Written by Jenny Ba, Career Training USA Trainee from France
To all the people who told me, “You will love New York!” I will tell them, “I sure did!”
The main reason for me to come to the U.S. was to gain a new work experience, and before I knew it, I was embracing a new lifestyle in a brand new world. By offering me a training program, InterExchange gave me the opportunity to enhance my professional skills in my industry and to experience a new work environment–I would have been insane to miss it. It has been one of the best work experiences ever! I achieved so many things in the United States that this experience exceeded my expectations!
My training program was very enriching and enabled me to gain a thorough understanding of the J-1 program. It was interesting to be part of an American team (all of my colleagues were born and raised in America) and to watch their work habits and ways of interaction. The stereotype that I had of crazy busy companies in New York was totally wrong. I had always assumed that working in the U.S. would have stress, business-corporate dress code, demanding bosses, pressure to make profit, etc. But it was the complete opposite experience. My host company is thankfully a non-profit organization and focuses more on the participants’ welfare than on the money, which I highly appreciate. It has been the nicest environment I have worked in so far. There was no tensions between co-workers, my bosses were friendly and always available, which made it very easy to ask questions, I have greatly appreciated working with every member of my team and have enjoyed participating in the company events. I have also noticed how different the job market is in NYC. It is as easy to find a job as to lose one. There is something positive about it–you can change career, find a better job or get promoted faster than in France.
Apart from the professional level, I have unsurprisingly fallen in love with the City from the moment my feet touched the ground. Some people could not picture themselves living in NYC or used to tell me that it was too noisy, too dirty, stressful and oppressing. I personally love it and would not have traded my busy New York City lifestyle for anything. I simply felt in my element in here. It can be heartbreaking to walk past so many homeless people, or repulsive to watch rats devastating a bin at 2am but this is part of it. It takes a little while to get used to the noise, especially when living on a very busy street in a busy area in Manhattan but it has its advantages–you can shop and eat till late at night and it feels safe to walk down the street at night, as there are always people around. I could never get tired of “the city that never sleeps.”
It is also striking to discover all that the U.S. and especially NYC have to offer! NYC is by far the most vibrant, cosmopolitan and entertaining city ever! Before coming to NYC, I went through the New York City Travel Guide and literally panicked when realizing that 6 months would never be enough to cover it all. But on the positive side, it is impossible to get bored: there is so much going on every single day and night that you wish you had ten lives to do it all.
Living in New York City is insanely exhausting but in a very good way. The cultural experience was the most interesting part of my journey: Musicals, ballets, museums, parks, markets, comedy shows, concerts, sport games, exhibitions, parades, etc. I never thought that I would be able to do so much in such a short period of time. But the most amazing thing is that the cultural experience is limitless! You experience it on a daily basis and even embrace the American lifestyle: walking to work with your coffee and bagel, having take away food most days of the week, relying on taxis, eat bigger portions of food, etc. It also feels great to be part of the so famous U.S. melting pot.
This was the thing that I was longing for: To find out if NYC was as cosmopolitan as Paris. I could not count how many times I had read or heard ‘America is a free country!’ or ‘America: Land of opportunity!’ It actually feels like it, being surrounded by people from all over the world and speaking different languages make you feel like you are in an ‘open country’, which used to welcome everyone and give everyone a chance. Visiting the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island was a very interesting experience: I could easily depict the journey and hopes of immigrants arriving in New York; unfortunately life was rarely as easy and prosperous as expected. Though things have changed with the implementation of quotas and regulations to refrain immigration, the melting pot is still noticeable. And it is actually rare to run into a real New Yorker (born and raised). Most people come from another state or from overseas. Paris may be very cosmopolitan, it is nothing compared to NYC! Wandering around Chinatown, Little Italy, Jamaica or the Bronx is priceless: ‘Minorities’ remain faithful to their culture, values, and customs by living in communities, getting their traditional food, speaking their mother tongues, celebrating their national events, etc. All this diversity makes life more colorful, interesting and joyful.
Money matters… it is difficult to predict how much money one will need for the duration of their program but it is ‘manageable’. I came with enough money to make sure I could pay for my one-time expenses, such as rent deposit, Sim card, transportation costs, etc. And once I got paid for the first time, I tried to budget my monthly expenses; unfortunately it never matched my expectations. Most cities in the U.S. are affordable to live in but NYC is outrageously expensive. Rent and groceries take most part of your budget and it is a constant dilemma whether you can afford to eat out most days, go to the shows you wish to attend, pay for cultural activities, have drinks with your friends, and resist shopping! I tried to be very careful when managing my money at first but quickly gave up –I am just not that good at dilemmas… There were too many things that I wanted to do that I decided to enjoy the U.S. as much as I could while I was there. I may have spent all the money earned in the U.S. over the last six months but it was more than worth it! I did have the time of my life: I got the chance to visit 5 famous North American cities, to attend many musicals, unbelievable concerts, to visit all the museums I wanted to see, etc. I also experienced many times the NYC nightlife and last but not least, I completely renewed my wardrobe… yes I did!
A ‘sweet’ surprise was to adjust my English language: As soon as I started to work, I realized that I had to forget about the traditional British English and all the Australian expressions I had used over the last few years. It was time to learn to talk and to write American English, and this has not been an easy task. I was thankful to my computer for correcting all the different spelling and to my colleagues for correcting me and teaching me new words and American sayings. There are dozens of words and sentences that I struggled to stop using—it took me four months to manage to re-introduce the famous ‘I’m fine’ to my daily vocabulary, which is never used in Australia when being asked ‘How are you?’ or to drop the ‘I reckon’ instead of ‘I think’. Many British and Australian sentences/expressions do not make sense to American people or have a completely different meaning—in some cases it might actually be inappropriate in the U.S. I often happened to say very embarrassing things without realizing it until my colleagues or friends would give me a sideways look or laugh. At the end, I am glad that I have expanded my English vocabulary again and can adapt it according to the people I am talking to. There was not a single day without learning a new word or expression.
One of the reasons why I travel is to discover new places and to learn more about the culture and history of my host country. On top of experiencing the emblematic Halloween and Thanksgiving in the U.S., my training program allowed me to travel through the Northeast side of America, which I had never been to. I indeed started with a getaway weekend in Boston where I got the chance to walk on some historical sites that initiated the American Revolution. I then travel to Washington for work and took advantage of this to tour the city, which hosts countless monuments, museums, venues, activities, and tours, all of which are mostly free and cover a wide range of topics: the American History, Arts, Politics, etc. The monuments that I had seen so many times on TV were finally right in front of me! They were mind-blowing! A day trip to Philadelphia rounded out the edges of my knowledge of the American History. Finally, I traveled to Toronto and Niagara Falls at wintertime right before leaving the U.S. The falls were breathtaking and Toronto was very different from NYC. It was so cold that the streets were empty; I actually enjoyed it very much.
Meeting people has not been as hard as I thought, though it was one of my major concerns before coming. It turned out that I met an incredible number of people in a very short period of time! Many have become true friends and most have definitely participated in making my experience better. You happen to meet many different people in the U.S.; it ranges from an intern from your home country to people in the show business! Making friends is within reach of everyone: By living with other people, you can definitely make friends, hang out with your colleagues, join interest groups, etc. InterExchange also organizes events every now and then for the participants training in New York where InterExchange is located. These have proved to help participants make friends with other participants, and the Career Training Peer Mentor Program recently implemented by InterExchange is a great service that helps new participants get in touch with a current participant.
I still cannot see any disadvantages in participating in such a program. Traveling, working and living abroad makes one grow, become more confident, open minds and is self-rewarding. It forces people to ask questions, to listen, to be patient, to take initiatives, to understand others, etc. I like to think that cross-cultural experiences should be mandatory nowadays; it may solve some of the world’s issues…