By Viktor Vincej, J-1 Summer Work Travel alumnus from Slovakia
In 2011, when I went to the USA for the first time, I was a different person than I am today. Working the whole summer in Ocean City, Maryland under the J-1 Summer Work & Travel Program was, for sure, one of the biggest lessons of my life. Now I know those lessons are the ones which made me stronger and gave me the most!
Visiting the USA was always kind of a dream for me, and the Work & Travel program was definitely one of the easiest and most affordable ways. For many Work & Travel jobs in the USA, you must be fluent in English. As a student who did not speak fluent English, I chose dishwashing at first because my options were limited. Also, as a kid from a “regular” family, I either needed to borrow money or I needed to work hard back home to afford the experience of Work & Travel in the USA. I took a couple jobs back home working long hours in order to make sure I had enough money and also to be able to travel around the USA afterwards. It was a huge lesson which helped me to develop work ethic and mental strength. On the other side, what I didn’t realize at the time was that showing off good work ethic set me off for my freelancing path and which later allowed me to become a world traveler. Everything begins with small steps.
Tough times? Yes, but good times as well and so worth it! My sponsor hosted a lot of free international dinners and lunches, as well as trips and cultural events with the local community of volunteers. Americans are very friendly people and easy to hang out with. In areas with J-1 students, they are used to “broken English.” With just a little bit of effort – and you don’t even realize it at the time – your English will start improving. That’s when I became fluent! From that point, I had new opportunities available to me – not just while I was working in the USA – but back in Slovakia as well. My improved English skills allowed me to find a good part-time marketing job when I returned back home.
The next summer of 2012, I was back in the USA but working as a food runner in the same restaurant, and in my free time I was still doing my part-time marketing job remotely. It was a great experience and very busy time. I was only 23 years old and life was treating me hard, but well. I was out of my comfort zone the whole summer, and super excited for a trip to the West Coast.
Finally, in my last J-1 summer in 2013, I decided to not work in the restaurant anymore, but I offered my marketing and web design skills to my boss from the USA. She wanted me, so I took the opportunity. I quit my job back home and started my “freelancing” career. I still had a few shifts as a food runner, but I also built two e-shops, ran social media for the whole season, and I also started slowly building my own projects mentioned above. That was a life changing experience because, since then, I’ve never stopped! I’ve traveled to different countries in Asia, Europe, and Central America. I’ve had various clients from England, Australia, and Slovakia. My own projects started bringing in revenue, as well and I slowly became more independent.
A new life! This sort of lifestyle has allowed me to try very different things in my life and has opened up new perspectives. From all the things I’ve tried, all the places I have lived or experienced, I would definitely highlight my recent volunteering in Nepal. I felt grateful for all the good things in my life, and I decided to stop focusing on myself, my travels, and my business for a moment. I spent one month volunteering on a project where they faced huge problems with child trafficking after the earthquake in 2015. I helped build schools in rural areas of Nepal. It’s really hard manual work (6 days a week). The alarm rings at 6 a.m., and you have the shovel in your hands all day. I only volunteered for one month, but it was an incredible experience. I don’t even feel like taking credit and being called a “volunteer” yet. But, I definitely want to do it again, every year for at least one month. My goal is to show different perspectives and inspire people who know and follow my travel and business story on Instagram.
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
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