Route J-1


For J-1 from Venezuela, Experience Inspires Leadership

Posted on Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 at 10:04 pm.

An Interview with Ariana Sánchez Barrios, J-1 Summer Work Travel Alumna
A version of this story was originally published on CIEE Alumni Blog

Ariana in the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the U.S. Department of State.

Ariana in the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the U.S. Department of State.

Born in Venezuela. J-1 Work & Travel alumna. English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) participant. Youth Ambassador. Civic Leadership Summit fellow. Volunteer coordinator. Dynamic public speaker. And she’s only 19 years old. What has motivated Ariana to accomplish so much at such a young age? This alumna is on a mission to create positive change in her home country of Venezuela, using her leadership and exchange experience as the tools to help her achieve that goal.

Ariana’s journey with international exchange began when she was only 13 years old as a scholarship recipient for the English Access Microscholarship Program (Access), which offers English language and cultural preparation for future exchanges and study in the United States. She then participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Youth Ambassadors Program, a four-week program that brought Ariana to the United States to engage in community service work, a home stay, educational workshops, and other opportunities aimed at increasing leadership skills and fostering community change in participants’ home countries. She says of the experience, “…that changed my perspective about life and made me realize how important it is to work for your community and also to keep on preparing yourself for the challenges you’ll face in life, always thinking of being your best and trying your best at all times so you can leave your mark in the world and in everybody’s hearts and minds.” The Youth Ambassadors Program was only the beginning of international exchange for Ariana. In 2016, she became a part of the Summer Work & Travel family, spending her J-1 summer working at Six Flags in Queensbury, New York. For Ariana, the U.S. exchange experience was transformational:

“The Civic Leadership Summit was, with no doubt, the most meaningful experience during my program,” she said. “It was such an important opportunity getting to connect with other leaders from all over the world with a similar idea of what the world should be like and how they are going to work in order to make it get at least closer to it. I got to share my ideas, my thoughts, my principles about life and the world with a lot of inspirational people that are definitely working to make their own countries a better place to live in.”

Ariana presenting at the CIEE Employer Forum in Washington, D.C.

Ariana presenting at the CIEE Employer Forum in Washington, D.C.

While she was on her program in the U.S., Ariana spoke about her Work & Travel USA experience at the CIEE Employer Forum in Washington, D.C. She was also invited to participate in the 2016 convention of Association of Binational Centers of Latin America (ABLA) in Houston, Texas, to speak about her experience as a volunteer coordinator with Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia or “Venezuelan American Center of Zulia” (CEVAZ), an organization focused on cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Venezuela and the United States. At the convention, she spoke of the challenges and responsibilities of being the coordinator of such a large volunteer group, while networking with organizational leaders and representatives from the U.S. embassies of five countries in Latin America, including her home country of Venezuela.

Ariana speaking at a volunteer training session for CEVAZ.

Ariana speaking at a volunteer training session for CEVAZ.

Ariana’s international exchange and leadership experience has prepared her for creating positive change in Venezuela and around the world. Her ambitious attitude and love of learning has Ariana thinking big about the future, despite the challenges she may face.

“It is really hard to plan when we are going through uncertain times in my country. I’d like to run for the presidency at some point, or at least have a position in which it gets easier to work helping people. I’m planning to have my own NGO aimed at developing my community in specific life aspects starting with volunteering because in this way, they will learn about different types of social work and at the end of it, they will be able to create their own projects and programs. I am truly committed to creating more and better citizens, no matter what position I have in life,” she said.

Categories: Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange


G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

Read More