By: Johdinann Hartley, Summer Work and Travel Participant & 2018 Ambassador Scholar
Two summers ago, I was living in Idaho Springs, Colorado. It was my first year participating in the Work and Travel program, and I was nervous because I did not know how to go about cultural exchange. I wasn’t sure how well my host community would accept me, and as a result, I was not as involved as I wanted to be. I soon found out that there was nothing to be worried about; the people in the community were always smiling and friendly to J-1 visa students. Still, I was determined to do it right the second time around by getting more involved in my community.
My second experience was in Traverse City, Michigan. Unlike the previous year, my house mates were from mixed cultural backgrounds: Bulgaria, Russia, Romania and Moldova. We shared meals from each culture and had movie nights. From my Russian roommates Liza and Alisa, I learned how to make wooden earrings. I also made an effort to learn basic words in their language which have been useful at work, even to this day. That summer, I tried to interact with people both while at work and while out having fun. I volunteered at the National Cherry Festival and got to see the air show. I was a little let down when I learned that there were no Blue Angels, but nonetheless it was a great show. Who knew that there are so many different types of aircrafts?
After that second summer, I realized that Traverse City is my ideal place for cultural exchange. There are people from all over the world here in this tiny town. My summer of 2017 was one to remember, and I knew as soon as I left that I would miss my housemates, but also promised myself that I would continue to make each summer better than the last.
Fast forward to the present, my current season on the Work and Travel program. I have been determined to make this my best year yet! And what better place to make this wish a reality than Traverse City? The major difference between this summer and previous summers is that I am now a Greenheart Exchange Ambassador Scholar. I feel like I am a part of something greater than myself, because I get to promote cultural exchange both here in my host community and back in my home country. What better way to be more involved in my program? This year I got to organize a volunteer project in Traverse City. My small team of volunteers and I did a park clean up during the National Cherry Festival. Getting a group of people together to participate in an event that benefits my host community brought about a sense of fulfillment. Plus, I got to see the Blue Angels at this year’s airshow!
Even though my household is not as diverse as last year, I still have a great time. My housemates are American, so I am having the full American exchange experience, firsthand. We went to pick wild blueberries and made blueberry pies. This was my first attempt of making pie and it actually turned out well! I was also taught how to make an Italian dish called baked rotini. In return, I made Jamaican style chicken soup. I had to use squash in the place of pumpkin, but the reviews were still good.
Thankfully, my job is just as diverse as last year, which adds on to my ultimate experience. My coworkers always make my day at work mirthful. I could not ask for a better team! As a cashier, I get to meet more people and share stories and laughter. My program is not yet finished, so I have even more great times to look forward to! I am especially excited for my experience in Washington D.C. at the Greenheart Global Leadership Conference later this summer. So far, this has absolutely been the best summer yet!