I 100% would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for going on an exchange to the U.S.
Before heading out, I had a little ‘Art Studio’ at home – well I say art studio, but it was a cupboard with a light plumbed into it (Harry Potter style!). I would spend all my free time here and wouldn’t really socialise. After my first summer abroad, my family and friends saw a huge difference in the person who returned home. This newfound confidence just grew and grew each year.
I was lucky enough to be made the Specialty Director in my last year on the program, this meant I was helping in 9 activity areas and assisting many staff in these areas. This was a very challenging summer, there’s no doubt there. But, not only did I develop strong leadership skills, but I was able to help give other exchange participants incredible summers and was able to watch them all grow, much like I did in my first summer.
I also wouldn’t have gotten the job I have now if it wasn’t for my confidence and the belief I have in cultural exchange programs. It changed my life and I love knowing I’m able to help change lives of others through cultural exchange.
– Imogen, United Kingdom
I’ve met some of my best friends through the program. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others, and I have become a lot more confident. The program made me want to help others have the same experience as me.
My summer J-1 program impacted me in a way I could never have imagined. I had everything I could wish for at home, including my dream job in London. But due to a burning desire to go to the USA, I took the plunge and went during my second year of University. Fair to say I loved every single minute. I gained the nickname “smiler” that first summer as I just couldn’t stop beaming from ear to ear the entire 9 weeks. The friendships I made were unlike any other that I’ve had in my life. They were deep, honest and we just connected in a way that I hadn’t done with anyone else. I went for my second summer and it still was the best place I’d ever worked. Upon returning home, I got the blues but was then offered my dream job at MTV in London. I was thrilled – yet a part of me still yearned to be in the U.S. with friends from all over the world, doing what I loved. My boss could see it in my eyes and when I sat her down to tell her I didn’t know what to do – she told me I had to go back for another summer. Decision made – 3rd Summer here I come. I qualified as a lifeguard and I developed a love for the water. By my 4th Summer I earned a Waterfront Director position and my life was changed forever.
I was lucky enough to be offered a full-time job with Camp Leaders in ’08 and moved up to Liverpool to begin this journey – which I’m still on 10 years later.
It’s hard to put in to words how cultural exchange can impact and change your life, but my god is it important that we all allow ourselves the opportunity to experience its wonder.
– Kim, United Kingdom
America – who wouldn’t want to travel here? It is truly a privilege for a 22-year old young professional like me. So, how was my American experience? Let me tell you my story.
Goodbye for now, Philippines! This is not my first time to acquire training outside my country, as I’ve been to New Zealand before. So, the whole process and the plane rides weren’t new at all, except that the flight duration was doubled.
After almost 24 hours of travel including a layover at LAX, finally, touchdown Nashville! Exhausted from our flight, jetlag, not enough sleep, we immediately went out not to explore the city.
First weeks were more on getting to know each other. We went to went to parks, tried different foods and drinks in our first weeks, and we did enjoy the Music City.
This is an opportunity and an immersion not all can have. The chance to understand an array of community perspectives, develop my English, adapt to others’ learning approaches, and so much more. After a year, I see myself as a self-developed woman with increased self-confidence and maturity, knowing that I was able to confront problems and challenges away from my comfort zone. With my time in the U.S., I have become comfortable in all working environments. My future employers will know I am able to adjust overseas independently, and I am flexible with facing other cultures. The longer I was in the U.S., the more I realized that learning is my main purpose. I loved my internship, new friends, new city, and this opportunity. And how I wish all participants know how fortunate we are to have this opportunity from the cultural exchange program of America.
– Laurence, Philippines
When I found out I had been accepted onto the Exchange Visitor Camp Counselor program I was so excited! Obviously, I had to figure out things like travel plans and medical checks, but I already knew that it would be worth it.
I am studying to become a teacher, so spending a summer at a camp would not only provide me with a summer of a lifetime, but also valuable experience for my future. This was something that I had to do! That’s not to say it was easy though. I spent the months leading up to my interview alternating between feelings of hopeful excitement about which camp I would be going to and so much nervous energy, worrying that I would be left at home. But when I got put on review for the eleventh time, I was finally contacted by a camp – Medomak Family Camp – and I instantly knew that this was where I wanted to spend my summer! Everything from the website to the skype interviews that I had with my boss and the camp director, told me that I would be happy there.
The next few months were a rush of getting everything ready and then I was on the plane, flying thousands of miles away, to reach the place where I would live and work all summer. Arriving at the airport where I would be picked up was a nerve-wracking experience. Was this even a real thing? Would the people be nice? Would they even show up? Were some of the irrational thoughts that were running through my head as I constantly checked WhatsApp to see where I was supposed to meet my camp, when I bumped into a girl who was also clueless about where she was supposed to go. So, in search of the same thing, but sadly different camps, we asked multiple groups of people if they were looking for us and eventually we both found our camps!
After finding the girl who was meeting me, I felt much more at ease. Then, when the other international staff, and our boss arrived, I knew that whatever happened next, it would be okay and then we were on the road to camp! When we arrived at camp, it was a magical feeling. We were all exhausted and it was pitch black, but the stars were beautiful and all of the staff who were already at camp were there to greet us with hugs. The cabin was beautiful, and my new roommate was happy to show me where anything I might need was. I was still really nervous about the whole thing, but I also knew that I would be okay.
The next few days passed in a blur. I don’t know if it was the jet leg or all of the funny games we played but it all went by so fast. Staff training was filled with everything from scavenger hunts and camping trips to first aid and abuse training. It was a mixture of silly and serious, and if we weren’t cleaning out and setting up one of the cabins or practicing an emergency drill, we were probably having a campfire or a movie night. It was a very full on schedule, but it prepared us for pretty much anything that may happen once the campers arrived.
The first official week of camp (because every week is the first week) was magical. Being a new member of staff was strange in the sense that I didn’t know any of the returning campers, but it was so much easier than I thought it would be to get involved with everything from conversations with parents to barn dancing. I got very close to the children and one of the families even sent me a care package a few weeks later and wants to stay in touch! The week was spent running around, getting covered in slime, helping children to serve themselves food, attempting to understand the rules of kickball, trying and falling in love with barn dance, kayaking for the first time for the sunset cruise and of course, crying so much when it was all over at Friday night campfire.
This cycle continued for eight weeks, with every week bringing a new set of personalities and of course a new adventure. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. Every week brought a new set of families which meant that although the schedule remained the same, every week required us to adapt our activities and personalities to suit each and every camper. One week, camp would be filled with families who had been coming to camp for years and had no reservations about joining in, and other weeks would bring families who were reluctant to get involved but by the end of the week they were planning next years trip.
I have learnt so much about connections and relationships this summer, and about how much of a difference someone can make to your life in such a short time. I have laughed and cried on numerous occasions, and there are countless children that I will never forget, the pictures they drew for me now stuck to my bedroom wall.
Working at a summer camp has taught me that the world is a magical place (or maybe that is just the world of camp) and that it is okay to be myself. Before I arrived, I was really nervous about living with strangers, but everyone in my cabin was nice and supportive. In fact, the whole staff team, including our bosses were really nice and supportive. If there were ever a problem, it would be gone in a day or two and as far as I could see no one ever let their personal problems interfere with their work or their staff relationships. It was a great environment to work in and I would love nothing more than to be asked to go back next year.
During my cultural exchange, I learnt that American people are really kind and welcoming. I had invites from families and staff members to come and stay with them after my job at camp had ended. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take them up on their offers as I had booked my flight home for three days after my contact ended, not expecting such offers before getting to camp. However, I did manage to fill up the few days that I did have by staying with the camp owner’s daughter in Philadelphia and travelling to New York for the day. I went on a bus tour, to an art gallery, to the magical gardens, saw the liberty bell, saw Philly from the top and went in the empire state building. That wasn’t everything I saw or experienced though, as when I was still in Maine (where my camp was) I went to Wal-Mart, to antique stores, garage sales, lighthouses, a demolition derby, a fair and of course, to John’s ice cream. It was a non-stop adventure from beginning to end where I learnt so much about people, myself, family, friendship and just life in general.
I haven’t been home that long, but people are already noticing how camp has changed me. Not only am I singing camp songs to my mum and torturing my friends with campfire riddles, but I have also grown in confidence and I am being more social in general. I have made two new friends and I have decided that I am going to learn how to drive this year. It may not sound like much, but putting myself out there, getting involved and allowing myself to be confident is a challenge that I have been trying to overcome for many years, and I feel like camp has helped me to get closer to the person that I want to be.
Besides, where else can you spend a full day covered from head to toe in green paint as you race to set a table or run around the beach and not be judged for it?
– Lisa, United Kingdom
NOTHING SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE ANYMORE
I would say I was rather predictable and well-mannered person. I had my old routine that I had followed for years. Every summer I worked in the same place, with the same people, doing the same things. I had good grades at university, never had problems. But that got boring.
It was one of these freezing days of January, as always, I came for my lecture on Monday morning. I saw a flyer laying on the ground advertising an experience in America. “No,” I said to myself and threw out the paper to the closest trash can. The same day I came home late, so the only thing I dreamt of was to get some sleep. I laid on my bed and started thinking. I realized I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. In the middle of the night I woke up, turned on my computer and typed “Cenet” in web browser. I signed up right away.
And that is how it all started.
Months passed quickly and before I knew it, here I was, in United States of America. All alone.
“What was I thinking?” I asked myself when I got off the plane. But I realized there is no turning back.
The next day I came to my host company. I thought it will be just like in Poland. Never have I been more wrong. To my surprise everybody welcomed me with smile on their faces and short “Hi! How are you?” And there were people of all races and cultures. In one room there was my boss, an African American man, and my future coworkers: a lovely woman from Mexico, a group of Americans, another Exchange Visitor from China, and me—white girl from Poland. They were laughing and having great time. How is that even possible? Having fun at work? I was perplexed. When they saw my hesitation, they burst into laughter—and so did I!
After a month of my program, I noticed that in fact every day was different. I just could not settle. Every day brought new challenges and opportunities. Every single day I met new fascinating people. Everybody here has their own unique story. I stopped talking and started listening. We became one big family that care about each other. They helped me before even I knew I needed it. I have never felt more at home than here.
What is even better here – the nature. Its beauty is paralyzing. Yellowstone Caldera, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park and finally… Grand Canyon. You look at this wilderness that could never be tamed. America is like the whole world charmed in one country. A lifetime is not enough to see every beautiful place on this land.
I can see how much I have grown. You can do whatever you always wanted, be whoever you want to be and go wherever you wish. And what is more, if you are different, society won’t alienate you. On the contrary, it will support you when you feel like giving up. You will never be alone here.
Now I understand why Americans are so proud. They have built an empire that holds the world in its hands.
If somebody asked me what I discovered in US, I would say: “myself.” If only had I known what I am now aware of before I came. That I can achieve so much, that I can be confident and feel unstoppable. Nothing seems impossible anymore.
Thank you for this amazing opportunity.
– Magdalena, Poland
I was at Camp Lincoln as a member of the sailing staff. The place was unlike anything I had ever experienced. One morning I was up at 5am and I saw Sam carrying the water coolers around, ensuring they were full of iced water for the day ahead. Here was a guy who owned the camp, owned another across the lake, and owned 2 high-end holiday resorts, employing hundreds of people and he was up at 5 making sure the kids had access to cool water for the day ahead.
Down at the dock I met Lafe, he ran the sailing program. We had 30 boats, some were up to 28 foot long. He would raise them up on a lift and spend hours scrubbing the hulls to ensure they moved through the water with minimal drag. No kid would ever notice the incremental benefit of this, but he ensured that everything was the best possible. Of the 60 activities at camp, sailing was by far the most popular.
Camp taught me the value or hard work, the conditions for success were set up and I did better than I had before.
I was brought up in an environment where children were told what to do. Where shouting was okay, as a member of the boys brigade we believed that discipline was key, and a louder voice meant results. I took this to camp and one day a kid was playing around on the dock when they should not have been. I shouted at them, they ignored me. Lafe the guy running the sailing program walked up to them, sat down next to them and spoke to them.
They listened to him and did as he asked. Throughout the summer I learned how to create an environment where children (and adults) could flourish. This people-based approach has stayed with me ever since. Discipline is not something done in the moment, it is an environment created to ensure people succeed.
At camp in 2006 outside the dining hall, I met Sophie. She smelt of horses. It was really bad. She looked great in her denim shorts and white t-shirt, I spent the summer learning about horses, and we have now been married for 10 years. Our camp values-based relationship has set us up to succeed.
I met all kinds of people in the U.S., from the maintenance guy Ron, who lived in a trailer and survived the cold winters with all kinds of woes, to Sam who owned camp and more. These experiences and connections mean that when I hear of opposing political views coming from America about current politics I can connect to each perspective because I know people on each side of the argument.
I have been lucky enough to further develop these skills. Thousands of young people go to the U.S. and have a similar experience, and they, too, have positively impacted the communities they have visited in the U.S, and then their communities at home.
Summer camp is where young people get to take responsibility for things other than themselves, they get to take on challenges they would not face at home in a safe environment where everything else (food, accommodation, planning what to do and more) is taken care of. They get to succeed at a higher level than previously possible.
J-1 cultural exchange makes our society richer, it helps us understand American society properly, and by opening this opportunity to the world, it creates a huge ripple effect.
Here’s a toast to Camp Leaders, CENET, the J-1 Program, the U.S. Department of State, America and participants & hosts!
– Mark, United Kingdom
Have you ever thought about living in America? For me, it feels like I’m in a movie because things I thought I could only imagine are happening right in front of my eyes. I’m an intern in America in the art field. I came here to find a way to develop my potential. To live as an artist, everything is quite vague, and the possibility of success is pretty rare, so I couldn’t picture my future. I had no idea what I should do and how I could move to the next step of my career. While I was researching opportunities, I found the Exchange Visitor Program in America, and I instinctively felt that it would help me find a solution. It was definitely a great chance to experience the biggest art market and learn advanced systems and technology. If these are things that interest you, an internship in America would be a great opportunity for you.
At the start of my life in America, I was shocked by the individualism of Americans. Individualism is a core of American culture and the main value in America. According to Younkins, a Japanese researcher who is researching American culture, “Individualistic cultures in America are self-centered and mostly emphasize individual goals. It is the view that each person has moral significance and certain rights that are either of divine origin or inherent in human nature. Each individual exists, perceives, experiences, thinks, and acts in and through his own body and therefore from unique points in time and space.” Biddle, another researcher, said Americans they believe each individual’s life belongs to himself and he has an inalienable right to live it as he sees fit, to act on his own judgment, and to pursue the values of his choosing. This is the ideal that the American Founders set forth and sought to establish when they drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and created a country in which the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness were to be recognized and protected. Eastern culture is quite opposite from American culture. I was familiar with the eastern culture, sometimes called affection culture. Compared to my time in Korea, I couldn’t feel connected with anybody in America. I realized how much I’ve depended on my relationships with others. Through experiencing individualism in America, I was able to learn to stand by myself instead of relying on others. I also found that it was a way to respect myself and others.
The Art Market 2018 report, by Art Basel and UBS, said that the United States remains the largest market worldwide, followed by China, which has superseded the United Kingdom and is now in second position. The US is the undisputed global market leader. Therefore, Americans naturally have big dreams because they live in the biggest and the most active market in the world. Americans can easily access the most modernized and developed systems and technology only because their nationality is American. Americans also tend to not put limitations on working and studying ages. These two big reasons are creating a synergy to make the American market bigger and stronger.
While living in the US, I became free from many customs and stereotypes that restricted me and I had courage to go forward day by day. Furthermore, I’m working at an art distribution company which is something I’ve always wanted to do. It is one of the biggest fine art companies in America, bigger than I have ever seen in my country. It helps me dream bigger. Now I can give a shape to my dream! I can specify steps to realize my dream by learning the company’s systems and technology.
I found that I’ve been expanding my knowledge and thought through this internship. Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Unless you throw yourself into challenges, you will never know how much you can better yourself. I hope I can see more development within myself at the end of this program and I’m sure I will. Don’t be afraid and just try it! This experience will have a strong and lasting impact on your life. You must incredibly grow up. Hey friend, it’s time to be on the main stage.
– Suyun, South Korea