Bridging Cultures: Eleni Kosmidou's Journey with the Ambassadors Fund Scholarship

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20-year-old Eleni Kosmidou remembers feeling “a roller coaster of emotions” as she boarded her plane in Thessaloniki, Greece, and prepared for a life-changing journey across the Atlantic. She was about to spend her summer vacation working and traveling in the United States as a recipient of the Ambassadors Fund for Summer Work Travel Scholarship.

Eleni selfie

Her destination: Doswell, Virginia; the furthest from home that she had ever been, where she would join other college and university students from around the world as participants in the Summer Work and Travel (SWT) program. 

The Ambassadors Fund Scholarship, administered by CIEE in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, aims to support deserving individuals who wish to participate in the SWT program but face financial barriers. Selected students demonstrate academic excellence, leadership potential, and a strong desire to participate in cultural exchange opportunities in the United States. 

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Eleni is one of those students. As a sophomore studying English Language and Literature at Aristotle University in Greece, her goal is to become a professional translator. And for the next four months, she was to work at Starbucks in King’s Dominion – a 400-acre amusement park located in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic. 

Photo of King's Dominion Amusement Park submitted by Eleni Kosmidou.

At first, she admits that she was nervous. But as she gained exposure to American language and dialect, traveled in the U.S., and collaborated with people from a broad cross-section of nations, cultures, races, ethnicities, and religions, her confidence grew. “The program creates something in you that makes you feel unstoppable,” she said.

Eleni with two friends on soccer field

With support from the Ambassadors Fund Scholarship, Eleni gained exposure to American culture and democratic ideals, while sharing her own culture and customs with her host community. She cites her experience in the SWT program as the key to her future career.

Above all, Eleni says that she is grateful for the opportunity to build bridges of cross-cultural understanding with new people: “America stands as a middle ground for people from different countries to connect through cultural exchange.”

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Attendees at the 2023 Ambassador Johnny and Mrs. Angie Young Civic Leadership Summit, including CIEE President and CEO Dr. James Pellow (left).

CIEE is an industry leader in public diplomacy programs under the U.S. Department of State and the largest sponsor of the J-1 Summer Work Travel program; each year bringing more than 30,000 foreign students and young professionals from 136 countries to the United States on cultural exchange programs for work and study. CIEE offers scholarships to participants from underrepresented countries and communities and operates several grants-funded programs.

Eleni with Deputy Assistant Secretary Rebecca Pasini
Ambassadors Scholarship for Summer Work and Travel recipient Eleni Kosmidou with Rebecca Pasini, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange.

During the final week of the SWT program, Eleni presented at CIEE’s Annual Host Employer Forum in Washington, D.C. She delivered a dynamic speech that illustrated the power of public diplomacy, cultural exchange, and people-to-people connection. Eleni was also introduced to several influential stakeholders during the event, including business leaders from across the nation and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange Rebecca Pasini (above).

Eleni has since returned to her hometown of Thessaloniki and continues her studies at Aristotle University. She now volunteers with CIEE in collaboration with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Embassy of the United States in Athens to develop a strong network of SWT alumni in Greece. 

Driven by her passion for culture exchange, her goal is to “connect like-minded people to spread awareness and influence more young people to take part in the SWT program.”

Eleni’s story is one of many that are made possible by the Ambassador’s Fund Scholarship for Summer Work and Travel and CIEE Work & Travel USA program. It speaks to the lasting impact that international exchange can have on participants’ lives and highlights the exchange that occurs between participants and local U.S. communities. 

Read more about the important role of work and travel for U.S. public diplomacy in creating mutual understanding between people and nations. 

About CIEE:
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CIEE is the oldest and largest nonprofit study abroad and intercultural exchange organization in the U.S. Our mission is to transform lives and build bridges between people and nations through the exchange of ideas and experiences. 

To help people develop skills for living in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world, CIEE sponsors a wide variety of opportunities for cultural exchange, including work exchange programs, teach abroad programs, and a worldwide portfolio of study abroad and internship programs for college and high school students. Learn more about what we do.

For more information about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, contact Casey Hartnett, Advocacy Manager at