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Summer Photo Contest Highlights - Part 2

This summer we asked CIEE Work & Travel USA participants to share their stories in a series of four photo contests through our Facebook page.  We received hundreds of incredible photos, and we had a hard time choosing the winners, so we are sharing some highlights on the blog.  Missed Part 1? Read it here.  We'll be posting parts 3 and 4 soon!

Winner, "Favorite U.S. Memory:"

599f0faadc523-20170815_191927_001-01 (Nicolas)
“This was probably the last volleyball match we ever played together as one family. Like the game itself, we exchanged cultures and experiences with one another like a team during my time here; slowly realizing that even though we are all differently cultured, we also have so much in common as human beings.” – Nicolas Xiao En Wong, from Malaysia

“I look forward to going to work each day to share with these wonderful ladies. #where culture mix” – Kacy-Ann Crosdale, from Jamaica
59a0446792e17-FB_IMG_1503377189778 (Carla)
“Climbing Electric Peak (10,969 ft.) was one of the most amazing and challenging things I've ever done, but also the craziest. The entire hike was 20.6 miles long and we did it in one day. After a few miles through plains, forest and sagebrush grasslands, we started rock climbing. It was incredibly beautiful all the way.” – Carla Humita, from Romania
“We all, people from HR, decided to make the CP safer and cleaner place to have rest and work. We organized the Green Day;) Hope, everybody will support our initiative” – Polina Pelyukhnya, from Ukraine
“Mt Crested Butte” – Dmitriy Kuzin, from Russia

Emma's Search for Answers at the 2017 Civic Leadership Summit

By Emma Movsesyan, 2017 CIEE Work & Travel USA and Civic Leadership Summit participant from Armenia


I was about to finish my undergraduate degree and celebrate when I understood that everything was pretty good but that there was something missing in my life. I had a lot of goals, but at the same time I had a lot of questions that hindered their accomplishment. I was trying to find the answers to those questions, but it was difficult to do so in Armenia, a small country where the majority of the population holds the same beliefs and ideologies. So I decided to challenge myself, and search for the answers I was seeking in the land of diversity and opportunity.


I was lucky enough to come across the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.  It was exactly what I was searching for. It offered me the three-month opportunity to find the answers to my questions, through challenging myself by working in spheres that I had never experienced before.

The greatest part was that the work experience was really challenging and diverse. It included people from around the world, most of whom came to the U.S. for the same reason I did: to find their inner selves.


My first week of work as a busser, to be honest, was a hard one, as everything was extremely unfamiliar to me. But I knew that I must either deal with it and adapt to new conditions. Going back home was not an option, because that would mean that I would return without answers. Very soon, I was promoted to a cashier in my first workplace, and was working a second job as a housekeeper in the mornings in the hotel.

When I began to understand the essence of caring, I approached my work in a different way. Every day I went to work, I had the responsibility to try to make the day of the hotel and restaurant visitors better with my services. Each day I appreciated the opportunity that CIEE had given me to find so many answers for myself and to meet so many bright people who helped to shape my current beliefs with their intelligence, kindness and empathy. 



More became clear to me when I was granted an opportunity to be a part of CIEE’s great Civic Leadership Summit program.


I applied for it just after finding out about CIEE, because I felt that it would be another great experience that would bring me closer to the answers to my questions. I always thought about life as being an unbound circle, where every decision I make either distances me from or brings me closer to the center, which I consider as the purpose of my life. The more I questioned the different things occurring around me and the more I cared about the things and people surrounding me, the more I felt that I was approaching the center of the circle.


Those three days in Washington, D.C. for the Civic Leadership Summit were life-changing for me, because I found the center of my circle, due to those unique students from 45 different countries, those CIEE representatives, and those guest speakers. We were all different, but there was one thing that united us: we all wanted to make a change. And when I tried to understand what drove those 45 very different students of diverse sexes, races, and religions to make a change, I realized that what drives us all is caring, questioning, and being attentive to the world that surrounds us.


Our Commitment to Program Diversity

CIEE is committed to providing camps with diverse participants who have the skills and experience necessary to contribute positively to your community. This summer, we sponsored participants from 52 different countries. This includes first ever placements from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, The Philippines, Costa Rica, and Lesotho. Maintaining a diverse pool of candidates is an integral part of our program and we pledge to continue seeking new markets to ensure access to educational and cultural exchange for all.

Camp Exchange USA Global Outreach Map as of April 2017.
Camp Exchange USA Global Outreach Map as of April 2017.

 Agent Forum Recap

This September, CIEE hosted our annual Agent Forum for Work Exchange Programs at our global headquarters in Portland, Maine. Representatives from over 50 partner agencies from across the globe joined CIEE staff for three days of meetings, presentations, and fun to kick off the 2018 work exchange season. The Camp Exchange team loved sharing our insights about the magic that is summer camp. We also loved sharing expertise about the placement and application process, as well as hosting the camp Q&A towards the end of the forum. We look forward to working with everyone who attended! In the meantime, check out some photos below!

Camp Placement Coordinator Tyler Brookings (far left) lunches with Temitope Bada and Elizabeth Bada from Besor Associates (based in Nigeria).
Camp Placement Coordinator Tyler Brookings (far left) lunches with Temitope Bada and Elizabeth Bada from Besor Associates (based in Nigeria).


 Manager of Camp Relations Ryan Pelletier (left) and Adam Janaway (right) from BUNAC (based in the UK) take a ferry ride to Peak’s Island, off the coast of Maine.
Manager of Camp Relations Ryan Pelletier (left) and Adam Janaway (right) from BUNAC (based in the UK) take a ferry ride to Peak’s Island, off the coast of Maine.

Placement Coordinator Julia Elliott (3rd from right) runs a breakaway session explaining camp types. She is joined by representatives from New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica, Jordan, the UK, and Jamaica.

Placement Coordinator Julia Elliott (3rd from right) runs a breakaway session explaining camp types. She is joined by representatives from New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica, Jordan, the UK, and Jamaica.

Share Your Summer Photos and Stories With Us!

At CIEE, we have seen firsthand the powerful and transformational experiences your camp provides to our participants. Our ability to share photos and stories about these experiences with a larger audience, including the U.S. Department of State, is instrumental in both documenting the impact of our program and advocating for its continuance.

What is your favorite activity at camp? Which CIEE counselor will you miss the most? Where is the best view at camp? Share your Camp Exchange USA experiences by tagging us in your social posts! Find us online at Instagram (@ciee_camp) or Facebook (@campexchangeusa). We’ll even share our favorite posts on our social pages!

Camps Join CIEE’s Annual Employer Forum in D.C.

Four summer camps joined many of CIEE’s Summer Work & Travel employers at our 16th annual Employer Forum in early October. Michelle Gottlieb, Camping Department Manager at the Fresh Air Fund (NY), Jeff Gleason, CEO/Director of the YMCA of Maine (ME), Eugene Bell, Senior Director at Summit Camp (PA), and Scott Brody, Owner/Director of Camps Kenwood +Evergreen attended a congressional learning session hosted by Senator Angus King (ME). Scott is also the chair of Government Affair Committees for the American Camp Association and was the panelist that represented camps during the session. Michelle, Jeff, Eugene, and Scott also visited the offices of their state representatives to advocate for the J-1 program.

We are staying strong in our push for advocacy efforts to #savej1 and to ensure cultural exchange for all! Keep an eye on your inbox for future updates and ways to get involved!

CIEE’s CEO, Jim Pellow (far left)Executive VP, International Exchange Program, Meghann Curtis (2nd from left) and Vice President, Work Exchange Programs, Phil Simon (far right)  join Jeff Gleason, CEO/Director YMCA Camp of Maine (2nd from right) and Senator Angus King(center right) in dialogue prior to the congressional learning session on J-1 programs in the Russell Senate building.
CIEE’s CEO, Jim Pellow (far left)Executive VP, International Exchange Program, Meghann Curtis (2nd from left) and Vice President, Work Exchange Programs, Phil Simon (far right)  join Jeff Gleason, CEO/Director YMCA Camp of Maine (2nd from right) and Senator Angus King(center right) in dialogue prior to the congressional learning session on J-1 programs in the Russell Senate building.

Dylan's International Summer in Yellowstone

By Dylan Lo, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant from Malaysia

Be sure to check back next week to read more about Dylan's experience!

 I am a gift shop worker in Yellowstone Snow Lodge. My job is ringing people up, making sure the store is clean and neat, and restocking merchandise.


The most challenging part of this job is to understand what the customers want when they cannot speak English or their accent is strong.  My favorite part of the job is interacting with customers from all over the world, especially Japanese and Americans, as this allows me to practice my Japanese and English. The best part about living in the U.S. is that Americans are so friendly compared to my country. In Malaysia, it is unlikely to make friends by sharing a table with strangers during lunch or dinner, as they not as outgoing.


I took a road trip from Yellowstone National Park to Rocky Mountain National Park with two of my friends, Joe and Thomas.  It took ten hours for us to reach there. It’s a long and tough drive but it was worth it as we saw moose, a grizzly cub and some other wildlife, too. We also drove up to the highest peak of Rocky Mountain. It was a spectacular view indeed.


This photo was taken in our employee recreation hall.  It was a farewell party for American college students. The reason I chose this picture is because it best summarizes this summer and it reminds me of the things that we have done together. I met people from countries all around the world such as America, Thailand, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Singapore, and of course my fellow countrymen from Malaysia.  Meeting Americans and other international students from all over the world and hanging out with them are the times I enjoyed the most in America.

Summer Photo Contest Highlights - Part 1

This summer we asked CIEE Work & Travel USA participants to share their stories in a series of four photo contests through our Facebook page.  We received hundreds of incredible photos, and we had a hard time choosing the winners! In the coming weeks we will be sharing some of our favorite photos.  Check back  to see parts 2, 3, and 4 of this series.

Winner, "Day in the Life:"

“Fortunate to have this awesome view of the Wildwood beach everyday single day working as a lifeguard in Morey's Piers.” – Jing Sern Phua, from Malaysia

596da7384959f-received_1400680933331401_Joseph Rattigan“Doing a CIEE while I'm at work. Yes, doing a Cultural International Educational Exchange with my co-workers. Learning the American culture as well as other countries' cultures is one of the best experiences ever. Teamwork accomplishes any difficult task. #CIEEWorkTravelers” – Joseph Rattigan, from Jamaica

“Husky homestead at Denali National Park!” – Yordan Andreev,  from Bulgaria

“An amazing sunset followed by an amazing night, camping with my favorite people near Snowbowl, Arizona” – Maria Dimitrova, from Bulgaria

“On my first days as a gift shop assistant at Izaak Walton Inn, this colleague from the front desk was very nice to me and answered all of my questions, so I was integrated really fast in our team.” – Ionut Avramescu, from Romania

The Summer at Camp that Stole Marie's Heart

Marie Salova spent this past summer as a counselor in the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program. When she returned to her home in Ireland she wrote us a beautiful thank you note sharing her experience. This is Marie's story.

I am writing to thank you for making this summer one of the best ones of my life. I made more memories and friends than I can even count. I just wanted to share a little bit of my experience with you all.

This summer I was working at Camp Pinecliffe in their Arts and Craft Department. I was hired at the first CIEE hiring fair in Dublin in the very first session, admittedly knowing very little about what was to come. I went through all the orientation procedures and decided on some dates for my flights and finally got my health check done. As the date of departure was arriving, a fellow counselor set up a Facebook group chat for us where we shared all our concerns and goals for the summer to come. We met at the airport by the gates. We joked about the summer ahead. Once in Boston we met Annie, a CIEE representative. She was telling us not to be nervous or scared but by this point none of us were any more, we were all eager to get to camp and start the summer of a lifetime. We explored Boston that night with some serious jet lag. 

Marie 2

Once at Pinecliffe, we worked with an amazing group of both staff and campers. The eight weeks to follow were filled with laughter and enjoyment. The work at camp never felt like a job. This year was Camp Pinecliffe’s 100th anniversary. The summer was filled with all sorts of special events, trips and shows. So much happened during the summer that I could not tell you about it if I had another 100 years.

Marie 3

Each day was special, each week had its own mood. We sang song by the camp fire, we took a trip to Canada, we ate lobster for Pinecliffe’s birthday, we held sports events and socials, we worked with people from all over the world, we went to the funfair and we survived visiting day and alumni weekend. We had the most amazing view every morning and the best days off. We ate good food and enjoyed milk and cookies every night. The traditions at this camp will stay with me forever.

Marie 1

As camp drew to a close, they hosted a banquet. Hundred Acre Wood was the theme for the night, the girls spoke about their summers at camp, their memories and friends, their traditions and bunks. Spending the summer working with the eldest age group made this last night especially difficult as they knew their summers at Camp Pinecliffe had come to an end. In the dark, we were filling jars with things that capture the essence of Pinecliffe.  Later the girls sat in a circle and confessed their camp secrets over the last six to eight summers. They will forever be Pinecliffe girls. 


This photo was taken of the Irish staff prior to the final Banquet. We were dressed, like the girls, in all white. Wearing our special anniversary t-shirts. The amount of emotion that followed this photo is unbelievable and I would have never thought I would have something so special that makes saying goodbye so hard. Pinecliffe will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

All of this came before an unforgettable experience traveling along the east coast. For this experience I will forever be grateful and would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Thank you for all your hard work and commitment throughout the years, 

I will never forget all you have done.



Marie Salova

Camp Counselor, Summer 2017, from Ireland

The Aurora, the Night Shift, and Moose: Hsinying's Summer in Alaska

By Hsingying Wu, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant from Taiwan

Alaska is extremely beautiful. A place you need to come to at least once in a lifetime.


I'm a prep cook at McKinley Chalet resort. I do much of the preparation for the dishes that are served. This includes chopping vegetables, grinding meat, weighing and mixing ingredients, preparing vegetables, storing food, and more. My favorite thing is mixing ingredients. It's kind of like an experiment. I need to measure seasoning and follow the instruction on the recipes precisely. I cook many foods different from Taiwan. It's very interesting for me.


But doing the routine and day-to-day tasks are challenging. It's easy to get tired of it. I started to challenge myself to cut vegetables or form patties faster, to talk to coworker to know their country or life better, to make some lovely cards for coworkers to make their day beautiful. It did work. It made my days more fun!


The best part about living in Alaska is that I'm embraced by Mother Nature. The view is remarkable! All the trees start to turn yellow and red in September.


In addition to this, you can see a lot of wilderness in Alaska. I saw a couple moose on the way to work. They were just on the side of road. I also saw many caribous, grizzly bears, marmots, rabbits, squirrels and so forth in Denali National Park and Preserve.



The very best part of Alaska is the aurora! I work the PM shift so I get off work around 1 AM, which is the best time to see the northern lights. I can't forget the first time I saw them. I walked out of the kitchen ready to take a shuttle to go home. I looked up sky and there was some brightness at the sky. I thought it was the galaxy but all of a sudden lights started to dance. I realized it was the aurora at that moment.


I couldn't believe such a beautiful and amazing thing was actually happening above my head! I was speechless. I stood on the ground to enjoy this gift the universe gave to me. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.


This photo was taken on the way to the Triple Lakes of Denali National Park and Preserve. Triple Lakes Trail is the longest trail in Denali. It could take about 5 hours for one way. I hiked a lot when I was in Taiwan. Therefore, I challenged myself to complete the round trip in 5 hours. It was an impressive trail to me. It was not because it's tough. It's because not so many people go to this trail so there were a lot of animals on the way. I saw many different tracks from moose, sheep, birds and so on.



I took this picture at one of the beautiful spots on the mountain. I stood on the rock and enjoyed the astonishing view of Alaska. It was totally breathtaking. My favorite part of this picture is that my backpack has Taiwan's flag that I stitched on it. It reminds me that I'm not just representing myself but also my country. I'm an independent, strong, gentle, kind, thoughtful, loving woman. So is my homeland. A fantastic Taiwanese woman was brought up by an amazing Taiwan.


To be a participant in the Work & Travel USA program was the perfect chance to improve myself in many ways. I became a more independent, positive and loving woman. This characteristic will help me a lot as I'm a nurse. It can help me to solve problems on my own, keep faith when things don’t go the way I want, care and empathize with my patients. It has been an amazing experience that will affect all my lifetime. 

I'm happy I can share my story and photo with everyone. I know there is power in letters and images. They can make people cheerful, excited, joyous, even want to achieve their dreams too! That's exactly what I want to do: help people live the life they really desire.

J-1 Programs Join People of the World: Bingjie's Experience

by Bingjie Wang, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 participant

My name is Bingjie Wang. I'm from China. I'm working as a housekeeper at Kingsleigh Inn in Southwest Harbor, ME. My duty is to keep our inn neat, and my greatest pleasure in my work is to make the messy rooms clean and tidy, which will make me feel a sense of accomplishment. After I get off work, I often participate in some local activities or hang out with my friends. These are some pictures about my experience:


In this picture, we were enjoying the fireworks on American Independence Day! My employers Pamela and Byran, my neighbors Lori, Joe, and Lori's mother and I drank wine, ate snacks, and discussed differences between China and America. We together have witnessed this wonderful day in America!


In this picture, at that morning, Pamela and Byran told me that there were native flamingo parades in our main street and they brought me to watch the parade. Everyone wore pink costumes and some decorated themselves and their vehicles with flamingos. I was surprised at such a special parade. In China, parades are not common. But I enjoyed the relaxed and happy parade, and everyone seemed very comfortable. Flamingos are very beautiful. I asked my employers where I could see the real flamingos - they told me I could see them in Florida. It was an amazing day!


In this picture, we were having a hot pot party! Ten of us gathered - six from Malaysia, two from China, one from Macedonia, and one from Bulgaria. We are all J-1 students. How wonderful it is that we have met each other in the United States from different countries! On this night, we cooked hot pot with the hotpot seasoning which I have brought from China. I also drank a mixture of coffee and wine, which tastes strange, and I tasted cookies cooked by the girl who is from Bulgaria. After dinner, we watched "The Mummy" with a projector. We talked about the different laughing points in different countries and shared interesting things about different countries. It is the Summer Work Travel program that gives us the opportunity to know each other so that we can be able to sit in the same place and freely communicate.

By communicating with people in many other countries, I have a different view of many things. And now I can use different thinking to look at the problem, which is my greatest achievement. For the future, I think it helps me communicate better with people from different cultures. Thanks to CIEE, you helped me to participate in the Summer Work Travel program, which let me have the opportunity to see the difference between the world personally and it breaks my limits of thinking. This will make me better. I sincerely hope that the Summer Work Travel program will continue to be maintained so that students around the world can have the opportunity to experience American culture personally!

A Summer to Remember: Bulgarian Student Experiences an American Summer Camp

By Ruzanna Sahakyan, CIEE Camp Exchange USA participant


My name is Ruzanna Sahakyan, I was born in Armenia but grew up in Bulgaria. I graduated from the National High School of Humanitarian Science and Arts and I am currently one state exam close to getting my bachelor’s degree in English and American studies. I live in the most beautiful city in Bulgaria - more precisely the sea capital, Varna - and right now I am doing my camp exchange program in the USA.

Visiting the USA has been one of my biggest dreams since I was 16 and now that I am in the USA it feels too surreal. Currently I live in Winthrop, ME where I am a counselor at the YMCA Camp of Maine. Camp comes to an end soon and my time in the USA is almost up. When I go back home my first priority will be to take my state exams and become an official bachelor’s graduate. Then I will start a job in order to save some money for yet another adventure. I will apply for a master’s degree in American studies in Bulgaria, however, I will spend the full academic year abroad as an Erasmus exchange student. Afterwards, when I am done with my job, master’s degree, and the exchange program, I will most likely enroll in some other type of exchange program. The thing I love the most about all those exchange programs is that a person gets to travel to different destinations without having to spend a lot of money.


I’m so grateful I got the chance to do my exchange program in the USA as it was one of the most affordable ways to come here, and I ended up having a great summer. I decided to be part of the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program for 2017 because, as I mentioned above, it has always been a dream of mine to visit the U.S. Also, I love traveling, I love teaching yoga and other sports and crafts, and now I know that I like working with kids as well. My responsibility at camp is to take care of the kids 24 hours, be their role model, their encouragement, their inspiration, and their teacher.

I have spent 1 month and 29 days at the YMCA Camp of Maine here at the Pine Tree state and I will have to leave this amazing place soon with a very heavy heart. One of the many interesting things about camp is that we have counselors, campers, and other staff members from all around the globe: Spain, Canada, China, UK, Ireland, Wales, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam. I am very happy that the camp finally has Bulgarian and Armenian representatives. Not only do we have an amazing staff from different parts of the world, which makes the kids more open minded and enriches their culture, but also we have a very wide range of activities for the kids. Some of the activities include: Aqua Friendship Bracelet Making, Arts and Crafts Around the World, Mad Scientist, Improv, Lacrosse, Zumba, Yoga, Tennis, Ultimate Frisbee, Creature Catching, Challenge, etc. We make sure that our kids are never bored and that they will learn many new skills to show to their parents and friends.

School Bus Group Shot

I have heard many negative comments about the USA like that the kids are very spoiled, the nature has been wiped off from the face of the USA, the food is bad, and the people can be rude. Interestingly, I was glad to find out that all these things turned out to be so far from the truth. There are many factories and skyscrapers, indeed, but now I know from all the road trips that the nature here is incredibly rich and beautiful too. One can find spoiled kids almost everywhere and one thing is for sure - I didn’t meet any spoiled kids at camp! People in the U.S. are so gentle, kind, willing to help, and courteous. I was warned that the food here is mostly genetically modified, filled with sugars, carcinogenic ingredients and artificial coloring; these types of foods can be found in almost every place on the earth, not only in the U.S. Fortunately, here at camp, the people in charge make sure that the kids have access to healthy and nourishing foods and some treats for when they have a sweet tooth; the kitchen staff provides food for all the people who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten and lactose intolerant, allergic to certain nuts, and so on. In the end of the day, it was up to the kids whether they will reach for a fruit or go for the burgers, and we always encouraged them to drink water and have a few pieces of fruit.

I love everybody at camp because every single person is so kind and nice to the others. Not to mention how kind and sweet the directors and unit leaders, are which makes us feel all equal. Hands down, my most favorite people are Kim (aka the “Camp’s Mom”), Jeff Gleason’s wife, Lester who is the program director, and Natalie (aka “The Glitter Queen”) who is the arts and craft director. These people and everybody else made us, the counselors, feel at home away from home.

I have learned so many useful skills here at camp which I can easily put into use in my life; I learned skills which made me a better person. I have improved my communications skills, I have learned how to behave around children, how to be their role model and moral support, I have learned new skills and became more comfortable leading sport classes. I have experienced so many “first time” things like first time kayaking, making s'mores, eating Swedish Fish, being at a camp, seeing chipmunks, watching Netflix, etc. All these things combined made me more confident, which is something I have always lacked.

Closing Camp Fire-2

The past two months have been filled with so much laughter, positive energy, learning, dancing, singing, road trips, Game of Thrones nights with the staff members, camp fires, etc. I write this with a heavy heart because there is only one day left  until the end of camp. Camp has been a place for me to spend my days with no stress, anxiety, negative energy, drama, worries, and all the other things from the reality. I will definitely miss the YMCA Camp of Maine and now it has a huge spot in my heart. My exchange program here at the YMCA Camp of Maine means a lot to me as it taught me how to be more responsible, honest, caring and respectful- the four core values we teach the kids here at Ycamp.

My advice to those who are interested in coming to the U.S. on CIEE Camp Exchange USA is to decide which part of the U.S. they want to live in - west, east, south, etc. - and then decide on a camp. Once you know that you want to work on the East Coast, for example, then it is going to be easier to decide on a camp. Secondly, if you do end up choosing a camp on the East Coast but you are completely sure that you want to travel on the West Coast post-camp, then I highly recommend buying plane tickets in advance as it is going to save you some money. Thirdly, if you are a big train enthusiast, then you should definitely buy in advance one of Amtrak’s train journeys. In general: make sure to bring your laptop, have some extra cash on you, plan your post-camp trip in advance, install the Hostel World app on your mobile device, as well as the MapMe app, prepare some amazing camp appropriate songs, stories, jokes, dances, and more ahead of time, and you will be ready for a summer filled with positive energy, laughter, swimming, sports, dances, and travels.

Civic Leadership Alumni Organize First Annual Green Art Festival in Kosovo

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

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. 

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.

Rehoboth 1
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.