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My American Winter Photo Contest: Part 3

This winter, we asked CIEE Work & Travel USA participants to enter our "My American Winter Photo Contest." Participants sent us their favorite photo that captured their normal "day in the life" experience on the program: with coworkers, of where they lived, or of an adventure they had. We received hundreds of incredible photos! In this post, we share two of our contest finalists. Check back throughout the week to see more finalists and the contest winner! We'll be highlighting more of the photos we received on the CIEE Work & Travel USA Facebook page, so be sure to check it out!


My American Winter Photo Contest: Part 2

This winter, we asked CIEE Work & Travel USA participants to enter our "My American Winter Photo Contest." Participants sent us their favorite photo that captured their normal "day in the life" experience on the program: with coworkers, of where they lived, or of an adventure they had. We received hundreds of incredible photos! In this post, we share two of our contest finalists. Check back throughout the week to see more highlights and meet the winner! We'll be highlighting more of the photos we received on the CIEE Work & Travel USA Facebook page, so be sure to check it out!


My American Winter Photo Contest: Part 1

This winter, we asked CIEE Work & Travel USA participants to enter our "My American Winter Photo Contest."  Participants sent us their favorite photo that captured their normal "day in the life" experience on the program: with coworkers, of where they lived, or of an adventure they had. We received hundreds of incredible photos! In this post, we share two of our contest finalists. We will be posting every day this week, with the winner to be announced on Friday! We'll also be highlighting more of the photos we received on the CIEE Work & Travel USA Facebook page, so be sure to check it out!


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.


Oh La La Nola: how a professional career training program led to the creation of a new app

By Céline Gorin, CIEE Professional Career Training USA participant

Hi everyone! I am Céline, from France. I currently live in New Orleans, one of the most beautiful city in the U.S.

Celine Mississippi River
Céline along the Mississippi River

I was captivated by this city after a first road trip in the Deep South in 2013. My dream to live in New Orleans came true when I found a professional opportunity and received my J1 visa through the CIEE Professional Career Training program.

Before starting working, I volunteered for a nonprofit organization, Lowernine, dedicated to rebuilding homes for pre-Katrina residents in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city’s poorest neighborhood, devastated by the flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. This experience immersed me in the recent history of the city, and in the realities of global warming. It also helped me connect with locals and people from all around the world to explore the city together.

Lowernine volunteering
Céline on her first day of volunteering with Lowernine

I gained confidence speaking English, and felt ready to start working for Alembic Community Development, a real estate development and consulting firm dedicated to strengthening low-income communities and the non-profit organizations that serve them. Alembic has partnered with the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Inc., in the redevelopment of McDonogh #19 - one of the two public schools selected for desegregation in New Orleans in 1960 - into an innovative educational facility with an overall mission to promote Civil Rights and undo structural racism.

Every day, I work with Leona Tate, a New Orleans Civil Rights Pioneer, who was one of the three African American little girls to attend the white-only McDonogh #19 school, in 1960. My role is to assist her Foundation with fundraising, communication activities and event planning. I feel very fortunate to be part of such a meaningful project. Beyond having a deeper understanding of the modern American history, I gain a greater awareness of contemporary racial and social justice issues in the U.S.

With Leona - desegregation
Céline and Leona Tate on the 57th anniversary of public school desegregation, organized by the Leona Tate Foundation for Change.

Like any change, moving abroad seems daunting at first. New places, new habits, new people, new culture, all of these shook up my certainties, comfort and fears. But most of all, it opened up my horizons by meeting generous local people who helped me get the sense that New Orleans feels like home.

After a year in the city, I knew I was meant to share my experience as a gift to newcomers who will settle down in this city. I decided to create a guide’s app to help people explore the city differently. With an eco-friendly touch, I suggest many places to eat and shop local, to find a home, to make friends, and more. The app has been live since January 2018 and I expect, time to time, adding more places and features.

Overall, this app is a way to keep ties with this city, and with this wonderful experience I would not have known without the CIEE program.
Are you students, interns, professionals, travelers? Check out the app! It is free and available on the Google Play Store.

Celine press picture - French Morning
Céline’s picture taken for her first press article with French Morning

Want to read more about Céline? Check out her recent interviews in La Nouvelle Republique, and French Morning (in French)

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

Changing professional perspectives: Carolin's year as an intern

By Carolin Richly, CIEE Internship USA participant 2015-2016

Carolin 1
Hi there. My name is Carolin, and I would like to share with you what I’ve experienced during my internship in the U.S and how I came to be an intern at one of the global leaders in water microbiology.

First, I would like to introduce myself. I am originally from Germany and grew up in a small town in Bavaria, which is located in the southern part of Germany. I studied at Julius-Maximilians-University of Wuerzburg, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology/microbiology in August 2015.

I first did an internship in a microbiology laboratory at a company in Munich called “Stadtwerke Munich.” Then, through networking, my experience in the microbiology field, and collaborating with the study abroad and intercultural exchange organization, CIEE, I found myself working at a company called IDEXX Laboratories. IDEXX offered me a temporary position in the Water R&D department starting in October 2015. IDEXX focuses on veterinary diagnostics for companion animals and livestock, and on water microbiology testing. Its headquarters are located in Maine, the most northeastern state of the US, with various locations spread all over the globe in nearly all parts of the world.

Carolin 2
What I accomplished as a result of the J-1 visa program

At IDEXX, I worked on projects that allowed me to be creative and to work independently. Mainly, I was tasked with finding technical solutions, creating new experiments, analyzing scientific data, and using proper scientific documentation for IDEXX Water products. Within this internship, I was able to apply and intensify my scientific knowledge and develop new technical skills. What I enjoyed most was experiencing how research works in a business environment. Unimaginably, this whole internship had already entirely grown on me after 3 months. I strangely felt like I belonged, and like I was home. Therefore, I decided to extend my internship from what was initially five months up to eleven months, since exchange students on a J1-visa like me may stay up to one entire year in the United States.
Lab Partner 3
Types of meaningful cultural experiences I had while working in the United States

All in all, it wasn’t just professional knowledge and practical laboratory experience I gained; my internship went much further. Staying over the summer in Maine allowed me to participate in many activities offered by my host company, like summer parties, lobster bakes, scavenger hunts and American sport games. Meeting and connecting with other interns and getting to know many of my fellow coworkers was such a valuable experience. I made lots of good friends, who even invited me to their family dinners, Thanksgiving, and Christmas celebrations.

Carolin Grand Canyon
While in the US, I did a lot of traveling. I explored many places along the East Coast, like Boston and New York City, and parts of the West Coast, too. If you ask me, there’s no place more beautiful in the U.S. than Maine. It’s not really about the place; it’s more about the people you spend your time with. I even bet that not many people are aware of Maine, a place I only got to know accidentally. What I like most about Maine is the fact that everyone I met was American, which usually happens rarely when going abroad. There’s no better place to get involved with the American culture than Maine.

Carolin and Rachel
During my stay in the US, I even got to participate in an Intern Leadership program funded mainly by CIEE and other sponsors like the U.S. Department of State. It was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. This workshop is called “ILEAD”, an “Intern Leadership and Development” program, in which fifty participants from more than twenty different countries were invited to the U.S. capital for five days. In this workshop, we were challenged to collaborate and brainstorm about diverse topics and problems. It is unbelievable how people coming from different backgrounds and cultures with diverse perspectives are able to work together in a team and create innovative concepts.

ILEAD Washington DC
Why I decided to come to the United States for an internship and how my experiences in the United States shaped and changed my opinion of America

To be honest, I didn’t really plan on doing an internship in the U.S.; it just happened. All I knew was that I wanted to take some time off from my studies. It could have been any country in the world, however, it happened to be the United States.

Retrospectively, staying in Maine was the best decision I could have made. People in Maine were friendly, open-minded, and welcoming. Although I cannot speak about Americans in general, since I have learned that every single state has its own cultures and traditions, based on my experiences, the U.S. truly is a great place to live. It is amazing how fast you can fall in love with a new place and call it your second home. My favorite part of the United States is the people and their mindset. I especially like their optimism and their generally positive attitude. Even though I came all the way over to the U.S. without knowing anyone, I haven’t felt lonely for one single moment. My working group and all the friends I made in Maine were a perfect temporary replacement for my family back in Germany. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living in Germany and I would never leave my home country for good, but the U.S. is a lovely place to live, too.

Carolin 4
The impact my experience had on my life now that I’m back home

After my internship, I moved back to Germany to continue my studies. I am currently doing my Master’s in Biology and I just started another Master’s program in Management. This, I would have never thought of before coming to the U.S. My former American supervisor encouraged me to look into new domains and, especially, to think outside the box. The experiences I gained in the United States changed my professional perspectives quite a lot. Who can say that he/she spent almost one entire year living and working in a foreign country all by him-/herself?

Wrapping up

I will never forget the great time I had in the U.S. and the amazing people I met. It was an unforgettable year for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I am very grateful that I had such an outstanding opportunity. I know, some people might say you lose one year, but actually it is worth much more than anything else. It is an experience that shapes you and your future, personally and professionally.

Carolin 6

Be prepared to have the best summer of your life: Conor's story

By Conor O'Rourke, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2017 participant

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then makes you a storyteller” - Ibn Battuta

Hey! My name is Conor O’Rourke, I’m 21 and from Wiltshire, England. I am currently studying Sport Development at Cardiff Metropolitan University in my third year! This is the story of my summer adventure working at Camp Vega in Fayette, Maine.

Camp sunset
Echo Lake at sundown – a spectacular sunset was just part of the schedule at Vega

Six months on from my summer adventure and I am still sharing my stories with anyone who will listen! I’m thrilled that I get to tell some more in this blog! It all started by making a decision, a decision that I nearly didn’t make but a decision that I would now make over and over again.

Picture this: It’s a cold and wet Thursday in January. I was still at home with my family for Christmas but had a lot of work for University. For the past few weeks, my mum had been trying to get me to sign up to the BUNAC Summer Camp USA program. At first, I refused to even look at the website! I didn’t think I was ready to commit to a whole summer away from friends and family. It was a risk in my eyes and I was sure that it wasn’t for me. But I decided to take a look at the BUNAC website and I found a list of Camps that would be present at the recruitment fair in London. For 6 years I had been working at my local tennis club back home in Wiltshire. I started playing tennis at the age of eight and fell in love with the sport, I couldn’t stop the urge to be out on the court! It was no surprise then, that when I was offered a volunteering role by the Head Coach at the club I immediately accepted!

Three years into my coaching role at the club I had completed my Level 1 and 2 Lawn Tennis Association Coaching qualifications. This meant that I could take control of my own sessions, which included planning and coaching three to four sessions per week. This was amazing experience but taking my coaching philosophy stateside would be just unbelievable! Looking on the website, I was happy to see so many tennis positions available! I scrolled down the list and found Camp Vega. Instantly, I clicked on the link and it took me to their homepage, I was greeted with: “Be prepared to have the best summer of your life”. I then watched their promotional video and that was it, my heart was set on Vega. Ten minutes later and I was doing my research and preparing my application for the recruitment fair.

Camp Vega
The gates to my summer home – I’d leave here a more complete person

From a young age I had always dreamed of travelling to America. My dad definitely influenced me from early on. We used to love watching Westerns when I was a kid, ‘How the West Was Won’ with John Wayne was our favourite! The ambition to travel stateside was always there, although I was slightly disappointed to see that there were no ‘Cowboy Ranch Camps’ available like there were in the movies! That being said, I will never forget the feeling of leaving the recruitment fair with a job at Camp Vega! I wore the biggest smile for the rest of the day and I could not wait to fly out to America!

I will never forget the day I arrived at camp. Having watched the Vega videos at least 16 times I thought I knew what to expect. I was way off. The lake was so much clearer, the trees were taller and the road was much bumpier than I imagined! When travelling down that stunning lakeside road, never did I think that I would leave here a different person: more complete, more confident, more of the person I wanted to be. From the beginning we were made to feel so welcome, smiling seemed to be a part of the uniform here. You couldn’t help but smile, it was infectious! The campgrounds must have had something to do with it because they were just spectacular. Situated on Echo Lake, Camp Vega had it all! Waking up to the spectacular sunrise and going to sleep under the glistening stars, it became part of the daily routine. A daily routine that I love and miss so much!

The view from the Vega shoreline over Echo Lake

 My job role at Camp Vega was with the tennis team. Being a part-time coach back at home, I had plenty of experience going into the summer, but one of the things that I was most looking forward too was the opportunity to work with coaches from across the world with different cultures, languages and coaching philosophies! It was a challenge that I was so ready to tackle. Luckily for me, Camp Vega has a large International field of staff. For example, the tennis team was made up of staff from Mexico, Brazil, Chile, The Netherlands, America and Ireland! So it’s safe to say that I had an amazing opportunity to work and develop my coaching with the help of everyone’s personal experiences from their cultures. Being able to work with these people who are now my friends is also a great networking opportunity! I am still in contact with a lot of the team and we are able to keep up with each other’s achievements throughout the year!

Manitou Roommates
Manitou Left Roommates

Participating on the Camp Exchange USA Program has given me so many opportunities that I am so grateful for. My time at Vega was only 59 days. 59 days, that’s all I got, in the most beautiful place in the world. But in those days I was swimming in Echo Lake, tanning on the tennis courts and stargazing under the most spectacular stars I have ever seen! All those memories wouldn’t be the same without the people I spent them with. I made friends this summer that I will keep forever. With these friends, the miles between us don’t matter, we have a special bond, a bond that can’t be broken. We were all opposites, our upbringings, beliefs and accents were different. Yet, one thing brought us together, Vega. We all spent every day together and on days off we went on new adventures, we were free! I will always be thankful for their friendship and I will hold it close to my heart forever.

Postcard memories
 “Postcard memories only picture of how you are in one place at a time” (Drew Holcomb)

 I fell in love with America, the people, the way of life and the endless exposure to so many different cultures. Maine will forever be a haven for me, the crystal lakes, green pines and lobster roles, it was all part of my summer experience! Without the Camp Exchange USA program, my summer adventure just wouldn’t be possible! This program has allowed me to meet my friends from all over the world. Camps like Vega depend on staff from all over the world to make up their culturally diverse staff. Believe me, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to work abroad, I have gained many work and life skills from my experience. But perhaps more importantly, I have had a more personal reflection. I am more confident that I can approach any new challenge knowing that a positive outcome is always possible and that meeting new people is a privilege and any opportunity to do so should be taken because each person can offer something unique that will most likely change you for the better. Without this program, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this “extraordinary world”. I hope that all the opportunities that this program can currently offer will continue because it’s changed my life for the better and it will continue to do so for thousands of people like me.

When I arrived back home, I contacted BUNAC to share my amazing summer with them! I was asked to attend a Camp Fair in Cardiff to share my summer experiences with potential Summer Camp USA applicants! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to people who were in my shoes this year, being able to share my summer experiences with them was an amazing opportunity. Being an applicant, you want to be told that taking that risk of travelling to a different place, new cultures, different languages and new people is the right decision for you. At the end of the day it’s up to you. It’s your decision, it’s your summer it’s your lifetime memories! Believe me, take that decision for yourself because it’ll be the best decision you ever make. The countdown is on to return and I cannot wait to carry more stories with me back home!

“It’s goodnight and not goodbye”

Becoming three best friends in just three months: Catalin, Irem, and Matt's story

By Catalin Iova, Irem Bagdatli, and Mohammad “Matt” Nejmeddin (CIEE Access Scholar), CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 participants from Romania, Turkey, and Palestine

Catalin from Romania is twenty-five and studies Media Communication and Advertising, İrem from Turkey is twenty and studies Industrial Engineering, and Matt from Palestine is nineteen and studies Marketing. We came from different countries and different cultures with one common purpose at the beginning of summer 2017: discovering the unknown America and having an extraordinary summer. We all had our dreams and hopes, but the friendship we found during the summer was beyond our imaginations. It may be really hard to build a friendship that is honest, real, and life-long in such a short time, but we were able to do it, and that is unbelievable even today, months later.

Group shot lake
Catalin, Irem, and Matt (l-r)

We still remember, like it was yesterday, our first time hanging out together. It was a rainy summer day in Wildwood, NJ, and we were all stuck in our houses, when one of our colleagues asked everybody if they wanted to hang out. It was a last minute call, and we were the first ones to reply and be willing to go, which was one of the first signs that we were alike. In the end, a lot of our colleagues decided to go out with us, and we went to the beach and then to the park, just to spend time together. We ended up gaining memories that will last forever. Out of everyone, we were the craziest and enjoyed the same things. That night was a blast for each one of us, because that was the moment when we realized that we were alike and wanted to hang out more. After that night, we all started to hang out more and more until we had lost track of time and the days together.

Wildwood Sign
The Wildwoods sign, Wildwood, New Jersey

The night that made us really close was the night we went to Atlantic City. We originally didn’t have a plan, but we knew that we wanted to hang out, so when Catalin suggested going to A.C., we said yes immediately. Matt and Catalin made the plan and included some friends. After we arrived in A.C., we had to come up with a new plan because we arrived late, so we just wandered around for a while and then went somewhere to have a drink and relax. The time passed by so quickly and we didn't realize that the sun was already rising and our night was over. We were having fun and we weren't ready for the night to be over. It was a crazy and fun night, just like us.

With a group of their friends
The friends in Atlantic City, New Jersey

On one rainy day in Wildwood, all three of us were sent home early that day. No reason to be upset, because on that day, our friend Bern turned thirty, and we were able to prepare a surprise birthday party for her. Later, we found out that it was her first surprise birthday party in her life.

Selfie Party Hats
Birthday party selfie

During the party, we dyed our hair with white spray paint, took crazy and silly photos, and had lots of fun until early in the morning. When the party ended and we were going to our houses, Matt and Catalin led Irem to her home because it was far away. They didn’t mind despite being tired and wanting to go home. They did it without asking because that’s what real friends do. They care and they protect you from the possibility of a danger.

Group shot with prizes
The trio of friends with game prizes at work.

After our friendship became much stronger, we started wondering what it would be like if we ran the same game together at work. We started looking for chances to work together. One day, when we all were supposed to work at different games, we tried to find a way to work together. We ended up working together in the three-point challenge game. It was one of the most tiring days of the summer for Irem, but we all realized that while working with friends is fun and good, working with best friends is the best.

The best days we spent together were the ones from our trip through the U.S., which took place during the last days of our summer. An unplanned trip, this is how our journey around the northern states in the U.S. started. It ended with many memories that will live forever in our hearts. We all had different plans, but after Catalin and Irem had to cancel their plans, they decided to take a trip together. In one night they planned all four days’ trip and hit the roads in the morning.

Catalin Irem Amish Village
Catalin and Irem at Amish Village, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

It was a four-day trip, passing through five states, driving five thousand kilometers, endless roads, sleepless nights, countless shopping bags, a bunch of amazing photos, and countless unforgettable memories. It made our friendship stronger and it helped us form an unspoken bond.

Mardi Gras
Dressed up in Mardi Gras theme

After spending so much time together, we came to a point where we realized that, even though there are thousands of kilometers between us and we have different lives, our friendship is not a temporary but a lifetime one. However, knowing was not enough for us; we also wanted to shout our love for each other to the world, showing how unique and beautiful our friendship is.

When Catalin came up with an image of a bracelet that we could customize as we wished, the decision was made. We bought three bracelets that have our names on the front: “♥Catalin, Irem, Matt♥” and “2017 Wildwood” written on the back. While we were having a video call from our home countries, we started remembering the day we got them and how happy we were. We were showing them to everybody and telling everyone how and why we got them. It has been nearly two months since we first got them and we are still wearing them every day and will continue to wear them.

Friendship bracelet and Skype
The friendship bracelet; Staying in touch with Skype chats

You could say that maybe it was a blessing, good luck, or just a coincidence that we became best friends in just three months. Well, we are not sure what it was, but we do know that it’s as real as our heart beats and it’s as eternal as the air we breathe in because even now, after a month since we said one of the hardest goodbyes of all times, we are three best friends who are separated from each other by thousands of kilometers, but still talking nearly every day, looking for the other’s presence everywhere, and wishing we were together to share more of the best moments. We are best friends and will be best friends because we know that the distance between us is just numbers that give us a reason to travel more and the days we are spending apart exist to make us appreciate the days we will spend together in the future.

Group shot flamingo
Best friends

Summer Photo Contest Highlights - Part 4

This is the time of year when summer starts to feel like it will be here before you know it! Here are some highlights from our Summer 2017 photo contest to help us all get into the summer mindset. 

Hungry for more travel photography? See parts 1, 2, and 3

59a0cce03210a-SummerMemory (Maria)

“These are my travelling colleges, my friends, the family that I built here, in Santa Cruz, California. We are on one of the typical cliffs of Santa Cruz. You can see the sea and also the amusement park where we work. Along this amazing experience we had the chance to know people with different nationalities and their cultures. On the map that we are holding, you may see pushpins all over it. Participants of this program put them in to show where their countries are located. It is incredible seeing how we all are from different places, no matter how far we come from; however, it is more incredible knowing that all these places do have something in common. They are sharing, right now, a same time and place. This is why this picture is my favorite one; because of them, I'm having the best summer ever.” – Maria Gonzalez, from Spain
"We celebrated the birthday of our manager” – Bayram Bagbekov, from Turkmenistan
“Day (off) in life! We are trying to enjoy every single day in the U.S. as much as we can - our first trip to Richmond, VA - got a little bit crazy :D” – Justyna Zybert, from Poland
“Amazing zipline!” – TzuChing Lin, from Taiwan
“Home is where the passport is... The trip on which this photo was taken was my best summer memory, because I did what I love (traveling) with whom I love (my boyfriend) in the most beautiful place I've ever seen - in Yellowstone!” – Adrianna Rutkowska, from Poland