by Mihaela Dragomir from Romania
(CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2013, 2015, 2015, 2016)
Home, for me, is hundreds of people and places I'll never forget.
Conservative, cautious, rather introverted at the time, blonde, curious girl. Not quite the recipe for success, is it? Still, I managed to meet people all over the world and make long-lasting friendships with souls that are thousands of miles away. “How?” you might ask. Well, everything started in my second year of university when I decided to go to Yellowstone National Park for what was about to be the beginning of a life changing experience.
I had never been away from home for more than 2 weeks (did I mention I hate change?), so the thought of three and a half months in the U.S. was as scary as having a tarantula on your face. Pretty scary, I know. But, on top of being a conservative, cautious, rather introverted at the time, blonde, curious girl, I am also brave. So, I took a chance and left for the Bozeman airport on a chilly summer night. Once I landed, everything was real. Although the flight was very long, with two layovers and very little foot room, I wasn’t tired at all – adventure awaited.
Yellowstone was the starting point for changing my life. I know it sounds big, but for me, the CIEE Work and Travel USA experience built my character and personality and really helped me realize what I want to do in the future – to travel, a lot. To see the world, meet all kinds of people with such different life stories, learn about new cultures, and hear about diverse life perspectives.
Since Yellowstone, I toured the U.S. for the last four summers of working there. I’ve checked experiences off my bucket list with every city I traveled to and every person I met. So, in these summers, I’ve had the chance to work for companies with great organizational cultures and to see almost all the places a tourist would want to visit in the U.S.: San Francisco, Los Angeles (got my first tattoo there, on my birthday), San Diego, Las Vegas, Niagara Falls, New York City, Yellowstone, Michigan, Detroit, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Grand Canyon, Seattle, Vermont, Chicago, Put-in-Bay, Cedar Point, Pittsburg, Frankenmuth, Glacier National Park. You name it, I’ve seen them all.
Do you have any idea what traveling does to your soul? It tears it apart. Traveling is cruel and it hurts, but the pain becomes addictive. It hurts to leave parts of your heart with friends you make or every place you were amazed by. But you love that pain! You love that even the smallest piece of you is in the clear sky-blue waters of the ocean in Miami, or on the top of Willis Tower in Chicago or, quite often, in every single one of your local and international friends.
It’s funny that before living the CIEE Work and Travel USA experience, “home” meant only one place – my parents’ house. Now “home”, for me, is hundreds of people and places I’ll never forget, and where my heart feels it belongs. “Home” is all over the world. My soul is in Malaysia, Peru, Columbia, the U.S., Ireland, Taiwan, Spain, and Ecuador.
But my body is now in Romania, so let me tell you a little bit of what true happiness is, here, in my own beautiful country. I’ve experienced real happiness quite often but most of all when I saw my mother’s teary eyes every time I came home from these long adventures. Happiness is your mom’s enthusiastic hug, your dad trying not to cry when he sees me and arguing that my bags are too heavy for me to carry, my dog wiggling his tail when I get home or my grandma thanking God that I got home safe and sound.
Happiness is when I get to share all my experiences with friends, when I get to encourage a young student to take risks and follow this path because it brings great rewards, when I get to see a movie with someone that was filmed in L.A. and say “Oh my God, I loved that place, it was one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles!”, or when I get to Skype with one of the lifelong friends I made and they tell me how much they miss me.
The CIEE Work and Travel USA program made me love people more, made me want to share my adventures, support fellow students to travel more, have the courage to experience a multicultural environment, and to be determined to work hard because in the end, it all pays off with amazing stories to tell your grandchildren.
Thanks to this experience, I now feel at home everywhere I go.