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U.S.A.: Russophone Students Blog About Work and Travel Program

Every summer, thousands of college students from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries come to the United States to take part in the Work and Travel USA program [EN]. Through this U.S. State Department-sponsored exchange program [EN] students from certain countries have an opportunity to earn some cash working in U.S. restaurants, hotels, resorts and stores, and also to travel around the United States, learning about its culture, meeting people and improving their English.

The program is very popular. According to STAR Travel agency [RUS], some 30,000 students from Russia alone take part in Work and Travel USA annually. The number of Ukrainian participants is close to 11,000 students, Ekonomichna Pravda reported last year [RUS].

For most of these young people, Work and Travel is the first experience of living on their own. For many of them, it is their first time abroad. Coming to an entirely new culture with not much cash, they have to quickly learn how to survive, find a job and a place to live. Internet has become an important tool that helps students to find travel companions, discuss employment and housing, and just to share stories of their summer abroad.

Below is what blogger Tatsiana wrote [RUS] about her first night in the United States, one of the winning blogs of the Work and Travel blogging competition [RUS] organized by the International Exchange Center (IEC), one of the organizations that administers the program:

[…] Итак. 11 часов вечера, я одна, со мной все мои документы и деньги. И следуя указателям я нашла airtrain … Людей было мало, и поэтому почему то было еще страшнее … В airtraine я познакомилась с бразильским парнем, которому 30 лет. Он фотограф и был в Сан-Франциско… Он тоже в Нью-Йорк едет, и когда я сказала, что я впервые сдесь, начал мне все объяснять: как купить билет на поезд и так далее.)))

[…]

12 ночи. Где ночевать? Искать хостелл? Одной? Ночью?
Ужасно устала, хочу принять душ и спать…

Бразильский парень, Цезар, прeделожил пойти в хостелл, куда он забронировал билеты. Но самое интересное, что мы очень долго с ним искали, где этот хостелл находится. … хотелось расплакаться! Как же я устала. Вышли на улицу. Пятница. Много людей. Все гуляют, отдыхают! И жутко страшно! Но оттого, что я с Цезаром, я не могу расплакаться и показать, что мне страшно!) Я же смелая, я же в свои 19 лет решилась на это, одна)

Наконец-то мы нашли этот хостелл, и оказалось, что для меня нет свободной кровати. Тогда Цезар предложил мне спать на его кровати, а он постелит себе на полу. Я была в шоке от того, насколько он благороден. Но все равно страшно!

OK. It's 11 PM, I'm on my own, I have all my money and my documents with me. Following the directional boards I found Airtrain … There were few people and somehow it made me even more scared… On the Airtrain, I met a Brazilian guy, who is 30. He is a photographer from San Francisco… He was going to New York, too, and when I said this was my first time here, he started explaining everything to me: how to buy a train ticket, etc. )))

[…]

Midnight. Where should I spend the night? Should I look for a hostel? Alone? At night? I'm terribly tired, want to take a shower and fall asleep.

The Brazilian guy, Cesar, offered to take me to the hostel he had booked for himself. Interesting that it took us a long time to find the hostel. I felt like crying. How tired I was. We walked along the street. Friday. Lots of people around. Everybody's having a good time! And I'm awfully scared! But because I was with Cesar, I could not cry and show how scared I was! I am brave, at the age of 19 I had the courage to do this, on my own )

Finally, we found this hostel, but it turned out there was no spare bed for me. Cesar offered me his bed and made a bed for himself on the floor… I was shocked by how noble he was. But still, I was scared…

According to the rules of the Work and Travel program, participants are required to have a job offer from an American employer prior to coming to the United States. But sometimes, for various reasons, students lose their initial jobs and have to look for a new employment, which is not an easy task. Here is what blogger taksosvova, who is also a very good photographer, wrote [RUS] about surviving in New York City:

Сегодня с утра я поехал менять оставшиеся русские рубли… За 1800 рублей я получил $42. Теперь у меня хватит денег на безлимитную MetroCard на одну неделю. А метро для большого города – это все. Представляете, сегодня я сытый. Никогда не думал, что так буду радоваться еде. Нашел дешевое китайское кафе, где за $4.50 получаешь тарелку пластиковую, разделенную на 5 секций, в них можно положить любое блюдо. Я поел салат, яишницу, мясо и еще какие-то приколюхи. Потом сидел и получал удовольствие от заполненного желудка.

…кажется, что даже бомжи и бичи в НЙ никогда не унывают. Ходят веселые…сегодня вот в поезде чувак лет 50 ходил и просил денег. Я тоже неунывающий русский безработный. Продолжаю писать письма, заполнять анкеты, звонить…

This morning I went to exchange the remaining Russian rubles… For 1,800 rubles I got $42. Now I have enough to buy a one-week unlimited MetroCard. And subway is everything in a big city. I'm not hungry today, can you imagine? I've never thought I could be so happy because of food. I've found a cheap Chinese café, where for $4.50 you get a plastic plate divided into 5 sections, and you can put any dish there. I got a salad, scrambled eggs, meat, and some other stuff. Then I just sat there, enjoying a full stomach.

…It seems that even the [homeless] of NYC never lose hope. They are walking around happy… today, for example, a guy of around 50 was begging for money on a train. I am also a happy-go-lucky Russian unemployed. I continue writing letters, filling out applications, making phone calls…

Three months seem to be enough for most of these young people to get adjusted to a new environment. Later posts of Work and Travel bloggers are mostly about the people they met and experiences they gained. Blogger YesNo from Novosibirsk writes this [RUS] about her work at Walmart in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and about her co-workers:

Я проработала только 3 недели…Уже привыкла и к самой работе, и к людям. Первую неделю каждый, с кем я работаю казался мне целой историей, … а теперь они мне кажутся обычными людьми. И мы говорим с ними на обычные темы, делаем обычные вещи. […]

В нашей команде работает около 20 человек. Конечно, рассказывть о каждом глупая и скучная затея. Но есть те, о которых я буду вспоминать и я знаю об этом уже сейчас.

[…]

Mike. … Когда он узнал, что мы … русские, у него тут же возникло целая куча вопросов: можно ли пить водку по утрам? какое у нас традиционное блюдо? холодно ли в Сибири? есть ли у нас черные? правда, что у нас плохие тюрьмы?… Но что самое хорошее в нем, так это то, что он не только спрашивает и выслушивает ответы, но и рассказывает мне об Америке. Точнее о Питтсбурге. Например, где самые лучшие пиццерии, в каком районе живут самые добрые люди, какое пиво самое вкусное и тому подобное…

[…]

I've been working here for just three weeks… I'm already used to the work itself and to the people. During the first week, each person I worked with seemed like a whole story… but now they are just ordinary people to me. We discuss ordinary topics with them, do ordinary things. […]

There are 20 people in our team. Of course, it is silly and boring to talk about each of them. But there are people I'll remember, and I already know this.

[…]

Mike… As soon as he learned that we … were Russians, he got a ton of questions for us: Is it ok to drink vodka in the morning? What's our traditional dish? Is it cold in Siberia? Do we have black people? Is it true that our prisons are bad? … But what's best about him is that he not only asks and listens, but also tells me about America. Particularly about Pittsburgh. For example, where the best pizza place is, which neighborhood has the friendliest people, which beer is the best, etc…

[…]

Many bloggers emphasize that the program for them is, above all, an opportunity to gain experience, new emotions and impressions. Ekaterina Bayutina from Lugansk wrote this [RUS] on her return to Ukraine:

Прилетев в Украину и поразмышляв над всем случившимся, я поняла, что США – та страна, где такие студенты, как мы с вами, становятся взрослей на пару лет после пройдённых трудностей, становятся самостоятельней и сильней. В памяти остаются самые тёплые и яркие моменты, увиденное ещё долго будет сниться чудесными картинками, а приобретённый опыт всегда пригодиться в жизни.

After I came back to Ukraine and thought everything over, I realized that the USA is a country where students like you and I [grow more mature] after overcoming the challenges – they become more independent and stronger. The memory keeps the warmest and brightest moments, and what you have seen will return over and over in your wonderful dreams, and the experience gained will always be useful in your future life.

2 comments

  • […] A fascinating post from Global Voices detailing Russian students’ experiences on the Work and Travel USA program. […]

  • wat

    Well,
    I don’t know what the russian do there but bulgarians are very happy.

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