January 27, 2017

U.S. Exchange Alumni Citizen Diplomacy Challenge 2016 Winners Announced!

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s U.S. Exchange Alumni Citizen Diplomacy Challenge! More than one hundred alumni representing nearly twenty U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and hailing from thirty-eight U.S. states and territories participated by sharing their inspiring international exchange stories and photos, thereby serving as advocates for study abroad and encouraging more Americans to experience the immense benefits of exploring another country and culture. In this year’s competition, alumni had the opportunity to participate in three separate challenges:

  • Instagram Photo and Caption Challenge: Upload an inspirational original study abroad photo that showcases the value of international exchange. The photo caption should finish this sentence: “#StudyAbroadBecause___”
  • Share your Story Challenge: Share a brief, compelling personal narrative that demonstrates the benefits of international exchange and would inspire more people to go abroad.
  • Back to School Challenge: Go “back to school” to give presentations on what participating in an exchange program meant to you and share information about relevant U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.

We are pleased to announce that out of the nearly two hundred submissions received, the following alumni were selected as winners.  Thank you to all who participated. We appreciate your efforts to encourage more Americans to explore exchange opportunities and promote cross-cultural understanding in their communities.


The following alumni were selected as the Photo and Caption Challenge winners. Click on their names to see the winning submissions.  To see all submitted photos, please visit the ECA Flickr album.


Ariana Ananda, Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to Tanzania, 2015: With funding provided by the Gilman Scholarship, Ariana Ananda studied abroad in Tanzania through the School for International Training (SIT) and the Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology Program. This study abroad experience truly changed her life and influenced her in countless ways. Her time in Tanzania was filled with thrilling and grueling challenges, amazing animals, fascinating culture, and incredible people whom she will remain close to forever. The program strengthened her passion for working in wildlife conservation in Africa. At the end of 2015, Ariana graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in an independent major she created: Wildlife Conservation and Photography. She spent part of 2016 interning in China, researching giant panda breeding. She is currently working as a temp for her alma mater and she hopes to move to Australia in late 2017 to either pursue graduate coursework or work in conservation. In the coming years, she intends to pursue a career in wildlife conservation by conducting behavioral or human-wildlife conflict field research.


Pa Chia Thao, National Security Language Initiative (NSLI-Y) and Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to China, 2013 and 2015: Pa Chia Thao is a junior at Mount Holyoke College, majoring in astronomy and physics. She participated in the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI-Y) program to study Mandarin in Suzhou in 2013 and later received the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Mandarin in Beijing in 2015. Her experiences abroad have taught her the challenges of starting over in a new country -- similar to the experiences her parents went through as Hmong refugees who immigrated to the United States from Thailand. As an aspiring astrophysicist, she plans to conduct research at an observatory or lab and hopes to one day take part in joint US-China space missions.



Elise Harwell, National Security Language Initiative (NSLI-Y) to Morocco, 2015: Elise is currently a senior at Tucker High School and studied Arabic in Rabat, Morocco with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) in the summer of 2015. In college, she plans to pursue a double major in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies and hopes to follow her undergraduate studies with a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies or Human Rights Law. Her studies will lead to a career in in conflict resolution, focused on the Middle East and Caucasus regions. Her exchange experience opened up her eyes to the many possibilities she has for using Arabic in the future and she is forever grateful for the opportunity to study abroad with NSLI-Y. Through her exchange, she also learned important cross-cultural sensitivity skills that she will continue to use in her post-program education and career.

Jayson Wang, Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to Tajikistan, 2015: Jayson Wang participated in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program in Dushanbe, Tajikistan where he studied the Persian dialects of Farsi and Tajik. A recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he will be serving in the Peace Corps in Indonesia from 2017 to 2019 as a secondary education English teacher. The CLS program confirmed his passion for language and cultural immersion, not least living and building long term relationships with people of other countries. He hopes to build on his exchange and Peace Corps experiences by working in international development and humanitarian aid in the future.



Shaheed Sabrin, English Language Fellow to Malaysia, 2014 – 2016: As an English Language Fellow, Shaheed had the opportunity to teach Business English at University Malaysia Kelantan (UMK), the only entrepreneurship university in Malaysia. He also had the opportunity to work on curriculum development, facilitate over 100 workshops throughout six countries in Southeast Asia, train teachers, coach Ministry of Education officials, and support the U.S. Embassy’s English ACCESS Microscholarship program. During his time as a Fellow, he started the edcamp “unconference” movement in Malaysia, presented at regional TESOL conferences, and won Gold for “Best Workshop” at the International Conference on English Language Teaching (ICELT). His exchange experience made him more than just an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher, but a workshop specialist, teacher trainer, and youth motivator as well. In 20 months, he taught 3,006 students and trained 2,940 teachers. Shaheed currently teaches at Irvine Valley College, helping adult-ESL students develop the language skills they need in order to thrive in the United States.

Victor Yau, NSEP Boren Scholarship to South Korea, 2016-2017: Victor is a business student from the University of Houston currently studying Korean at Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea via the NSEP Boren Scholarship. Over the past eight months, he has immersed himself in Korean language and culture while building relationships within South Korea’s hip-hop scene as a b-boy dancer. After graduating, Victor wants to become a Foreign Service Public Diplomacy Officer, combining his interest in international diplomacy, Asian languages, and hip-hop dance. Moreover, he hopes to provide at-risk youth in underserved communities worldwide with a positive emotional outlet through hip-hop youth culture.



The following alumni were selected as the Share your Story Challenge winners. Click on their names to see the winning submissions.


Cara Price, National Security Language Initiative (NSLI-Y) to Moldova, 2016: After three weeks in Nepal with the State Department-sponsored Youth Leadership Program, Cara spent her senior year of high school studying Russian in Chisinau, Moldova through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y).  As her first experiences abroad, these exchanges offered a variety of new perspectives on politics, culture, and tea.  She currently attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a first year Robertson Scholar; works as a Computer Science Learning Assistant; and contributes to the Coalition for Human Rights, Splash UNC, and Russian Club.  Moving forward, Cara hopes to explore the intersection of technology and education in an international context.


Julie Ammons, Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program to Russia, 2016: Julie Ammons studied in Vladimir, Russia with the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program  this past summer.  She graduated in December 2016 with a B.A. in Russian and a minor in history from the University of Montana, and she is returning to Russia for the spring semester with the American Councils Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program with a Title VIII Language Fellowship from the U.S. Department of State.   Julie plans to pursue graduate school for Russian language and literature and is particularly interested in studying concepts of Russian identity and using this knowledge to help improve international dialogue between Russians and Americans.   Through her participation in CLS Julie increased her Russian Oral Proficiency Interview score by three levels and had the experience of a lifetime sharing Russian poetry with new friends, peers, teachers, and her host family.     



Jessye Kass, Fulbright U.S. Student to Thailand, 2013-2014: Jessye Kass's Fulbright experience teaching in Thailand advanced her cross-cultural communication skills and ability to be present in, and enjoy, each moment; these skills translated significantly into how she approaches her hectic work. Jessye currently works with high-needs clients as a mid-level manager at a non-profit in Massachusetts where she provides crisis management and assists previously homeless HIV positive individuals and at-risk youth find and maintain affordable housing. Jessye's future aspirations are to use her passion for social justice and creative problem-solving to ameliorate societal inequities in a range of educational and public health fields. 


Linda Austin, Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program to Burma, 2015: Linda Austin was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Burma in 2015. The veteran journalist taught undergraduates at the National Management College in Yangon. A former professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, she serves as project director for NewsTrain, a journalism-training program sponsored by Associated Press Media Editors. “Teaching journalism in Burma shortly after independent daily newspapers returned following a five-decade absence was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. For most of my students, I was the first American they had ever known, and the concept of a free press was a novel and exciting one. One wrote at the end of the semester: ‘You are my best teacher. I love you so much, and I will never forget you throughout all of my life.’”



Ashley Karlsson: Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to Chile, 2008 - As a 2008 Benjamin A. Gilman Scholar, Ashley Karlsson studied abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile. While taking classes at the Universidad de Valparaíso, she developed cross-cultural communication skills, learned Spanish, and gained experience teaching English to speakers of other languages. Karlsson is currently working as an English Language teacher with Minneapolis Public Schools, where she helps high school students learn about cultures around the world and develop their academic language skills.



Leona Amosah: Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program to Russia, 2016 - Leona is a senior at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill pursuing a double major in Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literature and Global Studies. Upon graduation, she hopes to work in some capacity in the field of international relations and foreign policy and aspires to join the Foreign Service. Leona’s exchange program enabled her to not only learn about contemporary Russian language and culture, but also to strengthen her desire to build and maintain relationships with people abroad and promote lifelong, cross-cultural connections.




Qorsho Hassan: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Malaysia, 2013 - Qorsho Hassan is a devoted bilingual educator and researcher in Columbus. She graduated from the Ohio State University with a Bachelor's in Sociology and is currently obtaining a Master’s in Education. She has conducted health and wellness research in an effort to raise more awareness about STDs/AIDS within the Somali community. Qorsho is a co-curator and author of an art project called Urur Dhex-Dhexad Ah (Community In Between), which aims to look at the lives and experiences of young Somali-Americans through a photo-narrative lens. In 2013, she was a part of the Fulbright ETA Program in Malaysia. Her experience inspired her to become an educator and catalyze change through intercultural interactions.