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.
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.
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.