From Human Resources to Nonprofit cofounder: one CIEE Access Scholar's Takeaways from Cedar Point
My name is Hend Hesham El-Naghy from the land of pharaohs, Egypt. I’m 23 years old now but I was only 20 when I traveled on the CIEE Work & Travel USA program on a CIEE Access Scholarship in 2015. This experience was a dream come true!
I couldn’t believe that, for the first time ever, I would have the chance to travel outside of my country. The fact that I was going to live and work in the United States for three months was just mind blowing for me. I was so excited for this whole new experience that right after my exams, I packed almost everything but I had to wait for two weeks before I was to depart!
I arrived to my work place (Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, OH) on the morning of the 4th of July. My work place had arranged a very big celebration with good food and good people to celebrate this American holiday. The fireworks by the beach of Lake Erie were awesome. I had the chance to attend the whole celebration. I couldn’t believe this was my first day in the U.S. and I felt so lucky as if they were celebrating my arrival!
My job was a Human Resources Associate. When I met the people I would work with, they were so nice and friendly. I still remember feeling so insecure about answering the phone calls those first couple of days. It was a little bit harder for my accent to be understood on the phone but after consistent practicing, and in a very short time, it became like a piece of cake! I don’t think I could have gotten over my insecurity that fast without the support of my teammates and my supervisor. I learned how to deal with any kind of customer, how to overcome difficulties in a wise way with minimum stress, and most importantly, how to manage a team. I had awesome American managers there. They were really caring, supportive, and professional. I developed many professional skills while working there and improved my English. Dealing with customers of all ages, from all countries and backgrounds almost every day for three months made it pretty easy now for me to click into any occasion and any bunch of people. It definitely helped me to know how to present myself better! We had so much fun working together.
On my birthday, my supervisor got me a nice box of chocolate and a ballon while my manager made me two boxes of cupcakes and we celebrated in the office. How awesome they are! I still have the birthday wishes letter that my team wrote for me.
The first social gathering was at my manager’s house. She invited the whole HR team to a lunch party. There was a lot of good tasting American food and we had fun playing baseball in her backyard—and that was my first time to try it! I made a lot of friends from the times I spent playing Ping Pong! I used to compete in tournaments arranged by Cedar Point. It was so much fun and I became very famous in Cedar Point not just for being the only girl who is always playing ping pong and defeating the guys but also for being the only girl wearing a hijab/headscarf among 4,000 associates and that was pretty much enough to make you famous!
I did have some culture shock when I first arrived. I realized that, being Muslim, I was in the minority. But it ended up being an opportunity for my new friends and co-workers to get to know more about what being Muslim means for me. A lot of people there asked why I was wearing a hijab, about my prayers and fasting, and a lot of other things. It created several interesting conversations. Most of the friends I made were from different countries, religions, and cultures. One friend, we had a breakfast together once and had a conversation about what life is like in Egypt and the Middle East. She had many questions, which I answered for her. We had very different opinions about many things but after that breakfast we became friends and talked more often. Now, we connect with each other through social media!
One of the most interesting things about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program was the travel! I got to visit places that I only watched on television! I had the chance to visit: Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York, and Chicago. I also experienced road trips and backpacking trips, too! I once traveled on my own to Cleveland for one day and took the train back. I got lost on my way back to the train station and it was really late at night. I was really scared and stopped by a hotel to ask the receptionist about how to get to the station. There was a man and a lady that overheard our conversation and they offered to drive me to the train station on their way. I really was shocked by their offer, not just that they were willing to help me but the fact that they would do so when they didn’t know me. I wasn’t expecting this help or acceptance in America. It was a nice feeling!
A couple of months after I returned home, I co-founded the first maker-space in my city. Me and three co-founders opened a branch of Fab Lab in our city “Zagazig”. It is called Fab Lab Zagazig, a nonprofit maker-space and digital fabrication facility where everyone can get together to build projects and share knowledge. Our main objective is to spread the culture of an open space for creativity and an effective environment for innovation, sharing and dissemination of DIY culture and learning by experience. I’m still volunteering with this group and am the current HR manager. I have a really cool team which I’m proud to be working with.
Three years after I’ve returned home and I feel so proud of myself, not only that I could have had such an awesome and rich experience while I was only 20 years old but also that I could manage to be, for the first time of my life, totally independent personally and financially. This program experience has positively affected life. My C.V. and personal skills became much more valuable after this experience. I recently started working at my former University as a teaching assistant at the Industrial Engineering department about a month ago. I’m sure I wouldn’t know how to make the balance between the professionalism and the good spirit at work without having the chance to work under the supervision of my team at Cedar Point! I learned so much from them!