Route J-1


International Exchange Experience leads to Career Choice

Posted on Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 at 5:40 pm.

Sarah Sampaio, J-1 Trainee Alumnae from Brazil
A version of the blog was originally published on the CENET blog

Sarah in Salt Lake City, UT

I decided to participate in the J-1 program to obtain more professional experience and learn about practices and culture in the United States. To me, the idea that I could gain cultural and life experiences along with improving my professional skills in one program really attracted me to the J-1 status.

The program showed me that I was a lot stronger than I had given myself credit for. It also made me more independent and proactive in my learning and professional experiences. It gave me the opportunity to build rapport with people from different cultural, socio-economic and professional backgrounds and it inspired me to learn from my colleagues and build a solid work relationship and even friendships. Since my J-1 program completed in 2013, I am still in contact with the friends I made in Salt Lake City, Utah while living there, even though I’ve been pursuing my PhD and working in London for the past two years. I made friends for life and learned so much.

Sarah participates in host employers Pancakes Day for employees (2013)

There is absolute value in cultural exchange. It’s not just about improving one’s professional or language skills – it’s about growing as a person and broadening one’s horizons. Meeting people with different cultures, traditions and customs transforms your life as you start seeing things from different and richer perspectives. You return home a better, more complete person because a cultural exchange makes you realize that the world is a big place to explore and the life changing journey makes you understand you can change your life and maybe change someone else’s life in return. And when the cultural exchange is over, your experience can motivate others to discover other cultures, travel and leave their comfort zones.

My program broadened my views of the U.S. and its people. I made so many great friends during my program in Salt Lake City who treated me like family and made me feel less homesick, more welcomed and like I belonged there. They always listened to what I had to say and made me feel valued and like my culture and experience mattered.

Sarah attends Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Show (2012)

I was also able to share my culture during my program. From Brazilian food to teaching Portuguese, my friends and colleagues were very eager to learn about my country, my family, our customs and traditions. We had great fun!

Since January 2016, I have been pursuing my PhD in Business at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Research at Middlesex University London. After a long and thorough application process with interviews and PhD proposals submissions, I was awarded a scholarship and a stipend to pursue my PhD at Middlesex University in London. I am also a member of the Royal Geographical Institute and the Regional Studies Association here in the United Kingdom and also teach modules on Business and Entrepreneurship here at the university.

Sarah at Middlesex University in London, United Kingdom (2017)

My research revolves around women’s entrepreneurship in Brazil, the business household nexus and how the business venture is changing gender practices in the household. I’m in my second year and have presented my work at several academic conferences and institutions across the UK. This year I have also been awarded a grant by the University of Barcelona to go to South America for two months to do my research data collection in August 2017.

I truly believe that the only reason I am now pursuing my dream and building a solid career in academia is due to my international experiences. Without my first summer camp in Canada when I was 15 and years later my J-1 program in Salt Lake City, Utah, I probably wouldn’t have achieved everything I have so far, simply because my horizons would be so limited without those opportunities. I’ve met people, friends and professionals that taught me so much, not only work related matters, but life lessons. I improved my language skills, my professional skills and grown as a person, with more independence and strength to face the world and its many challenges. I am still in contact with my friends and boss from Salt Lake City, we talk quite often. I know their families and was part of many barbecues and dinners and those memories will stay with me forever.

Sarah presenting her research at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Thyne, UK

Sarah receiving the prize for Best Speaker presentation at Loughborough University, London

I have an interesting story from my J-1 time, a defining moment, when I finally realized that I wanted a career in academia. One evening, I went to have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Salt Lake City. I got a table by myself and was looking at the menu when a North-American lady approached me and asked if the restaurant was worth the wait in line. We started talking and I asked her if she’d like to sit with me at my table. During our conversation and dinner, I learned that she is a famous children’s book author and was in Salt Lake City to promote her newest book. During our talk she said, “I don’t know, but it seems like you should be a professor. It seems like your heart is in it. You should go for it.” Our talk opened my eyes about what I wanted to do as a career… and that’s when I decided what my next step would be.

And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been talking to someone from a different culture, with a different background in a different country. Those experiences only happen if you are given the opportunity. The J-1 Program and the U.S gave me that opportunity; hopefully they’ll continue to do so for many other across the world.

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