On August 15, 2014 another season of CCI Greenheart’s Summer English Academy in California came to an end. After 3 weeks, 23 students completed 48 hours of ESL class, visited San Francisco twice to see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Exploratorium, Alcatraz, and the Fisherman’s Wharf, toured the University of California at Berkeley, floated down the Russian River, hiked through the Armstrong Grove Redwood forest, rode rollercoasters at Six Flags, and volunteered their time at the Bounty Community farm in Petaluma, California. Most importantly, over the course of 3 weeks, 23 students formed worldwide friendships that they will never forget. I reached out to one student from camp, Ben Tan, who graciously shared a few thoughts from his camp experience with me.
Lexy: Can you tell me about your favorite day at SEA?
Ben:I think Volunteer Day in a farm was the best and my favorite day at SEA. We went to the farm and visited it first. We ate some strawberries, plums, etc. And you know what? They are super sweet and fresh. I almost think I can’t live without them. They tasted unbelievably yummy and delicious. After that, we had to finish our major purpose, which was to help the farmers pull out something like wheat, but it is not exactly wheat, just something like it. The root of the plant is deep and hard. We had to use some tools to pull them out! We almost spent an hour on it. It’s laborious, but still interesting. So-called no pain no gain. We pain our energy and time to finish the job. And we gain the most important stuff in the world – HAPPINESS!
Lexy: Do you think you made a lot of friends at SEA? Can you tell me about the different friends you made?
Ben: Yes, I made a lot of friends at SEA, and leave out all the Chinese friends that I made. I just want to talk about my foreign friends (From different countries). I made two best foreign friends in the camp. One is from Russia, and the other one is from Japan. Let me talk about my Russian friend first. His name is Andrey. He is 14 years old. His favorite activity is motocross, and he is good at it. He always makes jokes with me. We like playing with water balloons. He also has a great sense of humor. His catch phrase is “Loser”. He always said he is a loser, you are a loser and something like that. He is always full of confidence! I admire him. And he also is a “BLACKBERRY KILLER”. He loved blackberry so much. My other best friend is Keita. He is a quiet boy. I’m pretty sure he is 15 years old. His favorite sport is soccer. I love and enjoy being friends with him. He is so friendly and amicable. His behavior is so cute and funny. He always likes to add a “so” in the beginning of the sentences. It sounds like he knows all of the solutions to all the problems. He is an interesting guy. (Ben is pictured with Keita in the featured image.)
Lexy: Was it difficult to make friends with people who speak a different language?
Ben: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a challenge for me to make friends around the world. Also it is a great opportunity to know the different cultures. I am glad to make friends. But you know what, to be honest, I’m still afraid of making friends with other people. And I’m pretty sure no one in the world is not afraid to make friends with someone new. They just have to learn how to surmount and use their fear. They have to use their enthusiasm and patience to make friends. They have to be motivated by heart and not expect anything in return. These are the most important things. And those are the tenets that I use to make friends. It is easy to make friends by your heart, no matter if you are from different countries or if you speak a different language.
By Short Term Programs Manager Lexy Deutsch and SEA Student Ben Tan
by Sarah Tolman, F-1 High School Academic Program Coordinator
Luorongxin Yuan, also known as “Mini,” was only a ninth grader at her school in Zhenjiang, China, when she found out about the possibility of studying abroad. Eager to improve her English and experience an American high school, she chose to apply for a program here in the U.S. and was placed in Faribault, Minnesota.
“In China, I live in a place that’s pretty south, so it’s always warm and I had never seen snow in my whole life. That first year, I was really excited for the snow.”
Although the winters turned out to be a little bit colder and longer than she expected, Mini was charmed by this small Midwestern town and couldn’t bear to leave after one year. In order to stay, she applied for CCI Greenheart’s F-1 High School Academic Program and is now beginning her third year at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault.
As a third-year international student, Mini is a seasoned veteran. She has gotten involved in many different activities at school, including basketball, track and multiple volunteer clubs. Her love for helping others and nature (in her words, she’s “nutty about the environment”) inspired her to get involved with the Greenheart Club. She’s helped out with watering trees at the local nature center, and worked with her school’s Key Club to do highway clean-ups and other volunteering activities for the community. But her involvement with Greenheart doesn’t end there! In the spring of 2014, Mini went on a Greenheart Trip to Hawaii with a group of international students. This, among other trips she has taken around the U.S., has been a highlight of her time here. The students explored Hawaii, learned to surf, and participated in volunteer activities like cleaning up beaches and working on a taro farm, which ended up turning into a mud fight!
Though it’s not as famous as Hawaii, California or New York, Mini is glad she ended up in Minnesota; she loves the quiet of living in a small town and has enjoyed the experience of getting to know her host family. In addition to having two host siblings and two foster siblings in her home, Mini’s host mom also runs a day-care! It can be chaotic with so many kids running around, Mini says, but she’s grown to like it.
When addressing the challenges she faced when starting school in the U.S., Mini says her first hurdle was the lack of a nap time in her school. “In China, there’s a really long lunch break, it’s almost two hours, so after lunch you can take a nap. Here you rush through everything, you have your lunch for twenty minutes… I would get so sleepy! That might be the toughest thing I encountered when I first got here.” As she got used to the fast-paced schedule, Mini started to recognize aspects of American high school that she really enjoyed. “The classroom [here] is more fun, you get to do more group activities, you don’t just, like, sit in your desks forever. I also really enjoy the clubs and the sports.”
Mini emphasizes that she has worked hard to improve her English and her accent. Though at first it took a long time to get through all of her homework, over time she got faster at reading and writing in English and now feels very comfortable. Of course the adjustment didn’t happen overnight, but Mini offers valuable advice for future international students about how to make the best of your time abroad:
“Just be open. Really there’s no boundaries set there already; It’s like you set a boundary by yourself by not talking to anyone, just because you think they all have their little circle you can’t break into. But it’s not true, you have to talk.”
Clearly, this strategy of being open and outgoing has resulted in a vibrant and exciting experience for Mini in Minnesota. She’s made friends through the different activities, sports and events she’s been involved in, and has truly immersed herself in the culture of the high school. This year, in addition to impatiently awaiting her senior prom, Mini looks forward to graduating from Bethlehem Academy with the rest of her peers. Her college visits and applications are already underway and she continues to work hard with the goal of getting accepted to her dream school, Johns Hopkins University. If that doesn’t work out, she’d be happy to go to the University of Minnesota too! She hopes to study medicine and also take classes in environmental studies, incorporating both her desire to become a doctor and her love for the environment.
According to Mini, studying abroad is a “life-changing experience!” If you, too, have dreamed of experiencing life at an American high school, and maybe even ending up at an American university, just like Mini, apply for the F-1 High School Academic Program today and make that dream a reality!
By: Aybuke Saldir, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar
Aybuke Saldir is a Work and Travel participant from Turkey. Now that her work program is complete, she takes time to reflect on her travel adventures.
After working 3 months, finally starting travel part must be every Work and Travel participant’s dream. Last time I was in United States, I didn’t leave any time to travel. But this time, I made the most of it. As crazy as it sounds, I decided to travel to 2 coasts in 2 weeks.
Good thing about being alone on a tour is that you meet so many different people; you don’t feel like you are by yourself. I even met other J-1 students who were working in different states. Most of the people were from China. There were also Indians, Ukrainians, and Portuguese. In these last 2 weeks, I met so many people from different cultures, I lost count.
Let’s not forget the travel part. The first nine days, I went on a leisurely west coast tour. We started from Los Angeles and went through Las Vegas. It was a hectic schedule since we were traveling by bus, and everywhere in U.S. is a long drive. But it was so worth it. I don’t think I would’ve been able to see so many places if I had just rented a car and driven by myself.
There is something you should know about me. I’m a movie geek. You can’t imagine how wonderful it was to see the places I’ve only seen in movies. Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, San Francisco etc… Also, I got to visit Universal Studios, which was one of the best parts of this trip. I can’t forget about Yosemite National Park! We were very unfortunate because there was no water at the waterfall. But that’s just a small part. The whole park was breathtaking.
At the end of the tour, our tour guide wanted to know our favorite parts. Surprisingly, mine was San Francisco. We were there just for a day. I know it’s not enough time to judge a city, but there was something about it that reminded me the city where I grew up. I loved how it wasn’t hot like Los Angeles and it wasn’t hectic like New York.
My next stop was east coast. I flew to New Jersey to meet my other tour. The first thing on our itinerary was Niagara Falls. Let me tell you something: The pictures don’t do any justice. It was my second time seeing it, but it was still spectacular. After there, we went to Watkins Glen, which was a little town with lots of beauty. Our last stop was Washington DC. Unfortunately, many attractions had to be canceled, and we had to leave there early. But the tour company wanted to make it up to us. On the way to dropping point in New Jersey, they stopped in Philadelphia.
These two weeks were more exhausting than 3 months of working. But it was worth it. I saw so many places in such a short time. I feel so lucky for being able spent my summer so full. I’m just 22 years old. I can’t even imagine what more I can do. My options are limitless, and knowing that is wonderful.
By: Olga Mikulska, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar
Olga is a Work and Travel participant from Poland. During her stay in Colorado, she wanted to make an IMPACT: Interest, Modesty, Positive Energy, Altruism, Commitment, and Tenacity. Check out her video and blog post below.
When I came up with an idea of taking part in Work and Travel Program, most people reacted with genuine enthusiasm and encouraged me to go to the USA. However, there were still some people who seemed skeptical. I used to hear a plethora of arguments about what I should consider before embarking on such a distant journey. “Why do you even want to go there? It’s so far away… You need a visa… The program is pretty expensive… The earnings are higher in many European countries…bla…bla…bla…They have….GUNS!” What I’m getting at now is how happy I am that I didn’t listen to those who presented a rather gloomy vision of the journey. I think that I already mentioned it, but it was the best decision in my whole life that I plucked up the courage and decided to come to the USA. Literally! Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but also I gained a broader perspective on life in general. But the most important of all are all the unforgettable memories. What I feel right now is ineffable. There are no such words that could render how precious the time spent in America was for me. So enough of this talk, let’s watch some bits and pieces of my free time and travelling in the USA.
I hope that you enjoyed the video. I must say that I enjoy it every time I watch it. So if you see me gazing at my computer screen with ecstatic eyes, this will for sure be the video which I’ll be watching ;)
As you probably already know, we spent the first three and a half months in Colorado. It’s a pity that this is a state that goes unnoticed and is very underrated. When people are asked about their dream spot in the USA, they usually think about California, Florida, or New York. Believe me, Colorado is astounding! Awe-inspiring! Breath-taking! Surely, it must’ve been love at first sight. I can’t account for it in any other way. What fueled the flames of love was definitely Beaver Creek, a small and quaint village whose inhabitants captured my affections each and every day. They were loving, caring, optimistic, and always eager to start a friendly chat or to offer help. It’s no wonder I enjoyed spending lots of my free time with them. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have much free time in Beaver Creek, since I worked a lot. But at least I learnt how to appreciate every single moment and take the most out of my life in Colorado. Whenever I had a day off, I tried to be as active as possible. I spent most of my days off hiking. I could recommend the Beaver Lake Trail and Overlook Trail. The first one, as its name suggests, leads to a very beautiful lake. The second one presents its hikers with a wonderful panorama of the mountains. But the most rewarding and memorable hike for me was my first fourteener at the Quandary Peak next to Breckenridge. It is about 60 miles from Beaver Creek. The hike took us about seven hours in total. I didn’t realize that it’d be such an exhausting experience. Believe me, exercising or even breathing at such high altitude is no mean feat. But it was totally worth it! The scenery was…WOW! Just take a look.
Another beautiful trail that you shouldn’t miss being in the area is the Hanging Lake Trail. It’s about 50 miles from Beaver Creek, in Glenwood Springs. Turquoise water, charming waterfalls, gorgeous canyon walls…Has it already made you dreamy? If not, the photos speak for themselves. Another memorable place for me was the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. What particularly became embedded in my memory was the cave tour. The cave was spectacular, the guide was hilarious. His lecture was highly informative. It may all sound like an excerpt from a guidebook but it’s really true. Glenwood Springs really enchanted me.
And the highlight of the day…The Giant Canyon Swing! I still don’t know whether it was more terrifying or more incredible. Even now, when I look at the video, it sends shivers down my spine. The image I still have before my very eyes is the precipice which I could see from the top of the swing. Actually, I’ve just decided. It was INCREDIBLE! I’ve tried the swing twice and I’d do this once again!
In September, we finally had plenty of time for travelling. On the one hand, we couldn’t wait and explore other states in the USA, but on the other hand we had to say goodbye to Colorado. I still remember my last day in Beaver Creek. It was the most emotional day for me. But as they say… to begin a new chapter in your life, you have to close the old one…So off we went. We rented a car and started our journey. Entering Utah, we already noticed the change of scenery. All the rock formations were spectacular. But once we arrived in Arizona and saw the Grand Canyon, we were completely at a loss for words. It was ASTOUNDING! All of my friends who I travelled with, including myself, had such a moment that we couldn’t get a word out when looking at the endless canyon. It was so gigantic that none of us could comprehend it.
The next destination was southern California. We got there late at night. I remember the moment we opened the doors, got out of the car, and instantly noticed the change of climate. We immediately felt the heat wave even though it was only 1 am. I was truly amazed at the flora, its variety, a wide kaleidoscope of its colors. The aura of the place is indescribable. You have to be there to feel the vibe of the place. You have to take a bath in the ocean to feel the breeze in your hair and to feel that the place is special. Southern California is another place that I fell in love with.
So some pieces of advice for you! Don’t go to San Francisco prior to finding accommodation. Finding any vacancies in the middle of the night may be verging on the impossible. Don’t stop your car to use the Internet with your windows lowered in the city center. Don’t make eye contact with seedy people, even unwittingly. They may start talking to you. If it’s too late and they start talking to you, don’t try to continue the conversation just to be polite. Maybe our expectations were too high because everyone had assured us that we’d love the city. Maybe we weren’t prepared to see so many weirdos and homeless people in the city. But despite all this, I’m glad that we visited it and we could see another facet of the country. Otherwise, it would be too idyllic, right? In addition, I’m really glad that I could see the Golden Gate Bridge. This moment was special and kind of symbolic for me. I could see the landmark of California with my own eyes. I could take a photo against a background of the most popular symbol of San Francisco, which I had seen just in books and films up until then.
And finally, our last destination was New York City. We didn’t expect that the city would make such an impression on us. After living in Beaver Creek, it was a totally different experience. Breakneck pace, a flood of people, abundance of everything…it all made the city mind-boggling. Although I knew that I couldn’t live in such a place permanently, I loved it. NYC offered so much that it wasn’t possible to get bored there. The days we spent there were very intense, but at the same time, absolutely amazing. Now I know that New York is a must if you visit the USA.
I must say that it’s extremely difficult for me to sum it all up or to end my short story in a clever or witty way. It’s so difficult to commit all of my thoughts and feelings to paper. I’ve gotten an impression that no matter what I’ll write, it won’t be enough to express how I feel about all of my American experiences. So I’ll let others speak for me:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain (1835-1910)
By: Abdulsamet Kilicarslan, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar
Abdulsamet Kilicarslan is a Work and Travel participant from Turkey, who worked at Funtown Splashtown USA in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. In this blog post, he shares some of his experiences traveling the United States.
The time to leave was impending. I spent my whole summer in the USA. I made awesome memories and perfect friendships. It was getting harder to leave my host community and my friends. We were like a family. Otherwise, the travel part was going to start. I was so excited for that because I was travelling to amazing places; it was a dream, and for those days, it was completely unreal! Firstly, I flew Miami, I stayed there ten days. It was like a vacation for me because most of time I sunbathed and swam in the warm ocean. Also, yes, I visited around the city.
Next, I flew to Washington. I stayed there for three days. Everyone was saying it is just the capital; there are not many places to visit. However, I discovered a lot of places; I especially loved the museums. I really enjoyed those three days.
After Washington, I traveled to Philadelphia by bus. I didn’t have long time to stay there, but I found the opportunity to stay just one night. One night was enough to see that Philly is a nice city.
After that, I traveled to New York City, which is my dream city. Each street of this AMAZING city impressed me. It is really huge and crowded. I just enjoyed being on my own in New York City. Visiting the landmarks was really like a dream. Every single minute I was telling myself to “keep calm, this is real, just enjoy your time!”
It was time to go to Boston. Boston is also really nice and pretty city. In this city, I visited a lot of colleges and universities. It was like an educational paradise. I stayed in Boston for two days, and following night I flew to my country. When I was travelling, I met a lot of people who tried to help me go somewhere or stay some place. I was so lucky for that, because I really met nice and kind people. I found the opportunity to travel to beautiful and charming cities. At the end of this journey, I say, “Wait for me USA; I am going to come back. It was just a beginning!”
Want to see Samet’s photos? Watch his video below:
By: Tomasz Paciorkowski, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar
Tomasz is a Work and Travel participant from Poland who volunteers as an English teacher and hopes to inspire his future students to have experiences like his own. Before you begin reading, be sure to watch his video below:
I’m glad to see you all sober again.
Today I’m supposed to tell you about my free time and travelling in the United States.
The topic seems very enjoyable, doesn’t it? I agree, it does, so let’s get straight down to all the stories I have for you.
While I was working in Beaver Creek I was lucky enough to meet some of the most amazing people on the planet. No kidding. I’m serious about that. Some of those people I got to like so much that we all decided to spend some time traveling around the United States together. The plan was quite simple, and we didn’t devote too much time to planning the trip.
I think we subconsciously decided to go all “Yes Man” during our journey. We would later on regret that attitude a bit, however, now in retrospect, it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. Hopefully, they will agree with me on that one.
Here’s what we decided to do:
- Rent a car from a random car rental company.
- Go to California.
- …oh, and we need to stop by the Grand Canyon.
- The journey will take us to San Francisco.
That was honestly it. We didn’t plan for any accommodation whatsoever, apart from that one night we were supposed to spend in the Grand Canyon National Park. Nobody really thought about the consequences.
I suppose many fourteen-year olds would scream YOLO at this point but I don’t subscribe to that philosophy. I mean, what a huge discovery – You live just once; who would have thought? It’s stupid, come on!
I guess I just wanted to have some cool stories to tell to some female strangers in all the pubs I am supposed to visit in Poland.
There were five of us. We left Beaver Creek on September 15th in a Ford F-150.
Yes, it was a pick-up truck. Yes, it was huge. Yes, I was driving the monster.
Yes, we felt American.
I guess there’re easier ways to start feeling American, some say it’s eating at McDonald’s. Let’s be frank here though, nothing can be as cool as driving a pick-up truck.
We found I-70 and headed towards Utah. On the first day of our journey, we were supposed to reach the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. It was quite a long way; however, it was extremely fun.
At around 2 AM, we arrived at our destination, put up a tent, and went to sleep.
In the morning we started for the Grand Canyon itself. The first time that I caught a glimpse of what is probably the biggest ditch that exists on the Earth, my mind went blank. I was awestruck by the magnitude of it. It took me some time to regain full control of my body. I think my brain just had to reboot after having seen what it saw, as it didn’t have to deal with anything like it ever before.
We wandered about the Grand Canyon pretty much all day. I wasn’t, and I still am not, really able to put my finger on it.
In the evening, we got back into our pick-up truck and headed for California. We decided to drive as far as we could. Completely by accident, we even found ourselves on the historic Route 66. I was beside myself with joy. It’d been my dream for a very long time.
We found accommodation in Barstow by Route 66 in a very cozy motel Sunset Inn.
We decided to spend some more time in Southern California before we’d drive to San Francisco.
Krzysiek, who was one of the amazing people I had the honor to be traveling with, had a dream to visit Michael Jackson’s Neverland, and that’s where we decided to go.
The drive was amazing. We passed places, such as Santa Barbara, which will basically take your breath away. There are mountains, palm trees, ocean, and the weather. There’s everything you need to be happy.
That night, after much searching, we also happily found a room at a motel in San Louis Obispo.
The very next day, we headed towards San Francisco. And after my nagging, we took the famous Highway 1.
It wasn’t the easiest of highways I’d ever driven on, especially in a pick-up truck. But it was all worth it. The scenery was breath-taking. Although, the gas prices on the highway were a rip-off.
At one of the gas stations, the owners put up a sign informing us that to find another gas station you need to drive for about 40 miles. Well, I think they need to get their facts straight because the next gas station we passed was about half a mile further down the road.
All I want to say is – I don’t like your marketing strategy, you random gas station.
…and $5.30 for a gallon. Are you serious?
Nonetheless, we reached San Francisco late at night. It was probably around 2 AM. We also didn’t have any place to stay there, therefore, we decided to stop by a Burger King, steal WI-FI, and check our options.
Fortunately, we found a motel room about 20 miles away from San Francisco.
We spent a few days in San Francisco, and then we had to go our separate ways.
Olga and I flew to New York City. Anita, Natalia, and Krzysiek stayed in California. It was quite an emotional moment for me. Don’t judge. I just get attached to people.
New York City is great. Probably everybody will tell you that. Manhattan is awesome. The skyscrapers are great, and tall, and great.
The city has an amazing buzz to it, a buzz that I loved.
It’s so busy, so intense, and yet, around the city, there are numerous parks that you can rest in.
It’d been my dream to see New York City for a very long time. My expectations were quite high, and I need to admit that New York met them all.
Maybe apart from Time Square. Time Square is awesome at night. However, in daylight, it’s just an ordinary junction. To be honest with you, I walked straight past it and I didn’t notice.
After a few days in New York City, we got on a plane, and flew to Poland.
If I were to quickly sum up the experience, I would say that the United States of America is an amazing place. It is full of surprises and warm people who are willing to help you. You just need to know where you’re going.
Also, small town America is the place to go. All the big cities are just big cities, maybe with the exception of New York City which, indeed, is the greatest city on Earth.