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9 posts from April 2017

Passing on a Love for Travel: CIEE Study Abroad Alumna and HI USA Staffer Kassi Oliver

"Travel leads to world peace...You learn to appreciate and not judge. And it’s not even a forced process; building tolerance and being a less prejudiced person just starts to happen naturally while traveling."

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CIEE Study Abroad alumna Kassi Oliver with her world-traveling daughter.

Kassi Oliver, from the University of Texas at Austin, studied abroad with CIEE in Legon, Ghana back in 2001. Sixteen years later, she still has a passion for international travel. Kassi currently serves as the national director of volunteer services for Hostelling International USA (HI USA) based out of Austin, Texas. She has worked for HI USA for six years now, pursuing their mission “to help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hosteling.” HI USA runs hostels throughout the U.S. and also offers educational and engagement programs to hostel guests and community members in the local areas they serve, utilizing volunteers to help lead their programs. Working for HI USA, Kassi gets to ‘pay it forward’ to provide fun and welcoming environments that support international travelers’ cultural experiences, just like CIEE Study Abroad offered her in Ghana. We interviewed Kassi to learn more about her career and what she thinks about her CIEE Study Abroad experience now, sixteen years later:

What is your favorite memory of living in Ghana?

I have so many good memories of living in Ghana. I arrived to Accra a day early before the other CIEE students arrived. I remember staying at a beachside hotel where the staff were incredibly friendly. The hotel had windows open where the ocean breeze cooled off the room. I heard the waves crashing as I went to bed and I remember literally pinching myself asking, “Am I really here?” I just couldn't believe this dream was a reality.

Other great memories include:

  • Taking African drumming class at the university. Our class sat outside under a very large tree – we would sit in a circle and play.
  • We didn’t have classes on Fridays so every weekend my two new friends and I would travel and explore. We traveled all throughout Ghana and also went to all the surrounding countries: Togo, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. We were able to see it all!
  • The food: not everyone loved the food, but I LOVED it. Fried plantains were amazing and I loved the fufu and banku. While some of my classmates were losing weight, I was gaining it!

How did studying abroad with CIEE impact your life?

Ever since I was in junior high school, I dreamed of traveling to Africa. Going to college and choosing to study abroad with CIEE made that dream a reality. The experience taught me that if you really want to do something you can make it happen. I was able to find a great supportive program through CIEE and even received a travel scholarship through my local university. Traveling to Ghana definitely gave me the confidence to go on and do more traveling abroad – some on my own and some with friends. Now that I am a mom of a 3-year-old little girl, I want her to have the same zest for travel. She has been to 10 states and also left the country once. She even has her own Southwest Airlines miles account!

What are you doing now?

I am the director of volunteer services for Hostelling International USA (HI USA), a non-profit organization that operates over 50 hostels nationwide. Each year, we welcome travelers from more than 100 countries, and more than 1,600 volunteers play a big role in helping fulfill our purpose to create a more tolerant world.

In my role, I help support and grow our volunteer program and volunteer experience. A lot of our volunteers love volunteering with us because it allows them to be part of a diverse community of travelers and be alongside fellow travel enthusiasts. To learn more about volunteering with HI USA, check out www.hiusa.org/volunteer or email me at volunteer@hiusa.org. We always are looking for great new volunteers!

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What do you like the most about working in the tourism industry?

I feel very lucky that my job mixes my love of travel and my love of being a part of something bigger – something that is trying to make the world a better place. I love that at HI USA we help provide travel experiences for others through our travel scholarships programs.

How do you think studying abroad, travelling, and staying in community housing like hostels helps create a more tolerant world?

Travel leads to world peace. It’s easy to judge and hate when you don’t know someone or don’t understand their culture. If you travel to a different country and become a traveler (not a tourist) and immerse yourself in their culture through talking with people, eating their food, listening to their music (you know, all the good stuff!), you gain a respect and understanding for a new culture. You learn to appreciate and not judge. And it’s not even a forced process; building tolerance and being a less prejudiced person just starts to happen naturally while traveling.

The same things happen every day in our hostels as people from different counties either sit down to share a meal, grab a beer, or go on a bike tour together. Conversations start to flow. There are laughs. There are plans made to hang out later that day and friendships are formed. Ultimately tolerance and respect are created.

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Kassi traveling with family.

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CIVIC LEADERSHIP ALUM FINDS FUN IN DIVERSITY

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

This year marks the 5th annual CIEE Work & Travel USA Civic Leadership Summit, an opportunity for 60 participants from all over the world to gather and increase cultural understanding and leadership skills. We asked Surosh Esmatullah, a 2014 Civic Leadership fellow from Afghanistan, to reflect back on his experience and share his goals for the future.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Surosh, I am originally from Afghanistan, but I am living in Turkey. I am doing my Master’s program at Uludağ University in International Relations. I was in the United States in 2014 for the Work and Travel Program, and I also attended the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington DC. It was a very exciting program for me!

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How has the Civic Leadership Summit impacted your life?

Well, through the Summit, I recognized a lot of problems in my own society in Afghanistan. Afghanistan contains many ethnicities, and the biggest problem right now is those ethnicities are sometimes fighting with each other. I recognized the problem, and I was so inspired. I think that like American people we can also live in peace although we are coming from different ethnicities.

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The biggest lesson I have taken from CIEE’s Civic Leadership Summit is that more variety means more fun. For example, assume that all of those students were from the same country. I believe it wouldn’t be as exciting as it was, because we were coming from different countries and different cultures, and there was many things to share with each other, to talk to each other about.

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What are your dreams for the future?

I am studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations at Uludağ University in Turkey. I hope to do a PhD program after my Master’s, and it will be great if I can do it in the U.S. I have a plan to work with the UN if possible, or if I stay in Turkey, I have a plan to create my own student exchange agency.

For the short term I would say I do not plan to return to Afghanistan, because first I have some plans to fulfil, but then yes [I would like to return]. As I said I have always believed myself to be a world citizen: no matter who you are if you need my help I will help you, or at least I will try. I believe the people in Afghanistan need me more than anyone and I can help because I know the society [there].

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What advice do you have for CIEE Work & Travel USA participants?

What I recommend to all those students who are doing the Work and Travel program currently is to travel and explore America, because there are a lot of great places to see and there are also a lot of things to learn about US society and US culture. My other advice is to live with an American family instead of living with foreigners if it’s possible, because it can help you to learn better about American family structure and relationships between family's members also it can help you to improve your English better as well.

Event Recap: Happy Hour at Crocodile Lounge

"The CIEE Alumni New York City Chapter met up in March for a casual happy hour at the Crocodile Lounge to enjoy an evening of networking and Bingo. The alumni came from a variety of career backgrounds - non-profit, fashion, education, finance - and some were students as well. It was a great turnout for our first event of the new year as the chapter also discussed what they would like to see in upcoming events and how to make the chapter thrive.

As per usual, the group had very different experiences with CIEE; some were teachers, some studied abroad, and others were part of a work exchange program.

Hope to see you at the next chapter event! If you want to get involved and have any ideas for upcoming events, feel free to email us." - Ibby Hussain, chapter vice president

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A Small International Village: How Experiencing Cultural Diversity in the U.S. Inspired CIEE Work & Travel USA Alumnus to Make a Difference

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This winter, we connected with Ebrahim Sabry, an Egyptian national, Access Scholar, and CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus. Through the program, Ebrahim worked as a lifeguard at Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Parks in Wildwood, New Jersey. In an interview, he shares his experience and greatest takeaways of the program:

Why did you decide to come to the United States for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program?

I was listening to music on YouTube and the sidebar popped up recommending I check out the CIEE YouTube Channel, so I did! I watched a video called “my work and travel experience in America” and was curious why so many people were thanking CIEE in the video. I decided this was an experience that I wanted. I am a person who wants to know about other cultures and different mentalities. I live in a small part of a large world and I wanted to know how other people lived (daily routines, even) and what their interests are (sports, travel?). The U.S. is one of the leading countries so it was exciting for me to go there to learn how people lived, work, interact, perceive things, react to situations, spend their holidays, take their vacations, what food they eat… everything!

What did you learn about U.S. life, culture, and society during the program?

It was amazing to see the huge number of different races and mentalities in one place. In the United States, to me, you can find a huge number of different cultures and people living in the same spot. This is what makes the U.S. so great. I saw it everywhere – at work, in the community, and when I traveled (Boston, NY, Florida). My employer was a small example representing the whole. Morey’s Piers was like a small international village. I met not only Americans, but people from all over the world. You don’t have to travel to these places, they are all in Wildwood!

I lived with some guys from Spain and Venezuela and we became great friends. It was hard at first to communicate with them because of the language barrier, but by the end of the summer their English really improved! We had so much in common; I wasn’t expecting that. Even if you are living so far away, you still have something in common. The main difference that we talked about was religion and politics. But, at the end of the day, we were open to other ideas and respected each other’s differences. People may assume I’m Muslim because I’m from Egypt, but I used to be Catholic, and now I’m not practicing any religion. We talked about religion and it was great that we could express our thoughts and ideas to each other and not worry about what each other really thought, you know? It was safe. It’s hard in some of our [Egypt's] cities to say, for example, “no I’m not religious,” or “no I’m not Catholic,” because where we live that may not be accepted. It’s like we could share these secrets with each other. The difference and similarities we shared… all of it makes me more passionate about getting to know more people.

I also learned that if you can get engaged in that type of open society and be productive and proactive, that would be great because at the end of the day you give back to the community and it gives back to you. With this experience, you feel like you are a positive member in the society. Everyone I met was welcoming and positive. It made me want to be positive and be as open to people as they were being to me. That positive spirit makes you feel better and makes you go the extra mile. That is why I’m so excited to go on the program again but this time to explore the West Coast.

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What does your CIEE Work & Travel USA experience mean to you?

The first thing is that it made me believe that, even though I live in a small part of the world, there are a lot more parts of the world that deserve to be discovered. It has made me so motivated to travel everywhere and get to know more people. When I saw how developed and organized things are in the U.S., it made me think about how I would develop my city or country and what I could do to make things more positive/developed in my community. I work for STAR (Student Action for Refugees) in Egypt and I teach English language courses on a weekly basis at the university. We are trying to initiate a national organization so that we can connect all the small STAR organizations together and make a national organization called “STAR Egypt.”

I feel like I have a great level of education that makes me feel responsible for people who don’t have the same opportunities. I think of the refugees and their situations and the difficulties they face in their life and it’s my responsibility to give back to them, to my community, to help them. If people that have the tools to help them don’t help them, then who will? The refugees are from Syria, Africa, Ethiopia – everywhere in the world. CIEE Work & Travel USA showed me how I can make a positive impact. This is my response to when people ask me why I do STAR. When I attend the graduation for these refugees and you see their smiles and in their eyes how happy they are, you start to understand that you’ve done something great and have done something positive that changes lives and communities. These refugees now have jobs, travel, and are continuing their education. To me, this is impact. 

What was the single most influential and meaningful experience of your program?

Part of my experience was working too! It was not just about getting to know more people. It’s about learning how to be a responsible person, maintain good standing at work, and follow the rules of the job. I was a lifeguard and remember that I had to watch after young kids in the pool. There was a small boy who was trying to get out of the water and was starting to drown; I jumped in, got him out of the pool, and saved his life. His mom came to me and said, “thank you for what you did.” At that moment I felt like I was doing something meaningful. It was a hectic and difficult job but, at the end of the day, I realized that by doing a good job that I was contributing to the community.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in coming to the U.S. for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program?

I would say that it is so, so, so amazing to be in the U.S. and work with so many different people. You don’t have to visit a huge number of countries – they are right there for you. The experience is one that will change you. Once in a lifetime. I can’t wait to go back!

Ebrahim will soon graduate from the American University in Cairo with a major in construction engineering and a minor in music technology. He plans on working for his family's business, which involves construction work, and creating techno music. In the future, he would like to get involved with the United Nations and continue his community development journey. For now, he is getting ready to spend another summer with CIEE Work & Travel USA!

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Event Recap: Tapas and Event Planning in Chicago

The CIEE Alumni Chicago Chapter had a fun and exciting gathering at Emilio's Tapas Sol y Nieve last week to plan upcoming chapter events. Chapter president Lauren Swanson reports, "With 9 attendees total, mostly newcomers, we were able to meet new faces and make the world a little smaller. Conversation flowed from our study abroad experiences into our international travels since graduation. It was a great opportunity to spread the word about our chapter's events and discuss cultural/professional events going forward in our community. Happy to kick off 2017 CIEE Alumni events in Chicago, and we look forward to the next event!"
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Don't miss the next event! Join the CIEE Alumni Chicago Chapter on Facebook or email alumni@ciee.org to receive email notifications about upcoming events.

Alumni Update - April 2017



NEWS THIS MONTH

New Blog Showcases CIEE Exchange Programs

There's a new blog on the CIEE website that highlights stories of current participants, alumni, and initiatives from a variety of CIEE exchange programs such as Work & Travel USA, Internship USA, and Professional Career Training USA. Visit the CIEE Exchange Programs blog to read all about it. Here are a few highlights from featured stories:

"I feel very lucky to be working in my field, clothing manufacturing and fashion industry management. People I meet at my work are remarkably inspiring. I see how hard they work and how much they sacrifice to succeed. This feeling and the environment pushes me every day to be a better person and never give up on my own dreams." from Expanding Horizons in New York City

"International experience enriches someone who has lived abroad, especially if you are in close contact with the locals and other foreigners. Tasting the culture, enjoying the adventure of something unknown. Then, leaving the place that has been your home for several months or years, you always leave and take something, so at the end your home is everywhere." from Love at Third Sight, Deep in the Heart of Texas

Bring the World to Your Home - Host an International Exchange Student

Every year, hundreds of international exchange students travel to the U.S. for CIEE's High School USA programs in search of academic and cultural exchange experiences. When you host an international exchange student, you do much more than provide a place for a student to eat and sleep. You make it possible for a young person who is curious about life in the U.S. to experience the opportunity of a lifetime. Host families come in all shapes and sizes - with or without kids, single parents, couples, retirees - almost anyone. All that is required is an open mind and an open heart. Learn more. 

Not interested in hosting, but know someone who would be great? Refer them to CIEE, and if they end up hosting a student, you receive $100!




UPCOMING EVENTS

Stay up-to-date with alumni events by:

Read about the most recent CIEE Alumni Local Chapter events on the blog.


ALUM OF THE MONTH 

The Alum of the Month for April is Kristin Aquilino. Kristin studied abroad with CIEE in Monteverde, Costa Rica to get outside her comfort zone, experience the incredible biodiversity of the environment, and grow as a scientist and person. The experience had a great impact on her education and career. She says, "My study abroad experience gave me a much more holistic appreciation of the earth and the way humans interact with it, which broadened my scope of interest when applying for graduate programs and pursuing future research questions." She now works in the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory to save what she calls a "delicious and adorable" marine snail - the white abalone. Read her story.



Do you have your own story to share? Email us: alumni@ciee.org


ALUMNI VOICES

Excerpts from recently published alumni stories: 

"Overall, the impact this program had on my life was huge. I can say I’m not the same person I was before going to the United States. Now, I’m more interested in joining groups where I can take action to help people." -Viviana González (CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2015)

"Through workshops and activities, I was pleased to discover many kind-hearted young people which galvanized me in continuing my work to make a difference in my country. Back in France, I am proud I did that experience as it made me grow as a person, and gave me professional experience that I already see is making a difference on the job market." -Safia Dworjack (CIEE Internship USA, 2016)


@CIEEALUMNI 



From left: Children learn computer literacy at Lumen Labs in rural Kenya, an organization founded by CIEE Study Abroad alum Ruby Au; CIEE Work & Travel USA alumni reunite in Romania and reminisce about their time working at Yellowstone National Park together; we celebrate International Day of Happiness with a photo of two CIEE Work & Travel USA alumni who had fun working at an ice cream shop for the summer.

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From Costa Rica to California: One Study Abroad Alum’s Quest to Save an Endangered Species

Scientist. Educator. CIEE Alum of the Month. These are just a few words to describe CIEE Study Abroad alumna Kristin Aquilino, an Assistant Project Scientist at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory who dedicates her time to saving the endangered white abalone. Abalone are sea snails found in many coastal waters whose meat is consumed as a delicacy and whose iridescent shells are used for jewelry and other mother of pearl decorations like guitar inlays. The white abalone is just one of 57 species in a group of herbivorous marine snails and is considered endangered as a result of overfishing, infections, and reproductive failure. Saving the species is Kristin’s passion. How did she become interested in this challenging work? What does study abroad have to do with it? We interviewed Kristin to find out this and more.

What motivated you to study abroad with CIEE in Monteverde, Costa Rica?

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I was totally jazzed about ecology, biodiversity, and evolutionary biology. Few places in the world have as incredible biodiversity of plants and animals that evolved interesting ways to cope with their environments as Costa Rica. I also knew that putting myself slightly out of my comfort zone would help me grow as a scientist and as a person, and embarking on a journey that included backpacking in the rainforest was certainly a bit out there for a kid from Iowa who had hardly ever been camping.

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Photo courtesy of Kristin Aquilino

What’s one of your best memories from your time abroad in 2004?

One of my favorite memories from my time in Costa Rica is of learning the theory of island biogeography from a beach on the Osa Peninsula. It was my first and only experience with “sand PowerPoint” – our fantastic instructor, Dr. Carlos Guindon, would draw keywords and figures in the sand with a stick, and our teaching assistants would advance his “slides” by sweeping palm fronds over what he had written so he could start anew. To this day, it is the best lecture I have ever attended.

The most impressive part of the experience was not just being able to plunge my feet in the sand during class while enjoying a backdrop of crashing waves and scarlet macaws, but being able to experience the concepts we were learning in action. After our lecture, we visited a nearby island and compared species abundances and ecological processes on the island to those on the mainland. This immersive, hands-on approach was what made this field course so much more impactful than my lessons that took place in lecture halls on campus.

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Photo courtesy of Kristin Aquilino

How did your study abroad experience impact your education?

Observing natural history, asking and investigating my own scientific questions, building confidence, being surrounded by inspiring peers, witnessing the global, “real-world” impacts of science, understanding the context of science in society and how it affects people… all of these things made me a better naturalist, scientist, and human being.

My study abroad experience gave me a much more holistic appreciation of the earth and the way humans interact with it, which broadened my scope of interest when applying for graduate programs and pursuing future research questions. It also made me appreciate home; though I always had a passion for nature, I often didn’t appreciate the Great Plaines and rolling cornfields that surrounded me. Sometimes it takes something like an exotic rainforest to help you appreciate the wonders of the ecosystem in your own backyard.

What makes you so passionate about the white abalone?

Where do I begin? There is certainly a sense of purpose that comes with trying to correct past environmental mistakes. We humans were responsible for the decline of this species, and I believe that we have a responsibility to save them. Efforts to save an endangered species also allows for an excellent opportunity to engage in meaningful communication about the importance of science to our quality of life. I love opportunities to share our work through social media, video production, science outreach seminar series, and K-12 education.

I also have the pleasure of working with several amazing people and organizations. While the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory leads captive breeding efforts, we work closely with other universities, federal and state institutions, aquariums, and aquaculture farms to do this work, which is overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Photo courtesy of Karin Higgins, UCD

Most people have probably not heard of white abalone. What are five things everyone should know about the marine invertebrate?

  1. White abalone are a delicious marine snail that will go extinct very soon without our efforts to save them: We fished over 99% of them in the 1970’s, and the ones that remain are too far apart from one another to reproduce. This overharvest led to them being the first marine invertebrate to land a spot on the U.S. Endangered Species List.
  2. White abalone is one of seven species of abalone off the west coast of North America, and there are abalone on every continent except for Antarctica. Abalone are hugely culturally and economically important to communities worldwide, including coastal California; people eat them, make jewelry and guitar inlays out of their shells, and native people even used the shells as currency. My husband learned to harvest abalone from his uncle when he was a boy, and we can’t wait to teach our daughter to dive for them. Abalone are in the DNA of Californians and coastal inhabitants throughout the globe.
  3. White abalone and their congeners also possess ecological superpowers – they are like the Zambonis of the sea, maintaining a habitat that is perfect for lots of other animals to inhabit, and competing with species like urchins, that can wreak havoc on kelp forests when their populations go unchecked.
  4. White abalone are adorable. While many people appreciate the giant foot of these snails, so many don’t realize they also have “squee”-worthy faces. Few things bring me more joy than showing someone the beady, black eyes topping the mollusk's long, skinny eyestalks. They have personalities!
  5. We can save them. Captive breeding and outplanting was identified as the best way to rescue this species from the brink of extinction. We now boast more white abalone in captivity than exists in the wild. While this is a scary prospect for the wild population, it also presents a great opportunity to save them. With their wild habitat in relatively pristine condition, we should be able to get our captive-bred animals to thrive there and save this important species.
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Photo courtesy of Shauna Byron

For updates about Kristin and her colleagues’ efforts to save white abalone, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!

 

Event Recap: Cherry Blossoms & Lunch with CIEE Alumni

CIEE alumni in the Washington, D.C. area met on March 19 at Daikaya Izakaya, a Japanese restaurant serving small plate comfort food, to kick off the annual cherry blossom season. Some even journeyed from Maryland and Virginia to network with fellow CIEE alumni and to explore Japanese cuisine in celebration of the season. The cuisine included plates such as abura onigiri, mentaiko donburi, and gyutan (beef tongue). While some were trying new foods, a handful of alumni who studied abroad in Japan were taken back in time with the familiar tastes and traditional dishes presented with a culinary twist. There were also a number of alumni who were attending a chapter event for the first time and expressed excitement for the events to come. After lunch, the group headed out to visit the cherry blossoms and enjoyed a jazz concert by the Tidal Basin, an event which was organized by the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Join the CIEE Alumni Washington, D.C. Chapter group on Facebook to stay updated about future events!


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A CIEE Work & Travel USA Experience, in Photos

"This exchange experience meant that I have open doors all over the world, only I just have to knock on them."

CIEE Work & Travel USA alum Viviana González decided to work in the United States because she wanted to show her Venezuelan culture to the world and learn everything she could about others. Her ambition for international exchange started when she was 15 years old, when she was offered the opportunity to continue her English studies at Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia (CEVAZ) with the help of the English Access Microscholarship Program (Access). Access is a U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange program that offers English language learning to 13- to 20-year-old  non-U.S. students in over 85 countries, hosted through local U.S. Embassies. Surprised and honored that she was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, Viviana took the program as an opportunity to grow professionally as she began to study law and international relations. It was during her studies that Viviana decided to apply for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.

Viviana was placed to work at Morey's Piers & Beachfront Water Parks in Wildwood, New Jersey. She says of the experience, "Most of the cultural experiences I lived were while working. Once a week, the water park admissions team would gather and the supervisors would point out which people did an outstanding job that week, and what aspects of our job we could improve. Then, we would have integration activities, where we would talk about our countries, our cultures, and what we were looking forward to when we came back home. Also, I learned a lot from the people that worked around me but weren’t on my team (lifeguards, water park operations people, and food services)."

To tell us more about her employment and cultural experience in the United States, Viviana shares a series of photos with captions:

In order for us to experience American holidays, Morey's Piers organized a 'Thanksgiving in July', where all workers could go and have a dinner with food that's normally eaten on Thanksgiving. We used pilgrim hats and had a session of pictures where we were dressed as American football players. Also, I remember that during the event, we were visited by a CIEE representative who expressed to us their happiness because it was the first time that someone from Venezuela was participating in the program.

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In the following pictures, I got to visit Niagara Falls. It was such an amazing experience to witness the beauty of that place and see the falls so close. I learned so much about the history of the place and its connection to native people. Actually, I never knew that the falls were called "Niagara" because that is how the tribes there called them, and I must say that the story of Lelawala ("Lady of the Mist") is one of the most interesting you learn there. It reminded me somehow of my home because I live in a state where we are in contact all the time with the Wayuu people, and that most Venezuelans are descendants of Venezuelan natives alongside Spanish and African people.

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Here is my trip to Washington, D.C. I was so excited to see the monuments and the White House. Also, the fact that I could visit the Smithsonian Museums and not have to pay entrance was exciting. But I got really happy when I got to see the Organization of American States because, as somebody who loves diplomacy, that's one of the places I would look forward to working in.

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I visited Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. At the beginning, I thought that I would never understand New York, but in the end I loved it because it is so filled with different cultures. I swear that people who were around me weren't just speaking English, but any language that exists in the world! For me, New York City is really the capital of the world.

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I also went to Philadelphia. I never thought it was such an important city before. There is the Liberty Bell and, also, it was the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Philadelphia is also home of the United States Constitution. The rhythm of the city reminded me of Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia state (the state where I live), so I really felt at home.

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Morey's Piers workers visited a local preschool. I was surprised to learn that now the schools are teaching in both English and Spanish because the Latino population has grown very fast. I remember kids got excited because I told them that in my city there are a lot of coconut trees, and they had just read a story about a coconut tree. Also, I spoke in Spanish because teachers wanted kids to hear the way I spoke and have them interact in that language.

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Morey's Piers organized an end of the season party. Since I worked as a game operator in my second job there, all of the Venezuelan team was there. Jorge brought the Venezuelan flag with him and took a picture with Jordan Morey, who is a supervisor in the parks.

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This was my last day at Ocean Oasis, the water park where I was assigned. Pictured is part of my team as well as my supervisors. I admit that I really miss them, even though I keep in contact with them. They are incredible people and so easy to work with; I remember that I cried with the closing announcement.

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This is the Morey's Piers Mariner's Pier entrance. Definitely, the park gives a great vibe to Wildwood's Boardwalk. It's an unforgettable place.

21

Last but not least important, there is the Wildwoods sign. It's a must to take a picture there. I lived so many good experiences in Wildwood, NJ and I hope that someday I can come back and make new memories.

22

Overall, the impact this program had on my life was huge. I can say I’m not the same person I was before going to the United States. Now, I’m more interested in joining groups where I can take action to help people. Also, I have a great desire to start working, even though my schedule, and the fact that I have to commute everyday from my hometown to the city where my university is, makes this difficult, but I can say there is no more rewarding sensation than earning things through hard (and well done) work.