By: Marta Odainic, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar
Marta is a Work and Travel participant from Moldova who is very passionate for programs focused on helping those infected with HIV/AIDS and preventive teaching for teenagers. This summer, she has taken time to volunteer while living in Chicago.
Volunteering, it has always seemed to me, is like a door to discover who you are. Because when you volunteer for something, you can do that for yourself, to make you happy.
I did volunteer work in many areas that interested me. My first step on this wonderful road was when I became a member of a group called “Youth in Action” in my hometown. There, I discovered the concept of it, and the benefits it has for me and for the community I live in. I was involved in many interesting projects regarding environment, kids with disabilities, the elderly, and many other social issues.
The experience I gained is priceless, so during my stay in the United States, I decided to continue with this activity, with the guidance of the CCI Greenheart Family. Besides the cultural exchange program I’m involved in, I took some time to volunteer for two projects:
After having spent just less than a week in Chicago, I attended my first Greenheart Service Project that took place at the Xochiquetzal Peace Garden. This place reminded me of my granny’s garden: full of flowers, different plants that you can use as medicine and in the kitchen, and even more importantly, it was full of sunshine and nice people.
At this event I met my Cultural Outreach Coordinator, Haldis Toppen, and other members of the Greenheart Family. We also enjoyed the company of our hosts, who explained how to take care of the plants and how to live in harmony with nature. I was lucky to meet some volunteers from China. We all helped to clean the garden, and at the end, we enjoyed a pizza party.
For my second volunteer project, I decided to do something different; something that I had never done before. The Universe seems to always work for us, as I found a nice opportunity to be a hostess at an Italian Festival in the United States. Doesn’t that seem cool?!
My love for the Italian culture brought me to Festa Italiana. I greeted people at one of the entrances. Besides that, I had time to make some new friends, to teach them some Italian words, to share my knowledge about the Italian culture, and to try some Italian food (to be honest, it didn’t have that much in common with true Italian food, but it was tasty).
Also, I enjoyed the live music, and had a lot of fun watching the meatball contest.
If you have never tried volunteering, DO THIS as soon as possible. And do it with all of your HEART. You’ll realize how important you are in this big world. You’ll realize that you have the power to change something, to make miracles happen.
Together, we can make it!
By Jillian Sims: AYP Compliance and Operations Manager
For Kati and her family in Colorado, adding an exchange student to their family unit has turned out to be a rather magical and, at times, a bit of a musical experience.
It all started a few months ago when Kati was registering her daughters at their local high school. “The three of us went from table to table crossing off items on a checklist. We arrived at one table and glanced down to find a photo of a smiling young lady along with her bio. Out of curiosity we picked it up and began reading about her. It was at that moment that the lady across the table, the local exchange program director, asked if we would like an exchange student. Finishing the bio, we responded, “Yes. We want this one!” Maike’s story read like that of our own daughters. She shared many common interests, likes, and dislikes – even to a common phobia of spiders! We did explain that we’d have to discuss the idea with my husband and our other two daughters first before committing to hosting Maike. By that evening, ‘Dad’ and the other girls were completely on board. We filled out all the forms and within four days, Maike was ours!”
Though it hasn’t been that long yet since Maike has arrived from Germany, the family has no shortage of fun memories already created with their new family member. You can find Maike and her host sisters, Hannah and Sarah, writing and singing original songs, or perhaps learning the words to “Let it Go” in German. Even family dog, Liberty, gets in on the action. And there have been other memorable and funny moments too, like one of Maike’s first days of school when host sister, Hannah caught Maike staring absentmindedly at a banana. “You know you have to peel it, right?” she offered. The lot of them fell into peals of laughter as Maike assured them that Germans are well aware of how to eat the cross-cultural fruit.
Host mom recalls another mishap involving the ice bucket challenge. “One of our favorite memories with our ‘new family’ is of three of the girls -
Maike, Rebekah, and Hannah – doing the ice bucket challenge. The combined weight of the full bucket of water plus Maike’s statuesque height meant Rebekah missed Maike’s head entirely and caught her right across her shoulders. The momentum of the bucket propelled it into Hannah, who slipped and fell causing Rebekah to come down as well. All three challengers dissolved into laughter as well as those of us who were filming the process.”
Of course, there are also times for more seriousness and other chances that the family has had to bond. Both the family, and even school faculty, have taken an active part in helping Maike increase her English proficiency in the first few weeks and months, which has been challenging at times. But how did the family meet the challenge and what can they offer as advice to other families in similar situations?
Kati begins at the core of her family’s key to success with Maike: “To someone who has never hosted before, we would say, first and foremost, be deliberate about communicating. Be open, patient, proactive, and positive! When it comes to ‘issues’, whether at school or on the home front, engage early on and communicate expectations or come to some sort of an agreement that is satisfactory.”
Speaking about her student’s academic and language concerns, “I think that helping Maike through difficulties at school begins at home… By patiently explaining processes, words, and situations she encounters at home, she is less stressed by what she encounters at school. We made a point of meeting all of her teachers the second week of school and inquiring as to how we could best team up to help her adjustment. Some of the teachers placed English dictionaries on her desk to facilitate better understanding, and all of them are available to give assistance to her. Parents and teachers alike encourage her efforts. I assist in homework by working with her when appropriate, quizzing her on vocabulary words and explaining concepts that she is unsure of. We also were proactive in tweaking her schedule of classes so that it was a better fit for her abilities.”
Overall, it has only been a fraction of the year that Maike will spend here, but the family considers themselves a solid unit and cannot imagine life without her already. Host Dad, Matthew says, “We chose to love her from the start!” Kati describes her family and how Maike fits within, “We are a military family and are always trying to instill resilience in our daughters; Maike possesses that virtue in spades! She is an incredible role model to emulate with regards to having a positive attitude, facing uncertainty with poise, and dealing with difficulties with composure and courage.”
Maike herself says, “I love my host family!” It seems pretty clear to everyone, that the feeling is mutual.
Want an experience like this for your family? Consider opening your home to an exchange student and learn how you can apply to be a host family by clicking here.
By: Adelina Badea, Career Advancement Program (CAP) Ambassador Scholar
Romanian Trainee and Ambassador Scholar Adelina Badea has been in the U.S. now for over a month. Though many challenges are faced by all our participants, Adelina’s most shocking difference has been moving from her temperate Romania to dry, hot, Tucson Arizona. She’s taken her new life at the Canyon Ranch Tucson head on and has already experienced the diversity of nature, cultures, and life the U.S. has to offer!
One month ago my life was kind of perfect. I lived in a nice city in Romania, I had a nice job (I was working as a ticketing agent in a travel agency) and I had many friends. But it wasn’t enough for me, I always felt like I had to explore more, to see how other people live and to learn about other cultures . So I chose to apply for an internship in USA.
After one month in USA my life is completely changed, my home now is in Tucson, Arizona. I left my temperate climate, where I lived my whole life, for a desert climate which is so very new for me. My first impact when I arrived here it was the heat. I never thought I will be able to live with 105 Fahrenheit degrees(after one month I am still not used with this Imperial Unit system), so every day I thank Willis Carrier for inventing Air Conditioning because now our life is much easier. I can’t imagine life in Arizona without an A/C.
The second impact was the environment, here there are so many mountains, but where are the forests? These mountains are covered by very large cacti I have never seen before in my life. So every day instead of parks with trees I see these wonderful Saguaro cacti which are found exclusively in Sonora Desert. I can say I have never seen before such a beautiful sky with such wonderful colors, I can’t get enough! Every day is like I see a new painting with the world’s most beautiful colors.
The cultural impact is not that big, maybe because I am used to travel and I saw different European and Arabic cultures so it is nothing to shock me. I am glad to live in Arizona because I can see how American people live and also interact with the Mexican population. Here in Tucson the Mexican community is large and I still have many things to discover about the culture.
The area is wonderful but I am not used to living in a city like Tucson, it is not a very big city but it’s spread out. Living here without a car is harder than living in a compact city where public transportation is more developed. So my first goal is to buy a car with my roommate and to start to discover the surroundings.
I love the area because it is so different from my country. I got used to the temperature, but I am still not used to living without a car. I know my life here is just starting and I can hardly wait to see what my future holds for me.
By: Jesse Richards, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar
Jesse is a Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar from Jamaica, working at Jumpin Jakes in Maine. In this video, he describes how much fun Old Orchard Beach can be!
A day in the life of my host community, Old Orchard Beach (OOB), is a day that is filled with nothing but positivity, smiles, and good memories.
Spending a day in Old Orchard Beach can be a memorable experience for a tourist, and guess what; it is no different for me even though I am living in OOB. Old Orchard Beach is the premier summer vacation destination in Maine, and I get to be here every day for the entire summer! How awesome is that?! OOB is full of attractions for one to indulge in: from the pier to the beach, to the many restaurants and chill spots.
A day in Old Orchard Beach usually begins with a beautiful sunrise. On the beach, you can find many individuals enjoying the spectacle of the sun as it rises above the horizon to give life to the day ahead. The town buzzes with activity throughout the morning. You have people stopping in at the various breakfast spots to grab a bite or just walking around to enjoy the morning sun.
When it is about afternoon time, take a walk to the Veteran’s Memorial Park…this is family friendly park that is situated on the periphery of the main area of activity in the town. In the luscious green grass of the park, you will find children prancing around under the watchful eyes of their parents. You will be a spectator of the teens playing basketball on the court in the park. There are still provisions for the older folk; they usually stick to playing croquet or just relaxing under the gazebo.
Another thing that Old Orchard Beach is known for is its vibrant and exciting night life. If you are a party person, there are more than enough places for you to have fun at night. The most notable spot is the pier; check it out when you’re there. But what if you are not into parties, and you just like to be free and have fun? Palace Playland is there for you! This theme park is filled with thrill rides and attractions for you to enjoy.
A day spent in Old Orchard Beach isn’t enough time to enjoy all that is has to offer…I’m living here for the summer, so I think that I might have you a little jealous. I can definitely say that I will miss this wonderful community. The memories created here will last a lifetime and you will be compelled to return. A day in the life of my host community, Old Orchard Beach, is a day that is filled with nothing but positivity, smiles, and good memories.