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3 posts categorized "Professional Career Training USA"

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. 

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.

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! 



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)

Event Recap: Happy Hour on the Hill

This post originally appeared on the CIEE Alumni Blog.

On February 9, the CIEE Alumni Washington, D.C. Chapter and CIEE J-1 Professional Exchange Programs co-hosted a happy hour on Capitol Hill to bring together alumni of all CIEE programs and current participants of the CIEE Internship USA and Professional Career Training USA programs for a night of networking. Over 40 alumni and interns, including many participants of the Australian Uni-Capitol Washington Internship Programme (UCWIP), gathered at Capitol Lounge to exchange stories of their travels and talk about international politics. Some CIEE alumni were able to identify and speak to Australian interns who were working at their home state's congressional representative's office on Capitol Hill - a unique opportunity to hear different perspectives on local politics. Here's what some of our attendees had to say about the event:

"It was really interesting to meet the J-1 Interns and hear their perspectives on the government offices where they work. As outsiders to our political system, they talked about their internship locations in a more objective way than Americans who work on the Hill, without all of the usual partisanship and personal feeling that comes from having a personal stake in the process. I’m sure they’ll go back to their home countries with a more nuanced understanding of U.S. politics than what makes it into the news. " - Jackson Morawski, chapter member (CIEE Study Abroad Tokyo, Japan, 2014)

"Over drinks and Capitol Lounge’s famous wings, we shared our experiences of working and traveling outside our home countries. It was a great chance to meet fellow internationally-minded young people, share travel stories, and hear about their experiences in Washington, D.C. during this politically interesting period in the United States. As with many CIEE events, never a dull moment in a room full of well-traveled, energetic, and curious people. Hopefully the first of many shared events with UCWIP." - Mariah Deters, CIEE Alumni Washington, D.C. Chapter President (CIEE Study Abroad, Beijing, China, 2012) 





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