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26 posts categorized "Participant Experiences"

HAESF alumna cultivates the next generation of female business leaders

In 2015, Anna Tóth traveled to Savannah as an intern through the Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund (HAESF). There, she gained valuable experience at the startup engine Creative Coast. Anna has a master's degree in public relations and advertising from Corvinus University. Now back in Hungary, she works as a Business Development Manager at Reliable Education in Budapest. Outside of work, she co-founded The Millennial Women Network, an international network of young women. We interviewed Anna via email.

Anna Toth
Anna Tóth

What did you learn during your year in the United States that has helped you to succeed in your career?

During my year in the United States I gained invaluable leadership skills and built long-lasting transatlantic relationships. Today, I'm still in touch with many people I met in the US - my host, my co-workers, members of the community and my friends. These relationships mean a continuous inspiration for me to grow and make an impact in Hungary.

I always wanted to create a non-profit organization that could help raise living standards in Hungary. During my internship in the United States I realized that creating a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem could be the key to reach this goal. During my internship I was responsible for organizing Startup Lounge, an event that brings together entrepreneurs and investors. This experience helped me create a vibrant entrepreneurial community with in Budapest.

At 6:20 Chili Nights we help entrepreneurs create new professional connections and get real-time feedback about their businesses. In the last two years, we have hosted 60+ entrepreneurs and created a community of 450+ members from 7 countries. Our mission is to create a thriving and supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hungary and in the region. 

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Anna at a StartupLounge event in Savannah, Georgia

Tell us more about the Millennial Women Network.

I co-founded the Millennial Women Network after returning home to Hungary after my internship. Our mission is to empower young women to become to leaders of the future. As a young woman myself, I realized that there's a lack of available resources for Generation Y women leaders to learn leadership skills, access networks and mentorship. That's why I have co-founded MWN. With my co-founders, Nora Sarkady and Bea Wray, we have created a global online community and we share inspiring stories of successful young women from around the world. We have also launched a mentorship program. We have 100+ members from 24 countries.

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With the Creative Coast team

What is your advice to someone considering a J-1 internship program?

Without my J-1 internship I couldn't have launched an organization that helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses. I truly believe that J-1 programs can empower people from all over the world to have the confidence, the necessary skills and networks to create real change and make the world a better place. 

BAFF fellow traces her journalism career from a strawberry harvest to the White House

By Anna Ūdre, 2018 Baltic American Freedom Foundation fellow

When I was 15, I decided to try out journalism. During the summer of 2012, at only age 15, I applied for an internship at one of the national news agencies in Latvia. No one really took me seriously since I was young and inexperienced. At first, I was given very simple tasks, but by the end of my time there I had written my very first news story. It was about that year's strawberry harvest. That was all it took, I was hooked. Since then, my career has been quite fruitful. I’ve worked for leading online news media, national radio, national newspapers, and a weekly magazine in Latvia and have also taken part in various projects abroad (including Thailand and Uganda), covering such topics as human and minority rights, development and environmental challenges, and other issues.

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Left: Anna reporting from Uganda in 2017. Right: reporting from Thailand in 2015

Thanks to the Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) scholarship, I found myself in the capital of the U.S. and of politics last summer. I didn't quit my career as a journalist and continued to freelance from time to time for different media in Latvia, but my main job included working closely with the U.S. Congress, administration, and other key institutions on advocating for Baltic-American issues with the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC). The organization had been collaborating with BAFF fellows before.

I've been very blessed with being in the U.S. during an extremely interesting time. It's been ex-citing to see behind-the-scenes of how the government works and to follow the relationship be-tween two main political parties, and key institutions. The main difference between Latvia and the U.S. is that this country has two main political parties, and people tend to be very passionate about being either "democrats" or "republicans". In Latvia, we have many different parties, and voting is based more on choosing personalities and policies, whereas in the U.S. it's more about historical values that each of the parties stand for. I've been amazed about how passionate Americans are and also about how open Congress is to interacting with constituents. It's a very dynamic scene.

A lot has happened not only domestically in the U.S., but also internationally. It has put this country in a position where serious decisions have to be made, and sometimes there is breaking news not only every day, but every hour.

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Journalists outside the White House, from left, Anna Udre, Arturs Saburovs, Maris Dingelis

The year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of independence for the Baltic states. During the last century, geopolitics in the Baltics changed significantly with the rise and fall of the former Soviet Union. It's notable that the U.S. never recognized Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as part of the Soviet Union and stood by their freedom. Dozens of centennial events are taking place in the U.S., a country where lots of Baltic people settled during the 20th century while fleeing wars and occupation. This year is about celebrating the diplomatic, economic, cultural, and other ties between our countries.

On April 3, all three presidents of the Baltic states arrived in Washington, D.C. to meet with the president of the U.S. Thanks to the BAFF program, I was in the U.S. and got to be one of the journalists covering the Baltic Summit both for the main online media and for one of the national newspapers in Latvia. The Summit started with a lunch meeting in the White House during which President Trump discussed a number of topics - he congratulated the Baltic states for fulfilling NATO's commitments and reaching 2% of GDP for security matters, confirmed further U.S. support to the Baltic states, and stressed the importance of building relations with countries such as Russia and China, despite the challenges. The room was packed with journalists and it was interesting to observe how everyone was fighting for a better position, in hopes of asking a question. It was my first time seeing President Trump in person. Even though I was occupied with reporting, I felt like it was an important moment - being in the same room with the President of one of the largest countries in the world. 

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U.S. President Donald Trump with the presidents of the Baltic States and other high officials having lunch at the White House. Photo credit: Anna Udre

After lunch, all four presidents gathered in the East Wing of the White House for a press conference. The presidents reaffirmed the need for continued close defense cooperation and also the need for establishing closer business cooperation. All Baltic journalists there had been informed beforehand that each country would get to ask one question only. From Latvia, the question had been assigned to a journalist from national television. When the press conference was concluding, President Trump decided to give another chance to Baltic journalists and asked the president of Latvia to "pick a reporter”. The situation was pretty intense.

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Press conference with presidents of the Baltic States and President of the U.S. in the East Wing of the White House

Since I hadn't been expecting to ask a question, I was typing on my computer and reporting back to online media about what was happening. Every Baltic journalist was confused about what to do in this situation, and you could feel the whole room getting tense and waiting on what was going to happen. A Latvian diplomat from behind me started poking my shoulder to encourage me to ask a question and to give the president of Latvia another chance to speak. I put my computer down, put my hand up, still not knowing what I was going to ask and to whom, and then it just happened. President Trump looked at me and gave me the floor. Someone gave me the microphone and I stood up, trying not to drop my camera and phone that I still had in my hands. I addressed my question to Mr. Vējonis about his upcoming official visit to Silicon Valley.

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Source: CNN

It all happened very fast and unexpectedly. The lesson learned from this situation is to always be prepared. There can be protocol and rules, but we are all human, and things can change. Opportunities must be seized.

The Baltic Summit was followed by a U.S.-Baltic Business Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. At the end of the day, the Baltic leaders attended a dinner hosted by the Atlantic Council, where high-level representatives from various fields participated, including National Security Advisor LTG H.R. McMaster. During his speech, McMaster commented that "The people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, who endured the devastation of the Second World War, decades of Soviet occupation and communism, and emerged proud, strong, sovereign, free, and prosperous. These are three of the most creative and innovative nations on Earth."

It was a historic day and it turned out to be a big deal for me. I'm happy to have been there and to have seized the opportunity. I'm also very thankful to the BAFF scholarship for giving me the opportunity to gain relevant professional experience in the U.S. and to grow as a person. In only 11 months I've experienced great professional growth by working at an American organi-zation, met amazing people, and become more confident about who I am. I'm excited to return back to Latvia.

To see Anna's question and President Vējonis' response, play the video below! 

 



 

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.

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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!

My American Winter Photo Contest: the winner!

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 and videos! We loved every single one, but we loved how this CIEE Work Traveler really captured the essence of his winter in Vermont, time shared with friends, and new adventures. He also received the most likes on the CIEE Work & Travel USA Facebook page. Congratulations to our winner, and thanks to all who entered the contest!

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My American Winter Photo Contest: Part 5

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 tomorrow to see 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!

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My American Winter Photo Contest: Part 4

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 in the coming weeks 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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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.