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18 posts categorized "Alumni"

Intern lives out his architecture dreams in Miami

By Pablo Ambrossi, CIEE Internship USA 2017 alum

My name is Pablo Ambrossi and I was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. I am a 22-year-old student set to graduate in 2019 at the School of Architecture in Madrid, the ETSAM. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to continue my father´s legacy and become an architect. When I graduate, I plan to obtain some international experience working abroad before eventually returning to Madrid to work alongside my father.

Pablo Ambrossi at the Flat Iron construction site, Brickell neighborhood, Miami

I wanted to share with you my personal and fortunate experience after getting my J-1 visa stamped at the American embassy in Madrid and fulfilling my longtime dream of going to the United States. Even though it was only for a couple of months, living in the U.S. has taught me how rich and diverse this world is. This has helped me become more open-minded and accepting of other ways of life.

Architecture has always caught my attention because it not only covers basic needs with innovative solutions, but also improves and reflects the quality of life in all societies. This has woken up my interest to visit different countries and enrich my knowledge culturally and professionally. Because I see the U.S. as a cultural and economic leader in this global world, I applied for a two-month internship with Revuelta Architecture International Studio in Miami, Florida. During the internship, I obtained invaluable practical experience in American methods and strategies of architectural design and administration, as well as a familiarity with the American business mentality. During my stay, I encountered another way of managing architecture firms based on a rigorous work-ethic, a flexible work schedule, and continuous employee development. This helped me understand how theoretical ideas are applied to practical situations and how to apply these notions pragmatically to my future career.

Pablo with Senior Project Manager Xavier Iglesias at DPZ CoDESIGN, an architecture and urban planning firm in Miami

I worked in a multicultural environment, as there were people from more than ten countries in the office. There everyone could contribute equally to the development of the different projects in a very open-minded atmosphere. This exchange promoted different ways of thinking, as anyone who wanted to contribute was encouraged to do so and their ideas were always welcome.

In addition to my professional focus, I also took part in daily American culture and lifestyle. I took time to meet locals and visitors who wanted to have fun and enjoy the authentic day and night Miami´s flow. I went to Tampa and Orlando, visited museums, churches, and many other significant pieces of architecture. I also visited the Everglades, Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, among other notable Florida destinations.

With friends exploring the Everglades

I firmly believe that this visa program is an incredible opportunity to international students as well as for U.S. citizens. I believe travelling abroad is a very effective way of gaining cultural enrichment. One of the advantages of this Internship program is that Americans benefit from getting to meet students from different cultures combining it with their daily routine. This gives American citizens a chance to build bridges to link themselves to professional and cultural worldwide interactions in the future.

Wynwood Art District, Miami

A few months after I returned home I had the fortune of being selected to participate in the CIEE Alumni event in Madrid. An event organized by CIEE for young people like me who had lived and worked in the USA on an J-1 visa exchange program, so they could share their experiences with each other and representatives of the US Department of State.

When the day came, I prepared a speech and suited up, but when I arrived I realized the event wasn’t what I expected. It was an informal meeting in which we talked face to face with everyone, in a very close and friendly environment. However, they asked me to give my speech and so I did.

David Benze, ECA/EC Policy and Coordination Officer, U.S. Department of State, and Pablo, at a J1 alumni event in Madrid

Thanks to this event I met great people with whom I share many ideas and dreams. I also had the opportunity to talk with very important personalities that, without any doubt, could be of great help in my professional future.

This exchange program was an incredible and priceless experience that has opened many doors for me. I returned home with an improved English speaking ability and a more open mindset. This has allowed me to grow personally as well as professionally. I hope it will continue helping students all over the world to achieve all their goals, culturally and professionally.

Madrid Alumni Event - 12
Connecting with other young program alumni, CIEE staff, and Department of State representatives, Madrid.

HAESF professional intern alum makes waves in robotics

Tamas Haidegger came to the U.S. in 2007 as a Professional Intern through the Hungarian American Enterprise Scholarship Fund (HAESF). He was a research intern at the Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics at Johns Hopkins University, working on a neurosurgical robot. In the 10+ years since, Tamas has launched an impressive career as an entrepreneur, researcher, and scholar. He is deputy director of the newly created Antal Bejczy Center for Intelligent Robotics, ÓbudaUniversity in Budapest. He is also CEO of the startup HandInScan, developers of the Semmelweis System of hand hygiene quality management, now in use in North American, European, and Japanese health care institutions. The company has employed multiple HAESF alumni in its research, development, and marketing efforts. In October 2015 Tamas Haidegger was awarded the prestigious Dennis Gabor Award in the Hungarian Parliament for his entrepreneurial achievements. The HAESF team caught up with Tamas recently and asked him about his work. 

Tamas Haidegger

Your research is in the field of Long Distance Teleportation control. Could you tell us more about what this is and your work? 

I was very interested in Space Robotics and through a Physician colleague, who asked questions about the possibility about performing long distance surgery in space, my interest in this area increased. Despite the fact that surgical robotics started in 1975 with the aim to support astronauts, there was no research on the physical consequences of space travel. Hence I chose the topic of my thesis to be the feasibility of such analysis and whether tele-surgery will be possible.

The field of long distance teleportation control became a hot topic in research when tele-robotics became possible. There are a lot of transatlantic and transcontinental robotic research experiments that are undertaken in this area today. In the meantime, I still think that it is very extreme and the more we think about going to the moon and shooting from Mars the more interesting the area is becoming.

Tamas as an intern, dreaming of space exploration

How did the idea of HandInScan come about? 

The idea of HandInScan came from one of my students who worked in hospitals. He researched the process doctors and nurses sanitized their hands after surgery. There are a lot of market products but when not used properly can cause infections which actually happens more times than we know of. In the western world, statistics also say that about 200,000 people die because of secondary infections they receive at hospitals during getting a treatment. HandInScan is an engineering machine which scans hands to point out the missed areas after regular sanitization is done. There is also a reporting function in the machine which sends reports and statistics to the management for analysis to make sure that processes are running correctly.

Tamas with Hand in Scan
Tamas with the HandInScan equipment

Between conducting research, leading a company and teaching, how do you manage your time? 

Excellence in research involves good methodology, very thorough basic knowledge and good people you work with can really make you successful in research and this can be translated into good startups. Teaching has provided me with the sales skills required to run this startup successfully. Also because the company is embedded into the university itself, management is something that I think I am doing well.

How do you think that your experience as a professional intern in the United States has shaped your career? 

The  HAESF  internship  was  a  life-changing  experience, which still determines   my  daily activities. I learnt quite a bit about high-end scientific  resarch,  researchc  and  education management, laboratory project  management, scientific paper and grant writing, and picked up various other soft skills. Also, the professional relationships lasted: I have sent numerous students to the US, having joint grants with Johns Hopkins University and an active working relationship with numerous groups I got to know during my stay.

What is your advice to young people just starting out their careers?

Two key messages that I really live by and would like to share with young professionals worldwide. First, if you can enjoy your job, you will never have to work your entire life.  And secondly, as an entrepreneur the best thing you can do is get smarter people aboard and make them excited about your problem. And this will help you be creative both in academic and business.

At home in the Galapagos: Alejandra's Story, Part II

By Alejandra Cox, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant, 2011, 2013, 2014, and Civic Leadership Summit fellow, 2014. Read Part I from Alejandra's story first!

I graduated from University two years ago and I have returned to my islands. I can spend more time with my family again even though we live on separate islands. I’m working as a communicator at an institution of cultural management in Ecuador and also with an NGO called Ecology Project International (EPI). Its purpose is empowering the next generation of conservation leaders. I have the opportunity to be close to children and young people in my community and we teach them Galapagos topics such as geology, protecting the environment, natural history, climate, human history, and evolution through disciplines such as painting, dance, and music. I believe that the experience of having been in the United States, and specifically being part of the Civic Leadership Summit, helped me to realize how committed each of my colleagues was with their personal aspirations, and how important it is to set a goal to reach it. I also loved that CIEE encouraged us to do something in our community back home.

These photos are just some of the hundreds I have from a recent summer camp we had during school vacation. The teachers from Casa de la Cultura Galápagos (CCENG) were in charge of teaching the kids: dance, painting and music, while the EPI teachers taught them conservation topics.
Alejandra Camp 1
Alejandra Camp 2

At this time of year, the children of Galápagos are on school vacation. So, we created a summer camp with countless activities to keep the children occupied in a productive way. I asked my boss if could teach a mobile device photography workshop to children on Floreana Island (located two hours away from mine by ferry) and he said YES! These children are far from all luxuries and resources are scarce. For example, there is not much water on the island and they must wait for long periods of time for the cargo ship to arrive with food. The resources and opportunities are not the same as in the other islands.

Alejandra Camp 3

During the photography workshop in Floreana, classes were taught in the classroom of the only school that exists on the island. First I taught them a theory class and then we went out to take pictures of the beach or of the pier. They took photos of pelicans, land and marine iguanas, turtles, crabs, sea lions and plants, in this living laboratory as is Galapagos!

Alejandra Camp 4

While I was on Floreana Island, I took pictures of the people who live on the island for my personal project called “Gente de Galápagos” or “People of the Galapagos”. I photograph the people of Galapagos from the first residents to the new generations, accompanied by a text where they tell me a little of their daily life. I usually choose people who do some work that contributes as a good example to the rest of the community.

Alejandra HONY 1
Alejandra HONY 2
You can follow us on Instagram @gentedegalapagos and Facebook: facebook.com/gentedegalapagos

Sometimes, when I walk through the streets of my island, there are some sites that come like a small breeze accompanied by the warmest smells of my summers: smells like Lake Erie, cotton candy of many flavors, and fresh almonds just made. This is when all my senses get activated, and here's when I can hear and I can see the birds flying over me in a wide orange sunset of July.

 It’s interesting because people are always asking me how did I do it, how did I apply for the CIEE Work & Travel USA Program, what are some tips I can give them. Every time I tell them about the process and the experience behind all of this, it creates a mixture of feelings inside me that contains joy and sadness; it means talking about a time in which I would like to return again and again!

International relations and U.S. politics: Ru's American experience

By Ru Sun, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2015 and 2016 participant from China

My name is Ru Sun, and I am a Master’s candidate in International Relations, currently at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, which is also a famous think tank globally. I did the Work & Travel USA program in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, I was selected by the Institutes for a reciprocal study abroad program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

About my experiences in the United States

I have participated in the Work & Travel USA program twice. My first Work and Travel experience, in 2015, changed me a lot, from a girl under a lot of pressure from school, with too many concerns about an unclear future, to a passionate and positive person. It was my first time living abroad, having to face many things independently while I learned little by little about how to lead my life positively. Also, it was the first time that I got a taste of culture shock, and what it was like for my life to be meaningful and have challenges. For the first time, I realized how important being responsible and social networking are.

I adapted into the culture quickly and started to observe the differences between China and the United States—the good, and the bad as well. I liked to talk about everything with neighbors, like who would be the U.S. President in 2016 and other topics as well, which helped me to better understand American culture and how people think in the United States.

Ru and friends in front of the Statue of Liberty

After all the things I went through on my first Work & Travel USA program, I can say that I started to become stronger, more faithful, and more confident than ever before. The three-month stay made me know the United States so well that it seemed I had been there for years. I had a feeling that it would not be the last time I was in America.

When I came back to China, after a short time preparing, I was accepted into my graduate school, which is a think tank for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, as well. In China, it’s not easy to pass the entrance exam for graduate school; students take one year, sometimes longer, to prepare. I think that the positive attitude and clear mindset that I got from the United States helped me to get into graduate school.

Hanging out with American and international friends and colleagues

During the summer of the first year of my Master’s program in 2016, I applied and got the chance to go to Portland, Maine, to the headquarters of CIEE, for the Work & Travel USA program. I was very excited to explore more, but shortly after I was offered the position, the sudden death of my young and dear father dragged me and the whole family into the darkest period in our lives. I couldn’t believe it had happened and I was thinking about giving up the chance to go back to the United States. My mom insisted that I move forward so I went to Portland in the end. It was the friends I made while working at CIEE that helped me get through all those hard times and appreciate the present. I am also always thankful to CIEE for providing me with the chance to meet so many friends from different corners of the world—most of us are still connected.

Ru in CIEE office
Ru with Mustafa, an Iraqi colleague, and her name written in Arabic

The times hanging out with friends and exploring the U.S. after work are my favorite memories from the program. It was hard returning home after being in America, because friends meant a lot to me. It took me a while to get used to a life back home without them. 

Learning to ride a horse!

On my programs, I got the chance to meet some new friends and visit old friends. I flew a jet with my friend from Denver through Nebraska and Wyoming. I was invited to the Toyota Center in Houston for a basketball game by a friend I met in Shanghai, who worked at the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, and his family. 

I think that being in the United States affected how I see life and the world. I would say that the U.S. is more complicated than people usually think. It’s diverse and there are also different kinds of problems that exist. Observing, exploring, and thinking about what I saw and heard did make me more rational and calm when I faced something in life.

More about my Political Interests

I chose Diplomacy as my major at university when, actually, I didn’t realize what it would mean to me. I had no idea what was going on in the world. However, I always had a curiosity about things happening not only here in China, but all over the world, from all perspectives. I wanted to figure out what was right and what was wrong, and I wanted to hear diverse voices from other places. Plus, to be a diplomat was a cool thing in my mind. All of those reasons made me start to be interested in politics and international relations. The more I learned in class, sometimes the more I doubted, I was fascinated by those relations developing among countries.

I participated in the Model United Nations at the university to role-play diplomats from different countries, discussing the heated global issues with other students nationwide. From this, I got to know more about political issues. My English was okay at that time, so I was up for all kinds of opportunities to participate in international conferences as a volunteer. That’s how I got to know some international guests. I was sent to receive a group of people from the United States when I was a junior at the university, and that is how I met Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg. At that time, he was a legislator as well as a farmer, which I found out much later on. We kept in touch, and I visited him and his family twice, once after my first WAT program, and a second time during my studies in Texas last spring. Through him, I had the chance meet the governor of Colorado to discuss politics with lobbyists and other politicians. After talking with those politicians, I became more interested in American politics!

Ru with Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg

I am going to graduate soon with my Master’s degree. Recently, I have been job searching in the fields of international education and policy analysis at an NGO, international organization, or foreign company. The experience of being in the United States helps me fit in an international environment very easily.

Ru with Mr. Mogens Lykettoft and wife (Senator of Denmark and President of UN General Assembly 2015-2016)
Ru with Mogens Lykketoft, President of the Parliament of Denmark from 2011 to 2015 and President of the UN General Assembly from 2015 to 2016, and his wife.


From Human Resources to Nonprofit cofounder: one CIEE Access Scholar's Takeaways from Cedar Point

By Hend Hesham El-Naghy, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant and Access Scholar, 2015.

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!

Hend at the Grand Canyon, Arizona

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!

Fort Sandusky
Fort Sandusky replica, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

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!

Outdoor picnic friends
At an outdoor picnic with friends

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.

Party in HR
Birthday party in the HR office

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.

Birthday cupcake
Birthday cupcake!

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!

Ping Pong Champion
Ping Pong champion of Cedar Point!

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!

Selfie with friends
Selfie with friends

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!

San Fran
Hend in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

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.

With friends in the car

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!

Cedar Point Coworkers
Hend with her Cedar Point coworkers


Niagra Falls
Taking it all in, Niagara Falls, New York

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

Bruxelles EP Traineeship

This post originally appeared on the CIEE Alumni Blog 

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 Timi?oara 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

Home Away from Home: Noémi's Experience at Mohonk Mountain House

By Noémi Varga, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 participant from Slovakia

My name is Noemi. I was born and raised in Slovakia and currently, I am a university student in Budapest, Hungary. My experience with the J-1 exchange program all started with a spur of a moment decision with my best friend. One day after a long day at school and work, we were talking about our summer and we decided to sign up for the Summer Exchange program through Smaller Earth Company. This choice changed my whole world and how I see people around me.


I worked at Mohonk Mountain House during the summer of 2017 in New Paltz, NY. My best friend and I took on this adventure before our last year at university to spend our summer gaining new experiences and meeting people from all around the world. My friend and I are both Communication and Media students at Corvinus University of Budapest. We wanted to develop our communication abilities and expand our social network, and this is what we truly got from this program. We were living on the grounds of the hotel with all of the international staff, who became our friends for life, and we got to experience the American culture through traveling and special programs organized by Mohonk Mountain House.


I was working as a Granary Server during the summer, which gave me the opportunity to work outside and enjoy the main attraction of Mohonk Mountain House: nature. The Granary is the outdoor barbecue restaurant of the House, where our guests could enjoy our daily cookouts and our lobster dinners. The Granary had several stations, and we worked at a different one each day. This changing schedule was the main factor keeping the job more interesting for all of us, as one day you were serving burgers and the other you were scooping ice-cream.


This program helped me grow professionally as well as personally. It has helped me understand people coming from different parts of the world and how their culture is built differently. For me, the biggest culture shock that I encountered is the social acceptance that I experienced from Americans. People are accepting of you however you look, whatever you believe in, and wherever you come from. They are less judgmental and more used to diversity.

TopoftheRock.JPG edited

 This probably derives from the fact that the U.S. is built on cultural diversity. It is the melting pot of all kinds of cultures as its population mostly comes from immigration. This acceptance made me realize how much I want the same in my country and in a way this sentiment made me feel at home even if I was thousands of miles away from Hungary and Slovakia. It opened my eyes to how much I truly care about how people perceive each other and how badly it can affect us if someone is judgmental of our religion, skin color, sexuality, etc. The main point that I took with me from this culture shock was to accept everyone around me and to not “judge a book by its cover.”


This was my third time in the U.S. I previously took part in a study exchange program for three weeks in LA and went on a family trip to New York. However, this time it was different, because I got to experience the everyday life of Americans and not just the tourist life. I would say that the best part of these three months were the people I met and got to share all the adventures with. I got to see Niagara Falls, attend an Ed Sheeran concert on my birthday, go to a fashion show during the New York Fashion Week, walk around the Harvard campus, and see the New York City skyline from the Top of the Rock. These are just a few of the amazing moments I got to be a part of during my time in the States, and I hope to gain so many more in the future.

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I can’t wait to go back for the summer of 2018 to get more experiences and to meet more and more people. My biggest hope for the summer of 2018 is to visit Bourbon Street in New Orleans and to visit the campus of NYU, as it is my dream to get in for a graduate writing program in 2019.

All in all, after this summer, I have gained a new home and new family that I will always love. My last and biggest hope for the J-1 visa exchange program is that, once I have a child, they will be able to enjoy the advantages of this program as well. 


The J-1 internship that launched my career: Peter's story

By Peter Sima, 2014 CIEE Internship alumnus

Hello everyone! My name is Peter Sima, and I come from the beautiful country of Slovakia. This small country is located in the very center of Europe, we speak Slovak and pay with Euros. Ever since I was little, I have always been fascinated by US culture, its natural beauty and, of course, heroic blockbuster movies. A few years later, when I was about to graduate from the University of Economics in Bratislava with a degree in International Management, I got an opportunity to sign up for a year-long professional internship program in the U.S. through the Slovak-American foundation and CIEE. I made it through competitive selection process and landed a placement in the online marketing department of one of the world’s leading antivirus companies – ESET. I could not be happier when I got a final confirmation. Or wait, maybe I could – the moment I found out that ESET North America is based out of sunny San Diego!

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Peter Sima, CIEE alumnus and Non Profit Marketing Consultant

American business culture is certainly different from what I was used to in Slovakia. My feeling is that it is, in a sense, more aggressive and more competitive yet also friendlier and more collaborative. I know, it is hard to connect those two worlds together, but what I mean is that US business professionals are very much focused on their career development and the development of their business, working hard utilizing every opportunity that comes by. At the same time they are also laid back, friendly, open and cooperative in relationships with their subordinates or business partners. They make sure people on all levels of corporate hierarchy are competent, motivated and reward for their contribution to overall business success. This was the first impression I had when I started my internship and I pretty much still share the same opinion.

There are a number of things I have learned during my stay in the US. I intentionally did not say “during my internship stay” simply because I think the whole cultural experience outside of work has changed me a lot as well. From professional side I was able to acquire and/or improve my campaign planning, management, web analytics and website optimization skills. Additionally, ESET gave me the opportunity to participate on number of industry-leading conferences and even financed one semester of marketing studies at University of California San Diego.

Besides the improvement of my hard skills and professional qualification I feel that I got much better in number of soft skills as well. I have significantly improved my business English, networking capabilities and, what I consider the most important, also got better in understanding of American business environment. I have learned to think at scale and got the business drive essential for every start-up entrepreneur. Last but not least I have met many outstanding professionals and very friendly people at the same time, who have helped establish myself while in San Diego and continue helping me now in my business with U.S.-based organizations. 

Exploring Google's Silicon Valley campus

During my internship in San Diego, besides managing online marketing campaigns for ESET, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing non-profit organization called Securing Our eCity (SOeC) Foundation. This organization primarily focuses on educating teenagers and senior citizens on the topic of online security. They asked me to help them out with setup and management of Google Ad Grant campaigns, text ads that appear in Google search results. This organization and many other US-based non-profit organizations were at that time receiving free advertising credit worth $10.000/month to showcase their cause online – and I did not even know such a thing existed. 

Soon after I started working on SOeC’s campaigns we were utilizing the entire grant, driving thousands of new website visits and hundreds of subscriptions to webinars and other educational events. When I saw the potential of Ad Grants program for this non-profit organization I started digging deeper. I found out that almost all non- profit organizations are eligible to participate (schools, hospitals and state-run organization are exceptions) and what was even better, Google just opened the program for additional 50+ countries.  

Peter at the ESET office in San Diego

When talking to other organizations I found out that this program is not well recognized and even those, who use it, find it often difficult to use it to larger extent. At this point I got the idea to set up my own consulting business focused on helping non-profits implement and meaningfully use the Ad Grant from Google. I decided to name my business AboveX Digital and created its website. Up until now I have worked with dozens of U.S. as well as European non-profit organizations and managed to get the agency to Google Partner program. None of this would have been possible neither without my internship experience nor without very supportive team at ESET and Securing Our eCity Foundation.   

Just like last few years, I expect 2018 to be quite a busy year. Professionally, I would like to focus on developing the online presence of my agency, create more helpful content and expand our service offering. This will not be possible without hiring new people. I would also like to deepen my cooperation with Google, speak on their events and become sort of an ambassador of Ad Grants program. Lastly I would like to continue delivering high added value to non-profits of all kinds, helping them do even more good in this world, because ultimately, enabling them to fulfill their mission is the most rewarding part of my job. Outside of my job I would like to explore few more countries (South America is up next on my list), attend more conferences and networking events and, when I have some time left, start pursuing MBA degree. 

Peter at a San Diego Chargers game

Naoel's Work & Travel USA Journey

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

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.

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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.