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Across the Ocean: Fifty shades of Work and Travel

Recently a few friends of mine have joined the Work and Travel USA, one of the well known programs for young and ambitious people. It’s popular especially among the youth from eastern parts of Europe who want to experience a new country not only as tourists.

Dandelion wind. Author: @Doug88888. Source: Flickr

Dandelion wind. Author: @Doug88888. Source: Flickr

If you are up to 25 years old, preferably a student halfway through gaining your university degree, speak English more or less fluently, want to earn some money, gain international work experience, explore other country, and – in some cases if you are lucky enough – even get a USA Green Card, there is a wide range of agencies offering you a foreign job contract with salary, place of staying and green light to get a visa. The last is particularly sensitive for citizens of the so-called “third-world countries”.

Unfortunately, there is no official information about how many students use this kind of services and go abroad to work. I’ve contacted 4 country offices in Belarus, Moldova Poland and Ukraine, and no one was able to share any official statistics. The only unofficial information I had access to is that only ain 2014 around 22 000 students from Poland and around 16 000 students from Ukraine went to USA.

What to expect…

But what if the real situation looks a bit different? What if you come over the Ocean and find nothing – no job, no payments, no people meeting you at the airport?

Here you have a few real stories (though the names have been changed) which are more or less common for some of the students who returned from educational/working international programs.

Anna arrived at the Hampton airport with a 12-hours flight delay and discovered that instead of transport supposedly included by the organizers’ side, nobody was waiting for her. A young girl, alone, in an unknown country, at midnight… That was a situation from a nightmare rather than a dream. Phone calls to the organizers were unanswered. Thanks to some helpful people waiting for their own friends at the airport, she was able to make this last-hope phone call and reached one of the guys coming within the same program and supposed to live in the same place as she. She got him in the middle of a party and after few minutes of conversation it was clear that nobody was coming to pick her up.

Still, with some help, she got to the closest motel and stayed there at least to sleep through the few hours left.

In the morning Anna finally reached the zoo where she was supposed to work. The security was a bit surprised to find at the entrance a person with a luggage.. :) But the most surprised was the girl, when her employer, whom she already signed the contract with, said he didn’t need new workers anymore…

Sure, the life consists of more than a few obstacles, especially for active and pretty ambitious people, and in a month with two new jobs she earned enough to be able to buy a car. Indeed, USA is a country of ups and downs :)

Another story I heard from Anton, another friend of mine, who came to Pittsburgh and discovered that the local environment is not really friendly. One of the guys he met was trying to show the advantage of his “American national identity” during Anton’s whole stay.

In the USA, with the highly promoted image of being a cradle of democracy and equal rights, a situation when you might get hit by African-Americans, casually playing basket ball in the street, only because you are heard speaking Russian,  should be hard to imagine. And the police wants nothing to do with that! I’m glad to admit that there are different people in different areas and in the end Anton wasn’t physically “punished” for his – a bit different – “national identity”.

Speaking of “advantages”: since when the ability to speak several languages became an illustration of low educational level and xenophobia? :) As  far as I know, it has always been an additional advantage for everybody. And since when the principles of universal hospitality have been abandoned, now depending on the nationality of guests? Yeap, the grass is not greener on the other side, as we always think.

Your set of goals

The main aim of participating in programs such as this one is to explore culture of other countries, improve language skills, find new friends and enjoy the time after your job is  finished via travelling, events, parties and more. So, after the examples of these two stories above, do you still have a will to go abroad? Sure you do! :)

Around 76,4% of students, who travelled via the Work&Travel program, evaluated it  positively and 61.6% improved their English communicative skills.

I have heard so many positive feedbacks from the students from Ukraine, Belarus, Russian and Moldova about their time spent in the USA. And to my question “Would you go there one more time?” most of them answered: “Definitely yes”. The challenge to find a new job in an unknown country, approach new people and become friends with them in just a few weeks, cross the Brooklyn Bridge in the evening, and eat your sandwich at the Central Park… Who knows if such opportunity will be offered in your life twice?

The will of using the experience of others and not to remain in one place only but to develop, must indeed be awarded with many unexpected surprises, so… just get prepared for the journey.

How to prepare: calculate the costs…

As everything in our life, it doesn’t come cheap. A usual price for job contract maintenance with the duration of 3 month is about 1100 USD without visa (160 USD), transport (about 1000 USD) and accommodation (around 90 USD per week, depending on the type and number of people living together). The very minimum total sum required from a student is equal to 2260 USD.

The program promises that after payment and before leaving, you will have a job contract for a few months, including technical and logistical support. You are guaranteed a temporary job place and salary, making you able to live in a foreign country and doing not quite professional but necessary work.

First of all, you need to be financially secure – take some money with you and rely on yourself only. Here, add some money for any kind of “emergency issues” i.e. your possible stay for 2 month without earnings – just in case :) Check the contract in advance and have a low credit of trust in unknown people. You want to eliminate discrimination and possible threat – be strong enough to respond properly at the very first threatening situation.

If you want to improve your language skills – try to limit your communication with the fellow country people coming with you and get involved in, local life. People are different in every country but it’s very important to keep your priorities in front of you. Finally, find a couchsurfing community. People with experience to travel abroad have higher sensitivity threshold and are more open to foreigners, experiencing being alone in a different country  as well. And be creative. Try to find the best in each particular situation. Haven’t find a transfer? Explore the auto-stop. Lost your address? Just go and take an unplanned cup of coffee on your way to Brooklyn at a nice café.

Don’t forget…

So simple advises but they may make your life easier in a new country. Even with such globalised world as today, with plenty opportunities to travel and explore, the move to another country brings a kind of stress, both biologically and psychologically. Make it easier and safer. And one more thing: remember, family is your strongest supporter. Remember to stay in contact with them and you will have strong roots able to motivate you and help to achieve what you planned.

In a new country, you are the only one able to write your own succes.

Katia Berezovska – coordinator of the Hackathon Bridge project for Ukrainian and Polish youth focused on business, cultural and social initiatives, representative office of Member to the European Parliament


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