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Our Favorite Global Reads: AIFS Abroad Staff Picks

Our Favorite Global Reads: AIFS Abroad Staff Picks

Last Updated on December 27, 2021 by Emily Merson

by Emily Merson, co-founder of Global Experiences and Executive Director of AIFS Abroad.

Like most international educators, we don’t just love to travel, we also love to read about the world. It doesn’t take long when we are all together for discussions to turn to what we are reading or latest recommendations. Especially in the last few years, without ready access to seeing the world in person, most of us have turned to the next best thing. In fact, when I look forward to the upcoming holiday season, one of the things I look forward to most, is new books under the tree, and that magic time between Christmas and New year when I can sit quietly and read.

Following our retreat in Annapolis earlier this month, I asked our staff for their favorite books about the world. Here are some of their recommendations:


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

“A wonderful, edge of your seat, emotional roller-coaster story about childhood, friendship, and family in Taliban controlled Afghanistan.”
-Justin Lee, Program Manager

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

“It’s a historical fiction novel that follows a Korean family’s immigration to Japan. It’s more of a tearjerker than a feel-good book! Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters — strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis — survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.”
-Becca Newman, Enrollment Manager

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

“I read it my senior year of high school and it made me want to study abroad in Italy!”
-Chelsea Conran, Enrollment Manager

No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza

‘The story is about an alien who is lost in Barcelona whilst in search of his friend Gurb. I have read it like 4 times and it’s incredibly fun. When I was living in Barcelona, I thought of Gurb many times…haha”
-Carmen Chamorro, Global Engagement Coordinator

Song of a Captive Bird by Jazmin Darznick

“Inspired by life of Forugh Farrokhzhad, an Iranian poet and movie director. A beautifully written book about the challenges of going against the grain of societal norms for women amidst the backdrop of the Iranian revolution. This was definitely a book that pulled on my heart strings, showed the complexities of life in Iran in the 1950s and stayed with me long after I finished reading it!”
-Cerita King Oliver, Program Coordinator

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E Schwab

“I thoroughly enjoyed it. Starts off in France, shifts around during 2-3 centuries of her life.”
-Kate Pazda, University Relations Director

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

“I love reading about Japanese culture and history, so it was amazing to get intimate details of the life of a Geisha before, during, and after WWII. Such a good read!”
-Laura Miranda-Rivera, Program Coordinator

“The night I finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha, I immediately applied to go teach in Japan. Three weeks later I’d been hired”
-Michelle Walters, Regional VP University Relations

Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney

“The author actually went to Trinity College in Dublin which is where it is set. A great story about travel, romance and the dynamics of friendship and romantic love. Great read! “
-Hailey Morris, Program Manager Internships

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

“Mexican bookstore owner and family accidentally get involved with a cartel and have to flee for their lives, trying to get to the US with thousands of others. Soooo good!”
-Justin Lee’s Wife Meegan

Beneath a Scarlett Sky by Mark Sullivan

“Based on a true and amazing WW2 story about a 17-year-old boy in Milan and his role in the Italian resistance and the escape path used by many refugees across the Alps, amazing bravery and beautiful descriptions of Italy and an untold story only recently discovered.”
-Emily Merson, Executive Director


The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

“The author was previously an international correspondent and journalist. The book represents his journey of looking into happiness and what it means to be happy across cultures.”
-Katie Pazda, University Relations Director

Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner

“It was an incredibly personal memoir of grief, food, family, culture and the complexities of growing up multiracial in a country that often forces you to choose a single box. I thought it was a beautiful and complex representation of an Asian American family during a year when representation was much needed.”
-Michelle Walters, Regional VP University Relations

Sunburnt Country by Bill Bryson

“He wrote about Australia with self-deprecating humor and vivid imagery. The stories were fascinating and I felt I understood Australian culture a little bit better.”
-Carri Orrison, VP Operations

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

“Set in Scottland a biologist is tasked with re-introducing fourteen grey wolves into the remote Highlands with hopes of healing the dying landscape. It was probably the most beautifully written book I have read this year.”
-Amy Wilson, Student Accounts Manager

Once There Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs

“This is a unique, contemporary story inspired by true events. A Syrian artist, Nizar Ali Badr, provides beautiful artwork using small stones to convey struggles and triumphs of a family fleeing violence, with accompanying text in both Arabic and English.”
-Peter Gallagher, Academic Program Director

May your Holiday season be peaceful and filled with happiness, and your new year be a global one, even if it comes in the form of a fabulous book.

All the best and happy reading.

Emily and the AIFS Abroad Team

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