Stories From Staff: Why Cultural Exchange?

7 minutes

Our staff is passionate about cultural exchange and we each came to it in our own way. We are continuously working to make our programs better because we believe in what we do. We wanted to share our stories with you so you can know us better.

Lynne, Program Director

Lynne meeting an elephant
Lynne meeting an elephant
Photo Courtesy of Lynne Sebeck

When I was in high school, I took a French class with a teacher who turned out to be my favorite teacher in high school, Ms. McGeehan. She had such a love for the French language and French culture, and she helped me to see that there was a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Because of her enthusiasm and excitement, I decided that I wanted to pursue a major in college that would enable me to learn even more about language, culture, and the rest of the world. So I went to university and started a degree in international business.

In my first year, I got involved with our school’s International Students’ Office. I loved meeting students from across the world, and I ended up applying to be an international student orientation leader for my sophomore year. Later that year, I had my own international experience when I spent my spring semester in Italy.

Living abroad was a life-changing experience, as most people who have studied abroad will agree. For me, it was an experience that helped me understand just how important it is to see new places, meet new people, and to always be open to learning about the various ways people live their lives around the world My time abroad made me realize that I didn’t want to just do international business–I wanted to work with students who were studying and living overseas.

Living abroad was a life-changing experience

After graduation, I went on to do a Master’s in Higher Education Administration so that I could become an international student advisor. At school, I had an opportunity to do an assistantship with New York University’s study abroad programs, but then my career path moved into non-international directions for a few years after that.

During that time, though, I knew that working with international students was truly what I wanted to be doing and before too long, I learned about InterExchange and J-1 Visa programs and here I’ve been for nearly 8 years! It has been such a pleasure getting know the thousands of students and young professionals I’ve worked with over the years, and I thoroughly enjoy continuing to try to improve our programs and ensure exceptional experiences for all of our participants. Most of all, I’m thrilled to be doing work that I love, and I hope that I’m doing my part to make our world a little more peaceful by facilitating cultural exchange.

I'm thrilled to be doing work that I love

Nabil, Admissions Coordinator

Nabil in the woods
Nabil in the woods
Photo Courtesy of Nabil Yafai

I got the travel bug when I was an undergraduate student. My college offered short-term study tours to different countries to learn about the country’s culture and customs. After returning from a semester abroad in Jordan, I believed that everyone should experience some kind of cultural exchange program if they have the opportunity!

Living in a different country was one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I got to meet some really great people during my trips abroad. I wanted to be involved with an organization like InterExchange that helps others experience cultural exchange. One of the perks about working in cultural exchange is that you get to meet people from all over the world. That helps me stay in tune with the rest of the world, even when I’m still in New York.

Liz, Communications and Recruitment Coordinator

Liz on the beach in Tangiers
Liz on the beach in Tangiers
Photo Courtesy of Liz Cummings

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by different cultures and far-away places. As a child, long before I had a chance to leave the U.S., I spent hours pouring over maps, globes and my parents’ National Geographic magazines. I loved reading books set in different areas of the world that might give me some insight into other people’s lives.

As a teenager I had the chance to go on a few international trips, volunteering in Mexico, traveling through western Europe, and I was hooked! Instead of satisfying my hunger for travel, each trip just made me want more. So I knew that I had to find a way to spend more time abroad than just a vacation. During my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I got the chance to do an internship in Togo, a semester at the University of Jordan and an intensive summer Arabic course in Morocco.

My program in Morocco was amazing. It was a scholarship program run by the U.S. government, and they had put so much work into making it a great experience that I began to think about how rewarding it would be to find a job in which I could do this for others. While I was there, a woman from the organizing team in the U.S. came for a site visit to talk to us and ask how our program was going. When I introduced myself, she said she had been the one to originally review my application and had fought for me to be included in the pool of scholarship finalists.

I began to think about how rewarding it would be to find a job in which I could do this for others

Her colleague spent hours pouring over people’s files to try to match people up as roommates during the program and did an incredible job. Their work affected and touched me so deeply that I decided to start looking for work in cultural exchange programs when I returned to the U.S. During my first job in this field I worked with scholarship programs for students, and now I’m excited to be a part of InterExchange’s Career Training USA program helping students and young professionals have the best experience they can while pursuing their training programs in the U.S.

Allison, Program Manager

Allison overlooking the Seine in Paris
Allison overlooking the Seine in Paris
Photo Courtesy of Allison Nichols

I grew up in a family with strong international ties, so I’m fortunate to have experienced cultural exchange from a young age. My grandparents met during World War II, when my grandfather was stationed with U.S. forces in Italy; his future wife, a native of Florence, carried water for soldiers. With Italian aunts, uncles, and cousins still living in their home country, we began our own family “exchange” programs when I was little.

I grew up in a family with strong international ties, so I'm fortunate to have experienced cultural exchange from a young age

Through marriages, my family has further grown to include members from Norway, Japan, Thailand, and India. That makes it rare to all be together on a given holiday, but allows for firsthand learning about other cultures. Combining the unfamiliar and familial throughout my life made for an enriching experience and helped me develop a strong appetite for cultural exchange. Working in Admissions and Study Abroad during college, while majoring in International Conflict and Security, solidified this career path and I can’t imagine doing anything else!

Kristen, Participant Services Coordinator

Kristen in Granada
Kristen in Granada
Photo Courtesy of Kristen Gartside

I recently joined the InterExchange team as their Participant Services Coordinator. Much like the rest of my team, I have had many international cultural experiences. My first cultural exchange happened in Torino, Italy on my semester abroad and I have been seeking them out ever since!

With the idealistic mindset that I wanted to see the world and having gotten over the sheer terror of leaving everything I knew behind long enough to sign up for a study abroad semester, I embarked with tears in my eyes to Italy for six-months, not knowing what to expect. What I got out of these six months was completely transformative.

What I got out of these six months was completely transformative

All those clichéd things that all the study abroad advertisement posters promise actually happened! I was travelling around to cities I previously had not known existed, I made friends I will never forget, I was taking initiative and doing things I had previously thought I would be incapable of doing. And when I came back, I was confident and independent and felt more comfortable in my own skin, like I knew myself better than I ever had before.

Since then, I have always been working towards a career in the field of cultural exchange and been trying to cultivate other opportunities for my own cultural experiences whenever possible. I have just now returned from two and a half years in the UK, where I completed a Master’s degree at Oxford and a year long internship in London helping U.S. students adapt to the U.K. culture and have amazing experiences of their own. I am thrilled to be able to continue supporting people on their own international exchange journeys into the US through InterExchange!

Why do you want to engage in cultural exchange? Check out our programs if you want to have an extraordinary experience that will change your life!

Elizabeth Cummings Elizabeth Cummings

Liz got the travel bug as a teenager when she volunteered in Mexico. After extensive travel, interning and studying abroad, she is excited to help others fulfill their dreams of experiencing another culture through InterExchange’s Career Training USA program.

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Career Training USA

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U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation