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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The American Experience - Work & Travel

My dearest friends,

It had occurred to me that I have not yet told you much about my "love affair" with the USA. It was brief, a summer fling, but it will always stay with me. The good old USA made me absolutely love 3 beautiful cities that will remain in my heart, but the whole difference between the "old continent" and America could be debated for years... so I will try today not to raise any debates but give an overview over My American Experience. It seems so long ago, but when I think of it it feels as if it were yesterday... the summer of 2007 taught me more than any other summer I had until then and since. I had travelled before, inside the country (in Romania and Moldavia) with my family and my first real extern travel was just one year before, when I went for 10 days to Greece. That was an amazing experience as well! But now it was different... I had just finished my first year of university and I was dead set to try out the USA. Through a good friend at the league of students I was frequenting, I heard about a program that allowed young people (like myslef) to work and travel in America. Well... America sounded like the land of all dreams, where everything could come true, and Greece already wet my appetite... I wanted to travel, I wanted to see the world, I wanted to know how other people think and act... I wanted more than a regular vacation! And the tought of being on my own for 3-4 months, even though it sounded daunting, it tickled my interest. Of course there is a certain amount of money and paperwork involved + the process of passing the exam for the visa for the USA (now that was interesting!)... but I won't write about that! I want to write about America and about how a young girl met head - strong a life that she really enjoyed.
New York Summer Sunset - 2007
The first thing I remember about My American Experience is the flight time... It was my very first flight! Everything was brand new and interesting for me... somehow the 8-9 hours direct flight (one of the very first direct flights from Bucharest to New York, provided by none other than Delta Airlines) did not scare me a bit, and time flew by fast - making friends, watching movies, listening to music and sleeping like a baby... I have no problems sleeping in planes, ever since my first encounter with them! I guess that is when I got my flight travel bug :) I have felt safe in them since the first moment. The thought of being up there, in the clouds, closer to God and all its wonders makes me smile... I even had a time when I flirted with the idea of trying out to be a stewardess... travelling the world and being on a plane enjoying the views... Unfortunately those very first flights (Bucharest - New York and back) I never had a window seat. But that did not mean I did not use the time to stretch my legs in order to enjoy the views from other people windows ;))) We were a large group of youngsters going out there... to see the world and change ourselves in the process. You somehow know that there are certain moments and experiences, in time, that will change the very fibres of your being: American Experience - Work & Travel is one of them! I remember being somewhat shy when talking to large audiences. There are 3 things that helped me out: 1) being a part of the league of students and doing projects with them, 2) the marketing and the communication studies I undertook later on + 3) the trip to the USA.
There are a few things in the USA that make a difference between them and the good old Europe. The first thing you observe when you touchdown in the New York JFK Airport is the scale of it all... Now please bare in mind that it was my first flight and my second airport that I saw (the one in Romania could NOT compare to JFK!). Everything, out of the sudden, seems larger than life... you cannot seem to grasp the differences and even though you are deadly tired with the 8-9 hour flight + the change in the time zone (that will screw you up a lot at the very beginning!) you feel as if you entered in a different, new world. You cannot help smiling wide... I remember another shock when I travelled the first time by the famous Greyhound Lines, the constant airconditioning kept me wondering why people would enjoy the sudden change in temperature: outside it was hot and humid and as soon as you got inside the bus you felt like in a freezer! I remember wondering why I had not brought a jacket! For summertime!!! :/ The ride was swift and silent and I even snoozed for a while, even though I was very scared of missing my stop! The smoothness of the traffic and the lanes and the highways lulled me back to sleep as soon as I tried to focus on the "bright city lights". 
The Lovely Niagra Falls
I can recall that at the beginning, for a week or so, I could not find housing so we were all sleeping at a complex of hotels (cannot remember the name, for the life of me!). All the houses/apartments were taken by  Work & Travel students and the athmosphere was always very positive and joyful. After a while, you begin to gather up in groups from work and someone knows someone who would like to rent a flat or a house or so on... and you start talking and negociating to see if the "new arrangement" fits you :)  That's what I did! We ended up renting the upper floor of a bright white house - 4 rooms, a kitchen, 2 bathrooms and a large living room. That were crazy times! I remained good friends with some of the people, with some I do not speak anymore - you will figure out that you cannot make everyone content, not everyone loves everyone, not everyone is sincere and not everyone looks out for your best interest! You learn as you go... and you grow up by the decisions you make! You will have parties, you will have fun, you will do crazy things that you will remember for your whole lifetime! I remember after a party, late in the night, it was so hot and humid (typical weather for summertime in Atlantic City) that we went outside... the beach was 5 min away by foot, lazy walk... it was 4 am :))) and we went into the ocean, crashing the waves... I am very fond of that memory as I am fond of the friends whom I shared it with!
The Lovely Niagra Falls
You will work your arse off, and especially if its your first time you will try and find yourself a second job, as you will have quite a lot of free time on your hands + you will want to make the money back (the ones you payed for the whole process: plane ticket + visa + the processing by the American Experience Company that you will use). One single job will not pay it out ;) unless you get lucky and have a job that involves huge tips (then, screw you, lucky bastard :P ). My first job, brought to me by contract, was in the Ceasars Palace - Atlantic City, New Jersey; where I was an Employee Dining Room Attendant with 7 $ paycheck per hour. It was a decent job, not entertaining, but I made nice friends there and I learned a lot about the "background operations" inside a restaurant. It was funny deciding I want to take another job... I do not believe I ever had longer working hours since then. I used to go to my second job and then have a half hour break until my first job would start - but everybody did the same :) I remember, back in 2007, when I tried to find jobs via LinkedIn but things didn't add up so I ended up going to the Outlet Shops checking the job openings. I have to say I was lucky to have found the Polo Ralph Lauren opening up positions for Customer Care. I filled out the application paper, I was called in for the written exam and then the talk with the manager and... KABOOM! I got hired! :) Until today I think that was the best job experience I have had! My managers were amazing ladies who knew when to scold you, when to thank you, when to reward you and how to make you smile and make this experience for you more meaningful. I miss them each time I think about them... I was allowed to experience things in Polo Ralph Lauren that I never thought I would see live. I learned about customer care and merchandising first hand, I was given the opportunity to say what I think and act upon my will - to be responsible! It really means a lot to me to know that they wanted me to stay... they said I had great potential and that they saw in me a gem. They had faith and they had patience and they had the power to make you love learning and experiencing new things. I will never forget them and I will always feel grateful for them being a part of my life, part of my experience.
The Lovely Niagra Falls in the nighttime
You will love the people and hate them at the same time - love them for being open and friendly and ALWAYS with a smile upon their face, hate them for being so open minded about the whole ëveryone can have a gun" experience. I always found amazing the ability of all the American people I have met, to be able to smile and greet you from the bottom of their hearts. They will give you the benefit of a doubt, they will help you, they will guide you and they will open their hearts to you - if only you will listen! I learned from them communication skills, how to treat a customer (with respect and with being a step ahead of what he/she wants), how to behave properly in an orderly fashion. I always disagreed though on the violence and everyone's right to have a weapon. I remember vividly the hotel we were living in was pretty close to the area of Atlantic City where there was an all afro-american area of houses. I remember even a shooting in the area and how quiet the street would get. How much I loved my CD-player and my headsets that shielded me from the world and I did not have to answer to any comments or questions. People forget to tell you that the story does not always have a full happy line - it consists of both black, white and grey areas; areas through which we learn more about ourselves and the society we live in!
The Maid of the Mist Ride :)
You will travel and learn more about yourself while travelling. You will extend your horizon and you will look at people and places in a different way. I remember my first feeling when I saw a skyscraper... I felt so small and weirdly insignificant! I remember being in The Big Apple - in New York City - and the first time I got out of bus station I saw the New York Times logo on one of the tallest buildings... I remember smiling wide and thinking that "I was there! I was truly there!"... Sometimes you will need a moment to stop and think and feel that you are there... don't get taken over with the tsunami of "Let's do this! Let's do that!"... take your time and think of where you are and how far you have come... Enjoy it! and love each and every moment this experience has to offer you. Don't wait for things to come to you! One more thing I learned in the USA was being proactive! you need to be proactive in order for good things to come true ;) You will truly understand the value of money and being your own master. You will see how money comes in at the end of each week, via paycheck, and you will face the situation of buying yourself house stuff, food, groceries, things of your own personal usage... putting money on the side... and figuring out what you have left for travel and fun time purposes. That's real life! That's what grown-ups do, and that's what you will learn ;)
Harvard, early in the morning
Of course you learn much more than that, and you feel more deeply than that... everyone experiences The American Experience - Work & Travel in a different way, yet somehow all stories seem to have a common ground of growing up and learning more about yourself in the process. Have you ever went with Work & Travel program to the USA or any other country? How did it go for you? I would love to hear your stories and your opinions :) Do you agree with my story? Was it your first travel as well?

Yours sincerely,
The Twisted Red LadyBug that hopes you will have the courage/madness to try this experience as well :)