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What does SWT mean to you?: an interview with an alumni

By: Rob Delaney, Greenheart Exchange Employer Services Coordinator and Somnus Liu, Marketing Assistant

While on a Job Fair in China, Greenheart Exchange Employer Services Coordinator, Rob, was able to sit down with Somnus! Somnus was a participant on the program in 2012 and again in 2013 with a different visa sponsor. The two had an in-depth interview regarding Somnus’ motivation for participating in the program, cultural exchange, and how the program has influenced Somnus’ current work life. Below, find the first part of a fun and insightful interview!

 Why did you participate in the SWT program?

When I participated in the Summer Work Travel program back in 2012, I was in my freshman year in college. Everything was new to me and I was interested in everything.  Frank (from EFCN) came to my university for a promotional conference. I was charmed by his presentation and felt like I really understood what the program would be like. The Summer Work Travel program completed the requirements of my college life and I wanted to see what a native English speaker’s daily life was like; my parents also supported me in my decision! Also, I was interested in Western culture, from movies and TV, so I didn’t think it was a big challenge to go another country. I didn’t think too much about the work experience, but instead I was motivated to go on the program because I was interested in learning about Western culture and American culture in particular.

What does cultural exchange mean to you?

Cultural exchange means that you change in some of the small details. For example, before I went to America, I just knew about French fries and McBurgers, but after visiting the country, I know about tacos, and what the daily life and vocabulary of Americans are like. Cultural exchange gives you the small details and changes your perspective.

Before my program, I was confused why Americans do certain things and have so much individualism. In China, everybody likes to walk in pairs or hold hands.  I was curious about how independent American students can be, and I wondered if I could be as independent as them. Cultural exchange brings me a feeling that we’re not as different as we thought. We share some basic knowledge. We might treat things differently, but you shouldn’t judge people because they treat things differently than you do.  I didn’t understand American culture before this.

What did you learn about the United States or American culture?

If you make a mistake, they’re just angry about the mistake – not about who you are.  They’re not angry at you because of your appearance because you’re short or fat or anything else. They only want to solve the problem. I learned this one time when I was working in a restaurant, and we were supposed to take out the shrimp. The shrimp was in a plastic bucket, and it was hot. The manager told me to pour out the water before throwing out the shrimp, but when we tried to do that, the shrimp fell out.  I was a little bit angry because the manager told me one thing, and the chef told me to do the task a different way. I was confused who I should be listening to, and as a result, did the task incorrectly; however, I realized that they weren’t angry with me, they were just angry with the problem.

What kind of challenges did you face when you came to the U.S.?

I was a very independent student, so I wasn’t very worried about challenges; I would just use Google for any of my questions. My first year on the program, with Greenheart, I don’t think there was a challenge. The second year, I came back on the Summer Work Travel program with a different visa sponsor. It made me realize that many of the visa sponsors care about new students they enroll in this program, but some of the sponsors pay less attention to participants who are coming back on the program, like the sponsor I used for my second summer. When we first arrived, we didn’t have solid housing and we had to wait a whole week to get work. So the second year, I was sad because of the housing situation. They did provide housing, but I compare it with the housing that I had the first time. So it made me upset. I was a little bit picky about the house, so I moved out. Sometimes, the second experience might not be as good as the first one. Between the first time and the second time on the program, you shouldn’t be narrow-minded, because there aren’t a lot of participants that go on the program twice – so be sure to do your research and communicate with your visa sponsor, especially if it is different than the first time.

What did you learn from your experience, and how did it help to prepare you for the work you are doing now?

I have experienced this program in many different ways. I was once a participant, and I then was an intern at a local sending agency. Now I’m a program operator for a sending agency! The first time I went to the United States was in 2012, so this has all happened in the last five years. I’ve gone from recruiting participants for the Job Fair as an assistant, and now I have my own Job Fair that I’m running. These two experiences have made me learn that you can live very independently.

You must talk to someone, and then you will know what kind of a person they are. You can’t judge people by their appearance. Another thing I have learned is about religions; the first year I was in the United States, my neighbor and his wife were Christian. This was interesting because in China people don’t really go to church much. He and his wife were wonderful people. They were not looking for any reward for being nice, and they treat you like their daughter or their son. They love you for no reason! The second year I did the program I was in Ocean City, and we saw an old lady struggling to get her husband in his wheelchair on the steps, so we helped her. Afterward, she insisted on buying us sandwiches and driving us home. So, I would say that the biggest lessons I learned were kindness and independence.

Are you curious about what you could learn in a foreign country? Join Greenheart Exchange on the Summer Work Travel to embark on a cultural exchange adventure!