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16 posts categorized "Participant Experiences"

From Rural Cambodia to Atlanta: Soroth's Year at School

By Soroth San, CIEE Internship USA 2017-2018 Participant

I was born and grew up in a poor village in Cambodia. I moved to the capital city, Phnom Penh, and became a student at the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL), majoring in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I was working as Head of School in Cambodia at an elementary school, encountering a ton of challenges including discipline issues, quality of education, interactions with students’ parents. I was eager for an opportunity to look at other parts of the developed world which has gone through and achieved in implementing successful education philosophies.

There are many strong motives driving me to choose the U.S.A. to be my new world and to broaden my horizon through an internship with the Galloway School in Atlanta, Georgia. First and foremost, I have always had a question in my mind about why the U.S. is a powerful country. I think of the education system and society because I hold the strong belief that a vast majority of people’s successes are the result of education. Despite the fact that I have studied English for 15 years, I felt that I needed to improve my English in an English-speaking environment. I love to be around native speakers, and I hope to enormously master my English speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Soroth 1
The U.S. is also the country of the Sharing Foundation, the organization that sponsored me to study through high school and college. I have known some people there for a long time and turned to them for help and motivation, and felt the U.S. was a home to me even before I came here. I now have a chance to present myself to my generous long-term sponsor and meet donors and board members.

I am so blessed that I have a scholarship to come to America to look at the whole picture of a school. My internship at the Galloway School is in educational administration. I spend my time observing, shadowing, and simple interviewing all the departments of Galloway, including classroom programs as well as administration such as communications, development, and admissions. I write weekly newsletters on what I have learned in comparison to my school in Cambodia.

I like almost everything in my internship, and the critical elements tapping to my heart are meeting and learning from new people. I have one-one-one and sometimes group meetings with teachers, administrative staff, school principals and others to study about their job and roles within the school system. How do they perform their work effectively and efficiently? What do they do on a daily basis?

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I have to talk to people in English, which I find very challenging. English. On my first day at Galloway, I was in a very big group and people were talking about something fun like a joke, and everybody was laughing happily while I felt overwhelmed and wondered why they laughed. I was struggling to understand and learned to get used to the language, accent, and intonation. I find myself improving a lot in that area, which means I am somehow acquiring the language, and I am so blissful for what I have mastered in English.

Weather is also one of the biggest challenges ever because I am originally from a hot climate. I find it very hard to adapt to cold weather. I need to wear many more layers than the local people. To me, 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is cold, but not for the locals, which is hilarious!

Soroth 3
After four months living in the U.S., I have found myself evolving remarkably. I have gradually acquired the taste of food, the accent and nature of language, views on culture, ways of living, eating and communicating. I have built up lots of assertiveness and confidence to express myself in front of big groups of people. I have opened up myself to the world of freedom and human rights. I have learned to be open-minded about the world and accepted things that are different. All things considered, I am able to see the world bigger and more clearly.

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

Changemaking in Action: the 2017 CIEE Civic Leadership Summit

During the first week of August a select group of participants from the Summer Work & Travel (SWT) program gathered on campus of the American University in Washington, D.C. for the 5th annual CIEE Civic Leadership Summit. This is the third time two different designated J-1 sponsor organizations (CENET and CIEE) partnered to bring together 45 fellows from 40 countries. This amazing diversity intensified the richness of the Summit experience and challenged the fellows to reach out deeper across country, culture and language borders.

These young leaders competed with over 2,100 applicants for a chance to participate in this year’s Summit. The three day program comprised of a series of dynamic workshops designed to build intercultural awareness, social entrepreneurship skills, understanding of civics and rule of law.

Participants share their stories and observations:

Mahmoud Abdelkareem from the West Bank


CLS participant Mahmoud Abdelkareem

During the summit I had the opportunity to meet 45 students, innovators, motivators and thinkers from all over the world. The same people all shared one common thing and that is they want to make the world a better place, they shared common grounds and cultures despite being thousands of miles away from each other, they shared respect, thought, innovation and many other attitudes of great world leaders. I made some deep connections with all of them basically, and learned something new about every single one of them. This Summit taught me how to think in a different way, and how a couple of people from different cultures can get together and solve common issues in little or no time, because you don't need time or lots of money, you just need some mutual respect and support, that's what will get us through at the end of the day.

I realize now that this wasn't a trip to Washington DC, this was a trip all around the world, DC was just a connecting flight.

Amy Allen from the United Kingdom

CLS Participant Amy Allen

It may seem as though the tour of D.C. would be an obvious favourite part of the week, but for me, I loved the cultural development sessions and the other deep conversations I had with the fellows regarding our cultures and global issues. This week has ignited something within me to make a change and difference, as well as travel to all these amazing countries and experience their cultures for myself. “You can make a change if you have a passion, the willingness to take a risk and taking this risk”, (Kevin Saba, 2017).

Gresë Kosa and Guxim Klinaku, Civic Leadership 2016 Alumni from Kosovo

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Gresë Kosa at the Green Art Festival

As the Summit was coming to an end, participants were inspired by the message received from the 2016 alumni from Kosovo, Gresë Kosa and Guxim Klinaku, who shared their changemaker success story about the project they started at the 2016 Civic Leadership Summit. With the support of their fellow changemakers from around the world, Gresë and Guxim took their Summit venture idea, developed it further, and started an environmental non-profit in Kosovo “Keep it Green,” whose primary mission is to develop and create projects that are related to environmental protection. The organization recently hosted its first Green Art Festival to raise awareness about environmental issues among citizens.

Guxium shared his reflections: “Me and Gresë just finished a wonderful project in Obiliq, Kosovo. This idea, was developed in CIEE Leadership Summit last year. We worked with a lot of friends from all around the world to implement this idea that I've had for a long time. Green Art Festival, the first of its kind in my country started its first edition with a painting and photo competition. The CIEE leadership fellas contributed a lot to make this idea perfect. A profound thank you to everyone for their feedback and contribution!!”

Want to learn more about this event? Watch this video and read this blog entry from last year’s Summit.

Summer in the City: Sorin's Journey in Photographs

By Sorin Dobroiu, CIEE Work & Travel USA participant from Romania.

Sorin 1

My name is Sorin, and I am from Romania. I am living this summer in Boston and working at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Here are some photographs of my time in the United States.

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This photo I was taking while I was discovering the city in my first days of American experience, and it’s just across from the Boston Harbor Hotel, where I am working. I was trying to find a place to relax. I chose to share this photo because we all try to post photos doing different activities, in the middle of the cities. This is while I was doing nothing, just watching the view and relaxing my mind, because at the end of the day, we all need peace in mind and soul.

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Here is a photo of my Zen place during the day. Me, my memories and my thoughts! About living in Boston, I can’t say something specific, but I can say something about the entire experience that a student can have while working and traveling in the USA, which is that beautiful things aren’t measured according to the place you are in. If you are positive and look forward to meeting new people and enjoy walking around, going out and so on, even just sitting somewhere and watching people doing stuff, it will make you feel good.

Sorin 3.5

Boston seen under an umbrella’s perspective. It doesn’t’ matter if it’s sunny or rainy, we move on!

Sorin 5

I am a server at Boston Harbor Hotel, and my favorite part of the day is interacting with a diversity of cultures, starting with the people working at the hotel, also guests, managers and CEOs. The most challenging times are the moments when I have to keep my calm and handle many tables all at once. I am working to take care properly of every single person and giving the 5-star service.

Sorin 3

I believe that the most surprising aspect is that I learned that I can be a way more hard working person than I thought I could be. The entire working environment showed me that I have to be more responsible, and I am extremely happy that now I apply this responsibility to everything I do. I now expect 150% from the activity I am involved in…the best! The time in the U.S. will help me in the future with the goals of becoming a better, dedicated person, and expecting more from myself day by day.

Highlights from the Great Outdoors Photo Contest: Furkan, Rintai, and Patrycja

This summer we are asking CIEE Work & Travel USA participants to share their stories with us through a series of photo contest on Social Media. We have been so impressed by the submissions! Here are finalists from the first contest, the the theme "The Great Outdoors. "Great Outdoors Contest

Furkan, Turkey

595563fde9914-DSCN4708I went rafting with four people from the Czech Republic and one from China. We became friends in the United STates. This was the first time I was doing rafting. It was awesome, actually I loved it! 

The best part of working in Montana is you are in real nature with its dangers and beauty. The most surprising thing for me about American culture is people always smile and say "hello, how is it going?" even when they do not know each other. Now I have a lot of perspective for my life, and I can use them while I am making decisions anywhere any time in the future.

Rintai, Thailand

59552a2e6e3d1-DSCF9549Me and my friends are watching the milky way in front of Crater Lake Lodge, Crater National Park. My friends are both from Thailand like me, Parn and I traveled together because we knew each other since we were in high school but we just met Oil here. The best part of being in Oregon is people. They are so kind and friendly. 

Patrycja, Poland

596017bdddaaf-IMG_2050The picture was taken just after work, when I was canoeing with my boyfriend, having some sport and fresh air after a busy day. I have been canoeing before, so it wasn't anything new, but the fact we can do it every day, and it's just in front of the place where we're living, is amazing!

It's hard to say what's best about working in Vermont - beautiful views (as it's 'the green mountain state'), extremely friendly people, or a satisfying job. All combined, it makes Lake Morey Resort a perfect place to come! I feel like a part of a family already, and it's been just a month since we're here!

I wasn't very surprised by any feature of the American culture, because it's my third time here, although I was amazed by how friendly everyone is when I first came here. I appreciate my time here and all the communication skills I obtain by working with and for American people, which will be useful in the future for sure!

CIEE Work & Travel USA Alumna Wins Alumni Storytelling Contest

This post originally appeared on the CIEE Alumni Blog.

From May 8 to June 8, CIEE alumni from all over the world submitted hundreds of photos, videos, and essays to the Alumni Storytelling Contest. It was an honor to hear so many inspiring stories that represent a wide variety of CIEE experiences - stories of independence, discovery, human connection, identity, transformation, personal struggles, and empathy that show just how impactful an exchange experience can be. Our team of CIEE staff judges carefully reviewed the entries and chose our top winners. Each winner will receive a $500 Visa gift card for future travels and exploration.

The video winner was Atenea Rios Buezo, CIEE Work & Travel USA, Montana 2015.

*This video was a winner in CIEE's 70th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest.



Jamal's Summer at Camp: Part I

Last summer Jamal Richardson, a student from St. Mary’s University in the UK, traveled to Pennsylvania to participate in the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program. We asked him to reflect on his experience at camp, and will be featuring several posts. This story originally appeared on the IST Plus website.

Tell us about the start of your summer in the U.S.

The Orientation week is great fun at camp! At times it can be very nerve-wracking as you’re in somewhere completely new and you meet a whole load of new faces in a very short space of time. But the orientation week helps you find your footing and get to know all these wonderful faces and make friends very quickly, friends that you become very close to. The training itself is also very useful for working in a camp, having done both waterfront training and counselor training, it does help you prepare for the summer ahead. It also helps that orientation is done by previous counsellors, so they are well aware of how you are feeling prior to the kids arriving!

Jamal11 - counselors

The night before the kids arrive there are so many mixed emotions! This is the part that you have signed up for, but at the same time it can get you nervous because you’re hoping the kids will be nice as you will be with them all summer, as well as you hoping that you can make the summer unforgettable! However, once you see the excited kids, some who are new, some who have been to camp before, you realize how special camp is for the kids and that you really want to make this summer better for them than the last one. They will look up to you as a role model, copy what you do, how you talk, they will try to be like you in every way!

What was your camp like?

The Camp was located in the middle of nowhere. The location was amazing for that reason. The nearest town was a small town, with a few shops, a breakfast place, a bar and a Walmart. But that made it all the better. You were away from cities and home comforts for 9 weeks, and on days off the camp organizes you to go to different places to see places. So through the summer you can find yourself chilling by a river, or jumping off high rocks into lakes, both which are great fun.

The housing was exactly what you would think it would be from the movies, it is bunkbeds inside of cabins! The cabins during orientation are also extremely social as you live in them with a group of people your age. Once the kids come in and you start living with kids it’s also great fun, and not a major worry about not getting your beauty sleep.

The scenery is the most amazing part of camp also! Sunsets away from the city, where you can actually see the sunset is the most beautiful thing ever! Being able to look up at night and see so many stars is also something that made the camp amazing, since we were so far away from towering buildings and cities, there was absolutely no light pollution. Nothings more relaxing than being down the waterfront after work has finished and stargazing with your friends while chatting!


Capturing a Winter in the Mountains on Camera

By Lucas Mira, Work & Travel USA alum, Argentina

I’m Lucas Mira and I’m a filmmaker. I don’t even go to film school, I actually study Naval Engineering. 

Years ago, I started with a couple friends a production company called REC IT, and we are based on the city that I was born and raised, Mar del Plata, Arg.

I decided going back to Colorado, to live again in the mountains and to experience another season from the inside.

Meeting awesome human beings is always fulfilling, different and unique every single time. 

To learn about other culture by living, meeting, hanging out with people that have stories and experiences to share with you it’s always worth it, you grow up, you change. And of course, you make really good friends.

This film was a mix of moments along the season. I wanted to express how would you remember that travel you made, that person you met, those memories that will be with you forever and how they shape in time.

A Small International Village: How Experiencing Cultural Diversity in the U.S. Inspired CIEE Work & Travel USA Alumnus to Make a Difference


This winter, we connected with Ebrahim Sabry, an Egyptian national, Access Scholar, and CIEE Work & Travel USA alumnus. Through the program, Ebrahim worked as a lifeguard at Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Parks in Wildwood, New Jersey. In an interview, he shares his experience and greatest takeaways of the program:

Why did you decide to come to the United States for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program?

I was listening to music on YouTube and the sidebar popped up recommending I check out the CIEE YouTube Channel, so I did! I watched a video called “my work and travel experience in America” and was curious why so many people were thanking CIEE in the video. I decided this was an experience that I wanted. I am a person who wants to know about other cultures and different mentalities. I live in a small part of a large world and I wanted to know how other people lived (daily routines, even) and what their interests are (sports, travel?). The U.S. is one of the leading countries so it was exciting for me to go there to learn how people lived, work, interact, perceive things, react to situations, spend their holidays, take their vacations, what food they eat… everything!

What did you learn about U.S. life, culture, and society during the program?

It was amazing to see the huge number of different races and mentalities in one place. In the United States, to me, you can find a huge number of different cultures and people living in the same spot. This is what makes the U.S. so great. I saw it everywhere – at work, in the community, and when I traveled (Boston, NY, Florida). My employer was a small example representing the whole. Morey’s Piers was like a small international village. I met not only Americans, but people from all over the world. You don’t have to travel to these places, they are all in Wildwood!

I lived with some guys from Spain and Venezuela and we became great friends. It was hard at first to communicate with them because of the language barrier, but by the end of the summer their English really improved! We had so much in common; I wasn’t expecting that. Even if you are living so far away, you still have something in common. The main difference that we talked about was religion and politics. But, at the end of the day, we were open to other ideas and respected each other’s differences. People may assume I’m Muslim because I’m from Egypt, but I used to be Catholic, and now I’m not practicing any religion. We talked about religion and it was great that we could express our thoughts and ideas to each other and not worry about what each other really thought, you know? It was safe. It’s hard in some of our [Egypt's] cities to say, for example, “no I’m not religious,” or “no I’m not Catholic,” because where we live that may not be accepted. It’s like we could share these secrets with each other. The difference and similarities we shared… all of it makes me more passionate about getting to know more people.

I also learned that if you can get engaged in that type of open society and be productive and proactive, that would be great because at the end of the day you give back to the community and it gives back to you. With this experience, you feel like you are a positive member in the society. Everyone I met was welcoming and positive. It made me want to be positive and be as open to people as they were being to me. That positive spirit makes you feel better and makes you go the extra mile. That is why I’m so excited to go on the program again but this time to explore the West Coast.


What does your CIEE Work & Travel USA experience mean to you?

The first thing is that it made me believe that, even though I live in a small part of the world, there are a lot more parts of the world that deserve to be discovered. It has made me so motivated to travel everywhere and get to know more people. When I saw how developed and organized things are in the U.S., it made me think about how I would develop my city or country and what I could do to make things more positive/developed in my community. I work for STAR (Student Action for Refugees) in Egypt and I teach English language courses on a weekly basis at the university. We are trying to initiate a national organization so that we can connect all the small STAR organizations together and make a national organization called “STAR Egypt.”

I feel like I have a great level of education that makes me feel responsible for people who don’t have the same opportunities. I think of the refugees and their situations and the difficulties they face in their life and it’s my responsibility to give back to them, to my community, to help them. If people that have the tools to help them don’t help them, then who will? The refugees are from Syria, Africa, Ethiopia – everywhere in the world. CIEE Work & Travel USA showed me how I can make a positive impact. This is my response to when people ask me why I do STAR. When I attend the graduation for these refugees and you see their smiles and in their eyes how happy they are, you start to understand that you’ve done something great and have done something positive that changes lives and communities. These refugees now have jobs, travel, and are continuing their education. To me, this is impact. 

What was the single most influential and meaningful experience of your program?

Part of my experience was working too! It was not just about getting to know more people. It’s about learning how to be a responsible person, maintain good standing at work, and follow the rules of the job. I was a lifeguard and remember that I had to watch after young kids in the pool. There was a small boy who was trying to get out of the water and was starting to drown; I jumped in, got him out of the pool, and saved his life. His mom came to me and said, “thank you for what you did.” At that moment I felt like I was doing something meaningful. It was a hectic and difficult job but, at the end of the day, I realized that by doing a good job that I was contributing to the community.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in coming to the U.S. for the CIEE Work & Travel USA program?

I would say that it is so, so, so amazing to be in the U.S. and work with so many different people. You don’t have to visit a huge number of countries – they are right there for you. The experience is one that will change you. Once in a lifetime. I can’t wait to go back!

Ebrahim will soon graduate from the American University in Cairo with a major in construction engineering and a minor in music technology. He plans on working for his family's business, which involves construction work, and creating techno music. In the future, he would like to get involved with the United Nations and continue his community development journey. For now, he is getting ready to spend another summer with CIEE Work & Travel USA!


Civic Leadership Alum Finds Fun in Diversity

This year marks the 5th annual CIEE Work & Travel USA Civic Leadership Summit, an opportunity for 60 participants from all over the world to gather and increase cultural understanding and leadership skills. We asked Esmatullah Surosh, a 2014 Civic Leadership fellow from Afghanistan, to reflect back on his experience and share his goals for the future.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Esmatullah Surosh, I am originally from Afghanistan, but I am living in Turkey. I am doing my Master’s program at Uludağ University in International Relations. I was in the United States in 2014 for the Work and Travel Program, and I also attended the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit in Washington DC. It was a very exciting program for me!

How has the Civic Leadership Summit impacted your life?

Well, through the Summit, I recognized a lot of problems in my own society in Afghanistan. Afghanistan contains many ethnicities, and the biggest problem right now is those ethnicities are sometimes fighting with each other. I recognized the problem, and I was so inspired. I think that like American people we can also live in peace although we are coming from different ethnicities.

The biggest lesson I have taken from CIEE’s Civic Leadership Summit is that more variety means more fun. For example, assume that all of those students were from the same country. I believe it wouldn’t be as exciting as it was, because we were coming from different countries and different cultures, and there was many things to share with each other, to talk to each other about.

What are your dreams for the future?

I am studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations at Uludağ University in Turkey. I hope to do a PhD program after my Master’s, and it will be great if I can do it in the U.S. I have a plan to work with the UN if possible, or if I stay in Turkey, I have a plan to create my own student exchange agency.

For the short term I would say I do not plan to return to Afghanistan, because first I have some plans to fulfill, but then yes [I would like to return]. As I said I have always believed myself to be a world citizen: no matter who you are if you need my help I will help you, or at least I will try. I believe the people in Afghanistan need me more than anyone and I can help because I know the society [there].


What advice do you have for CIEE Work & Travel USA participants?

What I recommend to all those students who are doing the Work and Travel program currently is to travel and explore America, because there are a lot of great places to see and there are also a lot of things to learn about US society and US culture. My other advice is to live with an American family instead of living with foreigners if it’s possible, because it can help you to learn better about American family structure and relationships between family's members also it can help you to improve your English better as well.