Maryann F. volunteered with Future Worlds Center in Nicosia, Cyprus in 2015 with the support of a Christianson Grant from the InterExchange Foundation. During her eight-month stint with the organization, she provided support to refugees and asylum seekers. We caught up with Maryann recently and she was kind enough to give us an update on her life post-Cyprus.
What was the most memorable part of your experience abroad?
I got to take part in an effort to assist in refugee integration at a time when global migration is such a huge part of the international conversation. Being a part of a humanitarian organization put me on the front lines to learn how to utilize my own skills and strengths within a larger effort to respond to the influx of migrants from areas of war. The personal experiences I had in interacting with refugees gave me a new perspective on my own life, and I brought that worldview back with me.
What are you up to now and how do you incorporate what you learned during your project abroad into your current work/life?
I actually went into a corporate job, working as an analyst at an executive search firm. It is a global firm, and I feel my experience in Europe gave me a knowledge of the regions and their economic and political landscapes, which is valuable in my interactions with colleagues in Europe. In my communications with them, I find myself very cognizant of time zones, holidays, and political events in their countries.
I had been assisting refugees with employment in Cyprus, and I now work for a company which executes high-level searches for corporations. The skills I used are transferable, and I believe I am much more of a self-sufficient employee due to my experience abroad. In Cyprus, I learned to find creative solutions in a country where I did not speak the language (at first) and where infrastructure and the work environment was much different than what I was used to. Now, I have a wider perspective on situations, which helps me in problem solving.
How do you plan to continue building from your experience abroad?
I continue to be interested and involved (when time allows) in the refugee resettlement efforts here in the U.S. and in Massachusetts, specifically. I had previously been a volunteer at one of the major organizations, and I still have contacts who keep me updated on what's going on. I am able to compare the policies and protocols in the U.S. with those in Europe.
Another major benefit is that while the media is reporting on migration in Europe, I had this firsthand experience. So, I am able to offer my own opinion on something that is reported and - I like to think - give evidence against incorrect assumptions on the issue, since we in the U.S. feel quite far from the crisis. The experience gave me credibility because I spent eight months working directly in this humanitarian effort, so in my personal and professional life, I hope to spread awareness of the truth.
What advice do you have for future grantees?
On the positive side: Soak it in as much as you can! Make plans to travel, make friends, and fill your time with new experiences. And always connect with the locals! It's tempting to stick with other Americans, but push yourselves out of your comfort zone and observe and participate in a new culture. Share your past and learn about others' while enjoying local events, holidays, and foods.
On the realistic side: Since you're in a foreign country, do not assume that things should be one way or another just because of how they are here in the U.S. You are the visitor. Sometimes, I could spot Americans because they would be complaining about the buses, cash-only stores, shop hours during holidays, and other aspects of local culture. You are in another culture and must adapt (and if you're not quiet about it, someone will tell you so!). This is a time to learn, and chances are, you will return to the U.S. with a completely new outlook on life!
I could have never predicted that I would meet my future husband during my time as a grantee! I lived my opportunity to the fullest, and I often reflect back on the work and traveling I did as some of the most valuable and life-changing times. Thanks again to InterExchange!
Seeking funding for a service project abroad? Check out the Christianson Grant. To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen between 18 and 28 with a self-arranged project abroad that is at least six months in length.