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From Exchange Visitor to Business Owner

Posted on Thursday, March 29th, 2018 at 8:36 pm.

By Kristin Chasan, Communications Coordinator, Cultural Homestay International (CHI)
A version of this story is published on CHI’s blog

Darya poses with some of her beautiful custom pillows that were inspired by her time in the United States as a J-1 participant.

In 2010, Darya Modestova was just 19 years old.  She had just graduated from high school, and was sweating through a hot summer in her hometown of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.  She had no work experience, but she was ambitious and wanted to do something that would help her succeed in life.  So, she created a resume and posted it online.  Through sheer guile, she earned herself three interviews, and was eventually hired by Resource Interexchange Consulting (RIC) as their Operations Manager.  This moment was a turning point in her life, because it was at RIC where she learned about the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program.

She knew that the chance to live and work in America was something she couldn’t pass up, so the very next summer Darya was on a plane to Boston for a brand new experience that would forever change her.  Darya spent the summer of 2011 living and working in Cape Cod, Massachusetts as part of her Summer Work and Travel program.  She had a great summer, and left with a number of valuable new skills.  She learned how to treat others in a professional setting, how to work hard, and how to help a business succeed.  She also gained confidence that she could succeed when she put her mind to something.  To say this changed her life would be an understatement.

Some of Darya’s unique and fun pillow designs inspired by American television shows such as Friends.

Living in Cape Cod was an amazing experience full of friendship, cultural exchange and hard work.  Darya says, “That summer changed my life. It opened my mind and I learned that everything I have known before about life is not the way it is. There are so many more different ways of thinking and living, no standards or rules, nothing to be scared of. I learned how to express myself and not be scared to be judged – that was the most important thing I learned for the past few years.”

In the fall, she returned home to Uzbekistan a different person, and quickly put those new skills to good use.  She used the money she had earned over the summer to help pay for college.  And she used her newfound confidence to start her own business – a custom pillow company called Korporaciya Podushek.  Darya came up with the idea in an unusual way.  While in the United States, she was watching a lot of American shows such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother as a way to improve her English, and she noticed that the sets were often filled with cute decorative pillows.  This was not something Darya had ever seen at home in Uzbekistan – and she saw her opportunity to create a market.

Without any prior knowledge of how to make pillows, she got to work.  Seeing it as a challenge, she taught herself.  Starting with gifts for friends and family, her single person business slowly grew.  At first, she was selling ten pillows a month to people she knew.  Now her company is selling 500 to 900 pillows a month all over the world.  She’s even grown enough to hire a staff of hard working employees, people who she’s trained and manages herself.

Darya with her Work & Travel manager at Patio American Grill in St, Provincetown, MA.

If we stop here, it’s already a success story.  But Darya still had the spirit of the J-1 program inside her, and wanted to continue to learn and experience new things.  So she took on another new challenge and returned to the United States in April 2016 on the Internship program.  She was nervous about leaving her comfort zone and starting all over again, but with her past experience as a guide, she also knew it would be great.  Darya says that second flight to the U.S. changed her life once more.  Leaving everything she created back home led her to truly find herself.  A year later she is a new person: stronger and braver.

Darya left California with friendships, memories and stories that will stay with her forever. She says “The more I travel, the more I find myself – I know what I want. California specifically showed me the importance of being able to dream. Here I am 26 years old, right after my yearlong internship.  I dare to dream, full of plans and goals to be achieved, friends who believe in me and inspire me, and dreams – dreams that I know will become true soon enough.

To become a successful international participant we need to be brave, ready to lose everything we had, we have created, because all of the participants return home completely different people. We are searching for new experiences and knowledge, but we find ourselves – and that is the most pure amazing feeling to be able to find yourself.”

Darya returns home to a successful business and thanks to skills gained during her Internship program, an exciting new dream of creating a branding business.

Categories: Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

G. Kevin Saba

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.

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