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© 2018 by Conversations Unbound.

Connect with us on social media.


Logo design by Mercer Suppiger.


Mission Statement

Conversations Unbound is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Our programs empower forcibly displaced individuals as paid online Arabic or Spanish language tutors for college students in the United States. These tutoring sessions are an integral component of language learning curricula that also make possible cross-cultural bonds of solidarity.


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 68.5 million people are categorized as forcibly displaced today. 

In this age of technological advancement and increasing global connectivity, we want to leverage technology to blur the traditional boundaries between donor and recipient. By placing forcibly displaced individuals in a tutoring position, we challenge the traditional flow of aid, and we offer an opportunity for these people to regain some sense of agency. Compensation for the tutor’s time is key to our program. We hope that this small amount of additional income will help the tutors financially and that this payment illustrates that the world values these peoples’ skills.


By integrating CU programs in language-learning curricula, these conversations provide students with a robust educational experience. Our hope is that these sessions become more than simply a homework assignment—by meeting the tutor face-to-face online, transnational relationships can form. Distance, borders, and language no longer stand as a divisive force, and we hope that both parties embrace this opportunity to blur these traditional boundaries.

Our History

Amidst one of the largest forced migrations in history, Conversations Unbound launched in 2015 as a coordinated effort, directed by Elise Shea, involving Vassar College, italki.com, current and former Vassar students, and dedicated Arabic tutors in Paris. CU grew from a digital initiative within Vassar Refugee Solidarity, and has since flourished thanks to the support of the Vassar College administration, faculty, graduates, and students, and its partnership with Small Projects Istanbul.


In 2017, CU expanded its Arabic program to Michigan State University and piloted the Spanish program at Vassar College with incredible success. The same year, CU was also incorporated in New York state and received 501(c)3 not-for-profit status, which enables CU to receive tax deductible donations from its supporters.


Looking forward, CU is excited to expand these conversations to more universities and develop new language programs that foster cross-cultural relationships!

Our Team

Elise Shea - President and Chair

Elise is a senior at Vassar College double majoring in International Studies (concentrations in Political Science and Economics) and French and Francophone Studies.


Speaks English & French.



Camelia Manring - Spanish Program Manager

Camelia is a junior at Vassar College studying Geography and minoring in Hispanic Studies and Arabic Language & Culture.


Speaks English, Spanish & Arabic.


Laura Price - University Expansion Manager

Laura is a senior at Vassar College double majoring in Neuroscience and Chinese and minoring in Biology.


Speaks English, Spanish & Chinese.

Leena Hanna - Arabic Translator

Leena is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a B.A. in English Literature and Latin-American Studies and an English Teaching Diploma. She is a Fulbright Alumna and was a Vassar College Arabic Language Fellow.


Speaks Arabic, Hebrew, English & Spanish.

Alexandria Shaw - Assistant to the Arabic Program Manager

Alexandria is a sophomore at Vassar College studying Film Studies, Africana Studies, and minoring in Arabic.

Speaks English and Arabic.

Paola Castañeda - Spanish Program Assistant Manager

Paola is a freshman at Vassar College interested in studying Hispanics Studies, Media Studies and Astronomy.​

Speaks English & Spanish.

Lily Thompson - Marketing Assistant

Lily is a freshman at Vassar College interested in studying education and political science.

Speaks English & Spanish.

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Jessica Schwed - Vice President

Jessica is a graduate of Vassar College with a B.A. in International Studies with concentrations in History and Political Science, and a minor in French and Francophone Studies.


Speaks English, French & Arabic.

Gabrielle Chwae - Marketing & Public Relations Manager and Secretary

Gabrielle is a senior at Vassar College studying International Studies and Russian studies with a minor in Mathematics.


Speaks English, French & Russian.

Zuzanna Wisniewska - Financial Manager and Treasurer

Zuzanna is a junior at the University of Washington studying History with a minor in Diversity.


Speaks English & Polish.


Alisa Vithoontien - Grant Writer

Arisa is a senior at Vassar College double majoring in Political Science and Religion.

Speaks English, Japanese & Thai.

Amanda Watson - Expansion Assistant

Amanda is a sophomore at Vassar College studying Political Science and minoring in Economics and Geography.


Speaks English & Spanish.​

Charlotte Rhoads - Spanish Program Assistant

Charlotte is a freshman at Vassar College with an interest in studying Spanish and Physics. 

Speaks English & Spanish.

Eva Kerisel - Blog Writer

Eva is a junior at Vassar College studying political science.

Speaks French, English, Spanish and proficient in Arabic and Hebrew.

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Board of Directors

•  Alaa Khabbaz, CU Arabic Tutor  

•  Alisa Swire, Esq.

•  Chris McLaren, Program Director at Small Projects Istanbul
•  Kelly Ann Collins, CEO at Collins & Company

•  Maria Höhn, Professor and Chair of History at Vassar College 

•  Othman Karkokli, Community Liaison Officer at Small Projects Istanbul


•  Elise Shea, President
•  Jessica Schwed, Vice President
•  Gabrielle Chwae, Secretary
•  Zuzanna Wisniewska, Treasurer

Classroom Liaisons
Advisory Board

•  Eva Woods Peiró, Assoc. Professor, Chair of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College

•  Tagreed Al-Haddad, Visiting Instructor in Africana Studies at Vassar College

Former Contributors

•  David Pecar, Website Designer

•  Mark Pecar, Webmaster, Marketing Assistant

•  Ilayda Takil, Marketing Assistant

•  Feeha Hasan, Launched CU at MSU

•  Jamie Stevenson, Principal Analyst, African Oil Markets, IHS Markit

•  Sophie Slater, Paris Program Manager
•  Anish Kanoria, Student Advisor​​​


Vassar College:

• Arisa Vithoontien, Arabic (106-01)

• Claire Kendrick, Arabic (207)

• Camelia Manring, Arabic (307)Spanish (298)

• Madio Wallner, Spanish (206)

Dahlia Chroscinski, Spanish (366)

Michigan State University:

• Jenna Chaaban, Arabic (201-01)

• Cayman Nelson, Arabic (201-02)

• Sarise Hammad, Arabic (401)

Awards & Recognition

July 31, 2018

Putting a Face on Displacement

Vassar College Quarterly

June 06, 2017

​EuropeNow Journal

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Want to get involved? Contact us.

We would love to hear from you. Reach us through email or social media.