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32 posts categorized "Work Exchange Alumni"

Changemaker in Action: J-1 Exchange Program Inspires Political Career

Bruxelles EP Traineeship

When we interviewed three-time CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus and Civic Leadership Summit alumnus Paul Runcan from Romania last year, he was pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and advocacy after his exchange experience convinced him to switch from a career in law to politics. His thoughts were, “…even though practicing law would allow me to help those around me, it would only affect a small number, and mostly one at a time. It would take too long to create real change…” Paul made a commitment to politics in order to be the kind of leader that the future depends on. Having an international exchange experience was the catalyst for change.

“I've had a mild interest in politics and public administration for years now, but I was lacking a... call to action, for lack of a better expression; something to get me going. I was, as most people do, watching corruption spread through the administration, thinking that there wasn’t anything I could ever do about it and that's just the way the world works. Even in law school I had colleagues who were very open about wanting to go into politics because ‘that's where the money was.’ It was really frustrating at the time and in a way contributed to the apathy I had towards politics.

“The Civic Leadership Summit was the first time I actually ran into like-minded people – young adults who still had that drive to change things for the better. It showed me that what I wanted to do wasn't a losing battle, that there are plenty of others out there who wanted the same thing I did – a better tomorrow for themselves and for their community. It inspired me to sort of turn my back to the legal system, which was where I aspired to work in until that point, and instead focus on public policies and politics.”

“I strongly believe that international experiences are one of the big keys to solving many of the problems that plague today's society.

Paul has since graduated from West University of Timișoara with a master’s degree in public policies and advocacy and completed a comprehensive analysis of tendencies of transparency in the decision-making process in Romania for his thesis. As a part of his work on transparency, he collaboratively published a political map of the distribution power in the Romanian Parliament that has been an excellent resource to help journalists, interest groups, politicians, and the general public understand who holds power and influence in the country. He is now working as an intern with the General-Directorate for the Presidency at the European Parliament in the transparency unit. Aspects of the role include dealing with Parliament’s relations with interest representatives, working on implementing the Parliament’s transparency policy and helping prepare negotiations on its evolution, and helping to manage the Joint Transparency Register run by the Parliament and the Commission. Paul credits his time in the U.S. as a major inspiration to where his career is today, and believes that it’s an experience that can change the world for the better.

Political map snapshot
snapshot of collaborative political map work 

“I strongly believe that international experiences are one of the big keys to solving many of the problems that plague today's society. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, and so many more, these are all the product of fear and a deep lack of understanding of other cultures. Growing up, most of us are used to living in our own private bubble, our comfort zone and almost never have to leave it. It prevents us from seeing the beauty of the world as it actually is, and makes us uncomfortable with everything that we're not familiar with.  To a certain extent, I understand that it's normal to fear what you don't understand. It's part of human nature. But at the same time, it's the 21st century. We can have access to almost any culture with a few clicks of a button, or a 12-hour flight at the longest. It's impossible to get accustomed to people who are different than you if you don't expose yourself to them, and staying in that safe and cozy bubble you call your comfort zone won't ever let you experience the true beauty this diverse world has to offer. I know it's hard to do so, because I've been through it, but my humble piece of advice is this: Get out, seize every opportunity life puts in your path, force yourself out of your comfort zone and explore the world. The only way we'll ever even begin to solve this world's problems is through mutual understanding, and the only way we'll reach mutual understanding is through international experiences. As cheesy as it sounds, we're the future. It's up to us to make sure we leave this place better than we found it.”

What does mutual understanding look like when on an exchange program? Paul experienced it himself on his first visit in the United States through the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. “Before that, all I knew about it [the U.S.] was from TV, books, and the internet. Somehow, I never met someone from the U.S. before that. Obviously, when I first arrived, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. But once that passed, I began understanding American values, the American work ethic, and I think most importantly the American people. Those I ended up working with began to understand me. Most of them were college students – some fresh out of high school, some had never left their home state, and most had never left the U.S. Of course, they knew about the rest of the world, but in the same way I had known about the U.S. – from books and the internet.”

Working closely with Americans was a big part of Paul’s cultural exchange experience. Friendships were made, cultures were shared, and knowledge was transmitted across a multi-cultural group. “We had traditional meals together, we shared stories and life experiences, and a few friends even started learning Romanian and made plans to visit. […] All of us were different, but we were brought together by, if nothing else at first, the fact that we were open to new experiences.” It was first the exposure to people of other cultures in the workplace and housing that laid the groundwork for mutual understanding, then the willingness to share and receptiveness to learning that made understanding happen.

What Paul learned by staying open to new experiences has changed his behavior and will accompany him on future travels around the world as a global citizen. “[Americans] amazed me by how welcoming they could be to a complete stranger from the far side of the planet. Not once while I was there did I ever feel that I didn’t belong there, and the kindness they showed me there, I now do my best to show to everyone around me. In the end, I think that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the U.S. – kindness towards others will lead to acceptance, which will bring the world together.”

Find out how you can have a life-changing international experience of your own Visit: https://www.ciee.org/in-the-usa/work/work-travel-usa

Naoel's Work & Travel USA Journey

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

by Naoel Cherif, 2017 CIEE Work & Travel USA alum and CIEE Access Scholar from Tunisia

My name is Naoel and I am from Tunisia! I worked this past summer at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey in Water Park Admissions and as a Game Operator. I was part of a team of 17 people from 8 different nationalities so I was exposed to a difference of culture and traditions every single day. One of the main reasons I participated in Work & Travel USA was to learn more about others and their perception of the world, and hearing about all of their stories, their lives, and their countries was very enriching. Every Thursday I used to go to a party called "international cafe” that was held by my American friends for international students. We would chat about life, religion, food…and eat s'mores (my favorite American snack!). 

Naouel Cherif Smores

I met some amazing people that are now my friends and will remember those nights forever.

In Wildwood, I made friends with whom I traveled with around the U.S. after I finished working. Living and experiencing the American life is completely different from what I was expecting even though I have been to many places around the world. One thing that I was astonished by is how nice people are! They also smile a lot, even if they don't know you!  

In my journey, I was chosen to participate in the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.! I don't even know where to begin to describe how life changing those 4 days were. Cultural understanding was one of the things that marked me forever. I realized how important it is to educate others on those aspects. It gave me the passion, drive and motivation to continue to be involved in my community. I was inspired with many ideas that I could implement in organizations that I am involved with in Tunisia. I want to lead a future generation and help them acquire the sets and skills they need to become creator and innovators and contribute to our country's development.

  Naouel Working on Pitch CLS

This experience opened my eyes and inspired me to take part in my country and be a leader.

I took part a year ago in a social enterprise called Young Tunisian Coders Academy. Its main goal is to develop young kid's technological skills by teaching them coding, robotics and entrepreneurial skills. This helps us become creators of technology and not only consumers. I am currently the external relations manager of this group and having this responsibility is great. It enables me to build a professional and personal network and work to maintain relations with other organizations and NGOs. We constantly try to identify opportunities to build partnerships and evolve to become known in the whole country.

Our group recently competed at the 2017 Social Impact Awards regional competition that was held here in Tunisia. The first time I pitched an idea like this was at the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit. I don't know if I would have been able to help my Coders Academy team if I hadn't learned how to pitch an idea at the Civic Leadership Summit. (Thanks to my Civic Leadership Summit team leaders and the whole CIEE staff!). One of our team members was able to travel to Serbia to attend the SIA Summit where we were awarded funds and development assistance to support our project in Tunisia. (You can watch their SIA Tunisia 2017 Finalist: Youth to Youth video here!)

Naoel Presents

I had the chance to help create our pitch (which was in French) and it was only my second time working on a presentation like this!

This experience truly changed me. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity and I encourage anyone that hasn't experienced an exchange program to get out in the world and do it! I really believe it changed me for the better!

Naouel and Friends CA

CIVIC LEADERSHIP ALUMNI ORGANIZE FIRST ANNUAL GREEN ART FESTIVAL IN KOSOVO

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Guxim Klinaku and Grese Koca, CIEE Work & Travel USA  and Civic Leadership Summit alumni

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Grese and Guxim at the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit

Grese and I are cofounders of an environmental NGO in Kosovo called Keep It Green. The idea for the Green Art Festival was created in 2014 and developed even more at the Civic Leadership Summit last year. The CLS was an extraordinary help to the project. The group work on the summit was a great push for the idea and the project in general. The lessons and activities of CLS had a huge impact on developing and strengthening the skills needed to get back and do community service.

The first annual Green Art Festival was held in Obiliq in 2016. We wanted to raise the voices of young artists through a festival that shows the huge environmental problems that our country deals with. Obiliq is one of the most polluted cities in Europe according to the World Bank report published in 2016. We envisioned a green festival in the backyard of power plants raising awareness through art about the hazardous levels of air pollution in the area. This was our first year, and we faced a lot of problems, but personally I think we learned a lot from the experience. The true challenge of organizing a festival is managing the human resources, and working in detail to make it fun for the audience and the participants. The festival was supported by the U.S. Embassy in Prishtina, Kosovo United States Alumni, and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. 

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Grese, Guxim, and Keep it Green Council Member Muhamed Sallover at the 2017 Green Art Festival, Obiliq, Kosovo (l-r)

Now we are working on the Green Art Festival 2018 to make it even bigger next year. We are also submitting project proposals to a couple of organizations with concrete projects that would make significant changes in our communities. We have established a firm partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo and American Corner here. From CLS 2016, we started to believe that everyone has the power to make a change in their community, no matter how small you start. We learned that by taking smaller steps first, one can make the huge jump in the future.

Apart from our week in Washington DC, we worked as ice cream specialists in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We dipped and served ice cream in a small store near the beach, talked to locals, made new friends and had the chance to explore the American lifestyle. For us it was extremely interesting to learn about a new culture and share bits of our country with Americans. For us, this exchange was not about working in the States, it was about creating bridges of friendship and understanding between two countries at a level that only a program such as Summer Work Travel can provide.

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Riding bikes in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware


This exchange experience has been life changing for us. It helped us be more independent and shaped our personalities for the better. We were able to take the good examples of the United States and bring and implement them in our country. We are glad that we made the most of this experience and beyond thankful for the opportunity.

See more from the Green Art Festival in the video below. To learn more about how to support Grese and Guxim and their nonprofit Keep it Green, visit their Facebook page or GoFundMe.

 

When an Exchange Experience Turns Into a Career

The Alum of the Month for July is Wilka Nascimento. You might remember her from the Alumni Voices feature “How I Became a Global Citizen” on the CIEE Alumni Blog, in which she talked about her experience in the CIEE Work & Travel USA and Internship USA programs. Working in the hospitality industry in the U.S. while on these programs was an opportunity to learn about American culture, improve English skills, and gain international work experience. For this feature, we checked in with Wilka to learn more about how she turned an internship into a career.

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Wilka recently accepted a position as a senior sales manager at Hotel Wales in Manhattan, and formerly served as a director of sales for hotels, allowing her to work with a variety of major brands in the industry such as Hilton, Marriott, and IHG – crediting her CIEE program experience as a strong influence on her career path. Two months after earning her bachelor’s degree in business management focused on hotels and tourism, Wilka returned to the United States to pursue the CIEE Internship USA program:

“I was studying hospitality management in Brazil and I wanted to improve my English so I could communicate with international tourists in Brazil. During my first year of college, I had the opportunity to participate in the CIEE Work & Travel USA Program for four months. After the program, I still felt the need to improve my English, so I decided to come back after I graduated from college for a deeper understanding of the hotel industry in the United States.”

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Working at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland, Wilka had the opportunity to rotate through different departments such as housekeeping, accounting, and sales. The majority of her time was spent as a front desk associate cultivating her skills in patience, leadership, and communication while gaining valuable English language experience. The internship was an open door into the hospitality industry the United States, presenting new opportunities to engage deeper in her line of work. In fact, it was her internship experience that gave her the connections to get a job working for Holiday Inn Express Baltimore Downtown. Since then, she has worked in sales and marketing for a number of major hotels in the U.S. “During my internship in Annapolis, I fell in love with the sales department, which inspired me to pursue this field in my career and become a sales manager because I love to network, prospect, and close business, but beyond all I love to serve my guests.” To this day, Wilka continues to provide positive hospitality experiences for all visitors who come her way.

“I’m a pioneer in my family’s world.”

Beyond building a career, coming to the United States also meant visiting new places, meeting new people, and exploring the world without any fear. Her fearlessness even had an impact on family back in Brazil, inspiring her sister to take part in international exchange too. In a personal LinkedIn article, Wilka writes, “Actually I can say that I have two homes, two different worlds that I love to live in. I go to Brazil every year, and I love that I'm always learning something new about the United States. It brings me joy that my younger sister wants to explore and travel as well. Everything that I have done and been through it's worth it. I did build my own legacy in my family and that brings me joy.”

Interested in having a career-building internship of your own? Learn more about CIEE Internship USA today!

Winning Video from the CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest

By Atenea Rios Buezo (CIEE Work & Travel USA, Montana, 2015)
*This video was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.

 

 

CIEE Work & Travel USA Alum Receives Prestigious IREX Scholarship

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

Amir Ammar is a 2016 CIEE Work & Travel USA alum, Civic Leadership Summit Fellow and Access Scholar from Tunisia. Amir is the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship through IREX, and will be studying Business Administration in the United States for the 2017-2018 Academic Year.

My name is Amir, and I was blessed by the opportunity to work in the United States during the summer of 2016, in a resort on Lake Powell in Arizona. I was the first Tunisian to be selected for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program as an Access Scholar, a CIEE scholarship that allowed me to come on the program.

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Amir at the Grand Canyon

My job was in a restaurant as a busser. I worked with many international students, and I met my friend Martin from Russia. Every time we finished work we would sit down by the lake and chat. Martin asked me once about my religion, Islam. He had a very negative perception of Muslims because of depictions in the media. I told him that Islam is all about love, peace and compassion, and that we are open to all religions and accept them as they are. My friend apologized to me and told me that he is more eager to know more about Islam and will never believe something without proof anymore. He said he will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart.

He will say proudly that he has a Muslim friend, and that’s something that really touched my heart

But that’s not all, I was also selected to be a part of the 2016 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit, a week in Washington D.C. that changed my life forever. It give me the motivation to plan to be a very active global citizen in the future by being an ambassador of the Tunisian goodwill and culture to the world. I want to give the world a glance of our amazing traditions, and the first step is to start local and then go global, we need to educate people about international culture and how to manage across cultures.

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With friends at the 2016 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.

 My experience in the United States supported my academic success, and I am inspired to reach position where I can make decision that will contribute in the building of the sustainability of our emerging global world. I want to reach the level of education where I can accurately analyze the different roles everyone is taking and be a great leader to solve conflicts related to management to maintain the evolution of globally effective organizations.

By participating in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program and the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit, I now have the skills and tools to be a very effective global citizen and contribute in the solving of the world problems. Through living and working in a nation that is known as the most diverse nation in world, this experience opened the doors for me to study more cultures and learn how to manage to adapt to a culture different than mine. I encourage everyone to participate in an exchange program because it is just the right opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and open the doors for you to explore this big world. 

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Building bridges at the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit

This fall I will have the opportunity to follow my dreams to pursue higher education through the IREX scholarship. I tried one part of the American life and now I need to explore the other side and that’s studying in the U.S. I’m committed to the evolution of my country and trying to make the future look brighter for our future leaders which are us, you, and me, hand by hand we can change the world to a better one.

 

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!

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.

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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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.

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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.

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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.