PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: The Power of International Exchange

Each year, Cenet facilitates thousands of exchange programs in and out of the United States. Participants coming to the U.S. on our BridgeUSA (J-1 Visa) Programs get a unique snapshot of U.S. culture, while gaining professional experiences as they supplement the workforce in largely seasonal locations. Conversely, host communities get the opportunity to welcome international guests, while improving the local economy and increasing mutual understanding. Americans and BridgeUSA participants forge meaningful friendships that extend beyond program dates.


Last summer, we heard a story about a special friendship that was formed between a college student from the Dominican Republic and a retired professional in Branson, MO. These types of friendships are not uncommon in our programs, but they would be unlikely without people to people exchanges. Cenet’s participant, Damelys, and Branson resident, Linda Brown, share their feedback below.


“Ms. Linda was my leader in the kitchen where I worked. From the first day we met, she welcomed me, taught me to grow as a person, brought positive things to my life, and contributed to my personal and professional growth. I always felt her unconditional support. She is the type of person who always helps and seeks the best solution to any problem. I called her my “American mother” and she saw me as a daughter. She is the most special person I have ever met. After 3 months of living in the same city, we had to say goodbye. There is a photo of the last hug we gave each other. We cried together for a long time. In the end, she kept a part of my heart. Linda earned a very special place in my life as a strong and important pillar. She gave me the best summer in the United States. I am still in contact with her. I have told her that one day I will go back and see her and we will give each other a hug once again. ” — Damelys, SWT, Dominican Republic


“I’m semi-retired now, but in the past 6 years I’ve gotten the privilege of working with international students at Silver Dollar City. Getting to know them has been life-changing for me. The international students are very hard working, eager to learn, and full of energy. They each have their own strengths, personalities, and levels of learning, but they all become like family. Damelys is a ray of sunshine. She’s always happy, smiling, and always gave me a hug. She added a good vibe to each day. One story that comes to mind is when it was hot — like taking a shower in sweat hot — and out of nowhere, Damelys started singing “This Girl is on Fire.” It made us laugh through an hour of a never-ending food line! Lumbercamp is one of 3 big restaurants at Silver Dollar City. We stayed busy and we needed that moment of laughter at that time. Damelys – or ‘Pickles’ as we called her — got her nickname from yelling “pickles” when we had a basket of pickles ordered. She received her nickname from all of us who loved her. One thing I must say is that I treated each of my team members as equals — not above nor as their ‘boss’ — but as an equal and a friend. They knew that no matter what, I was there for them.” — Linda Brown, Branson, MO


To learn more about Cenet programs or how to get involved in your community, email cenet@cenet.org #ExchangesImpact #MyCenetStory

Cenet strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.