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Learning to Embrace Different Cultures: Irish Student Experiences Life in the U.S.

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CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus Andrew Ralph from Ireland spent the summer of 2015 working at CIEE’s global headquarters in Portland, Maine. During his time at CIEE, Andrew had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the very program he was on and gain a deeper understanding of the J-1 Visa process in the United States. We saw on Twitter that Andrew is a proud CIEE alum so we interviewed him to find out what gives him pride in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program and hear what he’s doing now!

What makes you proud to be a CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus?

I am extremely and vocally proud to be a CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus because CIEE profoundly benefited me. The three-and-a-half months I spent in Portland, Maine on the program and working for CIEE were three of the best months of my life – I do not want to praise CIEE and the work that it does in just words – I want to do what I can do for CIEE in practical and active ways too. Looking back on my time at CIEE and on the program, the pride that I have has manifested itself into motivating me to be an ambassador for CIEE and for the program to my peers and to my fellow countryman and countrywomen here in Ireland.

What inspired you to apply for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program?

I applied for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program because I wanted to immerse myself in the American cultural experience; I wanted to truly discover what it is like to work and live in the United States and how that differs to my own country and culture, I wanted to get the opportunity to travel within the United States and see the sights, meet the people, try out the cuisine, and experience all the things that help shape what the United States represents and the image it projects around the world. I was 18 years old when I enrolled in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. The United States had dominated my life up to that point, and since. Coming from the Anglosphere, or English-speaking world, the United States had an indelible cultural impact on my upbringing, from pop culture to politics to the economy. I was very keen, eager, and interested to finally visit and finally see it and, most importantly, to finally experience it.

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What did you do for work at CIEE’s global headquarters in Portland, Maine?

In Portland, Maine, I was a Work & Travel USA participant services coordinator for CIEE and this was an extremely exciting job. I had the opportunity to use the Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) system, register visa participants on the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database, assist visa participants that had employment issues or healthcare problems that were required to make insurance claims, chaperoned high school exchange program participants in the New York/New Jersey area, and more. Working in the participant services department at CIEE offered me a great deal of valuable insights into the workforce, educational exchange programs, and providing with top quality customer service.

What else did you learn from your experience?

From my experience, I learned to embrace and open my eyes as well as my mind to different cultures, to different ways of doing things, and to people of various nationalities, races, and creeds. After participating in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, I returned to Ireland in September 2015 having developed and improved my interpersonal skills, my education and knowledge on the world (especially the United States), and my workplace skills. My exchange experience was holistic and multifaceted. It wasn't just about the work that I did – it was also about the people I met, the places I visited, and the lessons I learned. They all positively improved my attitude to life and rendered me a better, stronger, wiser, and more well-rounded person at the end of it.

What are you doing now and what are your plans for the future?

I have just completed my undergraduate degree in journalism. I’m currently working for the “Dublin People” newspaper and I am pursuing a master’s degree in politics and international relations. I hope to have a career in the media or politics someday!

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Do you have your own story to share? Email alumni@ciee.org to get started!

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