be in the driver’s seat of your abroad experience—work location, age level, and learning environment are your calls to make!

4. There is no better time to travel than right after graduation—which is why so many people are taking off as soon the dorms have been emptied and the textbooks have been burned (well, more likely returned). After your senior year, there are absolutely no strings attached. No job, no lease, no big commitments, no problems! As you get older, it only gets more complicated to up and leave. So get it in now! Plus, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll be able to link up with friends abroad since it seems everyone’s out there somewhere!

5. TEFL isn’t just about teaching. It’s about deepening intercultural competence. If you hope to be a lifelong traveler or spend more time abroad in any other way, TEFL could be a key piece of this puzzle. TEFL and teaching abroad get you one step closer to becoming the international citizen you set out to be when you studied abroad.


So study abroaders, if there is one piece of advice we could give you for your newly wide-open future, it’s to get serious about not getting too serious. There’s no need to settle for a highly demanding job right away. The great thing about TEFL is that is opens up endless opportunity abroad without committing you to anything. It’s exactly what you need to calm your post-grad freak out (don’t worry, we’ve all been there).

Again, if you have any questions, ask us TEFL gurus. Of course we think everyone can benefit from getting TEFL certified but we’ll tell you one way or another how it might fit into your post-grad path. Pack your bags, it's time to kick start your next big adventure!


-The CIEE TEFL Squad

East Side, Best Side: A quick guide for exploring Eastern France

Oh France, the land of cheese, wine, and baguettes. The food alone makes France feel like a dream but add the beautiful language, cozy villages, stunning mountain ranges, and a sparkling blue Mediterranean and you’ll realize that dreams really do come true!

When you only have a week in France, Paris definitely has its perks. One big, easily accessible, and diverse city that provides visitors with endless adventures, regardless of touristic preferences. While Paris should be on everyone’s bucket-list (definitely worth the hype), so should a road trip through Eastern France.

Here’s a route that will hopefully inspire you to jet-set to France, rent a car, and cruise through the beautiful French countryside to discover city after city of quintessential bliss—and of course amazing food!


Stop 1: Nice

Who knew that one of the most well connect airports in France (and possibly all of Europe) would be located in Nice?! Well, it’s not too surprising given that the funky Mediterranean city is so well connected to France’s biggest attractions: stunning beaches along the southern coast, ski resorts in the breathtaking French Alps, pizza and pasta on the Italian border, and dozens of iconic French cities like Marseille, Montpellier, and Lyon. Nice really does have the best of both worlds.

The best thing about this town is that you can experience it in so many different ways according to what fits your lifestyle and travel habits. You might spend your time riding bikes along the Promenade des Anglais and exploring the harbors filled with tiny, colorful fishing boats. Maybe your foodie side feels like feasting on seafood and attending wine tastings all day. Or maybe you spend all day on the beach and all night in the clubs! The great thing about this city is there is absolutely no pressure—no matter what kind of tourist you are, the only thing you have to do is relax!


Stop 2: Cannes

During your stay in Nice or on the tail end, jump on the local SNCF train and hop on over to Cannes (pronounced like soup can just FYI). Even though you’ll want to stay on the train all day, the five euro journey takes no more than thirty minutes and is a beautiful ride along the picturesque Mediterranean coast.

There is one rule of thumb when exploring these southern cities without a map: when it doubt, walk towards the ocean. You’ll discover all of Cannes magic along the ocean, whether it be in a beach side café, local artist market, or the climb up and through Le Suquet, the old quarter of Cannes that overlooks the beautiful bay, filled with boastful yachts and quaint fishing coats alike.  

Don’t forget that this city is the sight of the famous Cannes Film Festival. Remnants of Hollywood royalty like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe can be found throughout the city, lending to a mystical, retro vibe. Be sure to walk along the path of celebrity handprints to see which celebs have dazzled the crowds at this world-renown festival.  


Stop 3: Lyon

Hop on a train or rent a car and cruise your way to Lyon! This time, you’ll zoom through the French countryside: rolling, green hills, endless vineyards, and tucked away old towns. Again, you might never want the ride to end!  

Once you arrive in Lyon, you might finally be able to detach from that train seat. If France were high school, this city would be the cool new kid in town. Over the past few years, it’s become a hot spot for French and international students. The city is almost like a low-key, hipper version of Paris with trendy restaurants, a thriving art scene, and quirky storefronts.

Like Nice, your time in Lyon can totally be tailored to personal preference, but no matter what type of tourist you are, you have to get in on this food scene. Lyon is known as the gastronomy capital of France and in a country known primarily for its mind-blowingly delicious cuisine, that is really saying something. For the full Lyonnais experience, pop into one of the city’s famous Bouchon’s for a slow and savory meal. Once again, you might be stuck to your seat (and this time not by choice)!


Stop 4: Annecy  

Whether it’s a stop on your way to Paris or the final destination, Annecy is definitely worth a visit. Make your way to this alpine town from Lyon either by train or car and once again enjoy the stunning views of the countryside. In the spring and summer, you’ll see rolling hills of stunning, yellow flora and endless rows of grapevines.

Annecy is perfect for a day trip and probably one of the best cities to experience the French Alps due to its unique positioning on the lake. Gaze over the flat waters with a glass of rose and lay your eyes on one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world. During the spring and summer, renting a bike and riding around Lake Annecy (or at least a part of it) is a must for active tourists!

Upon exploring the historical city, you’ll find that Annecy take on a bit of a Venice vibe with its curving canals and cobblestone streets. Wander along to discover cafes, bakeries, and on Saturdays, open air markets! If the weather is nice, which is usually is in the spring and summer months, enjoy a lengthy lunch (in true French style) somewhere that overlooks the lake!

PicMonkey Collage


So there you have it! Four stops in Eastern France that should give you a taste of all things French. By now, you can clearly see the recommendation trends in all four cities: food. When it comes down to it, a road trip through France really can be characterized by taste. Most other attractions and activities are cheap or free and lodging is more than affordable—so no matter the city, don’t skimp on food.

Feast your eyes and your taste buds for one week or more during this relaxing road trip. By the end, you’ll be floating on air (and probably plotting ways to marry a French man). Bon appétit et profitez bien !

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