By Adriana Plotzerova, CIEE Work & Travel USA alumna, 2016 and 2017
My name is Adriana Plotzerova, I am from the Czech Republic, and I participated in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program twice. I am not exaggerating when I say I had the best summers of my life there. First of all, I want to say that I am an outdoors and nature lover, so I spent two amazing summers surrounded by pristine nature of national parks. I worked as a server assistant in Yellowstone National Park my first summer. My second summer, I chose Alaska and an amazing job working alongside horses.
If you are still wondering about participating on the Work & Travel USA program, I will give you 5 reasons you shouldn’t hesitate a minute.
1. The amazing nature of National Parks
One of the biggest benefits was the place itself. Wilderness was just a step away from your dormitory! I have never seen more beautiful places than U. S. National Parks (and I travel a lot). Each summer was a whole new big adventure. When we had a weekend free we were hiking, camping and backpacking. We saw bears, bison, coyotes, wolves, and moose. When we had a free afternoon we would take pictures of geothermal features of Yellowstone, watch geysers going off, or enjoy hot springs! We had many campfires in Alaska, swam in the lakes and--we did the most exciting thing--watched the Northern lights!
Don’t worry if you are not that much into nature because there are plenty of jobs in places that are more like cities. For example, we have some friends who were excited about their work on the East Coast. There can be something for everyone on this program.
2. Living among native speakers and improve your English
No matter how good your English is, you will return home with a much higher level, because there is no better way to learn new language than working for an entire summer with native speakers. It’s fun to find out some slang and local expressions. Fox example, I didn’t know what it means when someone says: “Walk the plank”. One of my guests explained it to me, after I didn’t catch the joke! I also learned specific words regarding horses. I had no idea about harnesses: e. g. I didn’t know what was: collar, lines, bridle, bits, hitch, etc. There were always nice people who were willing to explain the correct meaning of an English word or phrase to you. Talking with them in English was fun. After all, there is nothing better than a compliment from a native speaker about your good English.
I had friends who had a job in the kitchen because their English wasn’t the best at the beginning, but they were promoted to customer facing jobs by the end of the summer because they had improved their English enough. You really do improve your English the more you practice.
3. The magic of the summer job
It’s only for a few months, so I suggest you try to enjoy everything 110 %. Your new job soon becomes routine and before you know it, it will be over. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine better summer jobs than the ones I had.
My first summer, I worked as a server assistant in Yellowstone National Park. The interaction with guests is what I have liked the most about that job. Everybody there was so excited about their holidays! Sometimes we had a conversation about their experiences, sometimes they asked for some advice about a trip and sometimes they asked about my country (because they saw it on my name tag). If you are willing to talk with people, then the conversation topics can be endless.
If you would like to find out more, I wrote a whole article about the server assistant job and working in Yellowstone National Park.
My second summer, I found my dream job: living and working in Alaska with horses. What could be better for me? Not much! I worked as a Covered Wagon Guide nearby Denali National Park. We were taking care of horses and doing tours with guests. Every day we took customers for a ride into the pristine Alaskan nature. As a guide, I had to talk with the guests about many interesting facts about Alaska. For example – did you know that Alaskans call the rest of the USA “the lower 48“? Everybody who came was so excited about Alaska and I was as happy as my guests. My favorite part was when we spotted wildlife on the trail, mostly moose – they are such a beautiful animals!
It was a real wilderness. If you are interested in details about this job position, please visit the article: Work and Travel Alaska: Covered Wagon Guide job.
4. Culture, Food, and Fun with people from all around the world
The Work & Travel USA program is also about getting to know each other and learning about new cultures. What can be better than an international group of people who came to enjoy their summer the same way as you? Another favorite part for me was tasting new food. And trust me – if you are going to work in Food & Beverage, you will taste a lot of delicious dishes. Maybe you will laugh at me but I hadn’t heard about s’mores before I came to the USA – baked marshmallows in between graham crackers with chocolate. So sweet, so good! We did s’mores every Sunday evening at the campfire in Yellowstone National Park; it was one of my most favorite memories. It was an organized activity, so there was a pretty large international group of people/students from all around the world: Taiwan, China, France, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Italy, Croatia, Jamaica, Romania, Thailand etc. and of course from the USA as well! I met people from approximately 40-50 different countries from all around the world during both of my summers in the USA. There is nothing better for getting to know other cultures and making new friends.
When you meet people there, you need some icebreakers first to get to know them, so you usually talk about your hobbies, interests and culture. When I meet a person from country that I don’t know well – I ask a lot of questions, about their homes, tradition etc. And they do the same. A guy from Taiwan brought some traditional sweets, so we had a chance to taste it. I also brought some traditional chocolates and waffles from my country for others to try. There was also a talent show in Yellowstone. People from various countries joined this show. We saw many Asian and European traditional dances and songs. Lot of competitors were locals, so we watched many amazing country musicians. (Like from the real Western stories!).
5. Free Trips and Excursions
The best part of working in the National Parks (or nearby) was that our employers wanted us to explore the beauty of the park and enjoy our time there - so we had loads of free excursions. In Yellowstone National Park we could take any of the bus excursions which took place every day for free (regular price was about $100.) I joined all the excursions I could. My favorite was a photo tour – the great lesson of the landscape and wildlife photography. There were many other events organized for employees – e.g. hiking trips, rodeo, basketball and baseball tournaments, parties etc.
In Alaska, there were even more tours that I could go on for free or at a discount. This was one of the benefits of being an employee of the Park. One tour we could get on an airplane to fly around the highest mountain of the North America (normal price is $550, we flew just for the $60 tip). Another tour included a ride in a helicopter with a glacier landing included, plus a four-wheeler ride and lunch. I also enjoyed zip-lining, rafting, a gold mining tour, seeing the Husky champions at the Husky homestead (these are Alaskan sled dogs). I did as many tours as possible because I decided to make the most of my time while in Alaska.
TIP for you: Check out the local traditional festivals, for example, we visited Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Alaska, which was an awesome experience. I think you can’t get closer to the real local culture than attending some festival. So, make friends with locals, they know where and when to go!
Bonus: Road Trip at the end of the summer
Well, it may sound cliché, but the best end to an amazing summer is a legendary road trip across the USA. You make new friends during the summer and this is a way to enjoy the end of your program together! And it is so easy. You only need to rent a car, plan what you want to see and go! I would recommend buying a tent and visiting the National Parks – they are truly the best of the USA. But if you are more a city lover, even cities are full of life – waiting to be explored by you. It’s only up to you and your wishes what you want to visit, see and do. Here is a list of my TOP favorite places for your road trip.
And this is not the end. The story continue when you go home. Two friends already visited me in the Czech Republic. One friend from California came in February 2017 and I hosted another friend from Alaska in May 2018. Another friend from Taiwan is coming in October.
My advice- go on this program. I believe that you will have an amazing summer, maybe the summer of your life, but you will never know if you won’t try it. Just do it! As you can see you really make friends from all over the world. And I think that’s priceless.
If you would like to ask about anything concerning jobs I did or places I have worked at, please don’t hesitate to contact me through my blog www.czechtheworld.com. I will be happy to help you and answer any of your questions. Have a safe trip!