By Qëndrim Graiçevci, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2013 participant
My name is Qëndrim Graiçevci. I was raised in the capital city Prishtina, which is the capital city of Kosovo, a country in Eastern Europe. The city of Prishtina has a population of 200,000 people and a mixture of different cultures and religions. Most of its people are youth who seek opportunities around the world.
During my studies as a law student at the State University of Kosovo (I graduated in 2014), I was having financial difficulties as many of the young people from my country do. In search of something new and inspiring for me, I found out about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program which was a perfect idea for me; traveling and working at the same time was exactly what I needed. I started to find out more about the program online and met some people who already participated in the program. It was Discover America, the company who was arranging this program for interested candidates, that directed me to apply. I gathered all the documentation I needed and applied to be part of this wonderful program that changed my life for good. I applied in 2012 and received my J-1 visa. This meant I could visit America, the place I had imagined since I was a little boy watching cartoons and Hollywood movies; it was a dream come true.
My first job was as a lifeguard at Montauk Yacht Club, Montauk, New York. From the first moment I was there it was very exciting for me. In the beginning, I went through lifeguard trainings and got certified. After a few weeks I got a second job as a busser. Montauk was a small city located in Long Island, New York. The City known as ‘’The End’’ was a new beginning for me, with lots of new experiences and challenges.
As a young man from a country with limited choices in life, everything in America was new and exciting for me, which meant that I was living and enjoying all of it. I started seeing things in a bigger vision and understanding that everything in life is possible. I met different people from many nationalities and that was something new for me. One of them was Delton, a Jamaican guy who was working at a hotel. He told me lots of thing about the Jamaican way of life that I never knew. One thing that was different from my country was that when they had a death ceremony, they would celebrate and drink for the soul that past away and in the other side, in my country we just give condolences to each other.
I used public transportations and lived in a city with a rich cultural history. I also lived with other nationalities which made me learn more about their way of life and mindset. I had roommates from Jamaica, Macedonia and America. We usually prepared traditional food for each other and shared experiences about our youth.
The best lesson I learned that summer was from one of my supervisors at Navy Beach Restaurant who always gave me extra responsibilities and expected me to do my best. I was working there as a busser. At first, I considered this a difficult job. However, I realized that my boss was teaching me a lot about good working habits and life in general. Every time he had the chance to chat with me, he said ‘’work very hard today so you do not have to work for anybody tomorrow’’. I understood what it meant to have real responsibilities and do something that will have good results at the end. The American way of doing business was everything I needed to see. Now, I set goals for my future and work hard every day to achieve them.
When I got back home, I had a choice to start working or invest my Work & Travel USA earnings. Together with my friends Qendresa and Flakron, who now are my partners in business, we discussed ideas and opportunities. The idea to help people live a better life by eating better and seeing that obesity is becoming a big problem in the world gave us some ideas. We analyzed the market and found out that the thing that was missing in Prishtina was healthy food. Thinking that this kind of food is the future of gastronomy, we started building a menu with food and drinks. What I saw and what I ate in America helped us to create the concept in general. We worked hard for several months on the whole concept and finally on March 17, 2017 we opened our first green&protein restaurant. You can visit us through our website, our Facebook page, or our Instagram page.
After my exchange program, everything was different. Because of my time in the U.S., I was speaking fluent English, which helped me to read books in English about how to start your own business. I had discovered and developed my leadership skills. I had improved my working skill to the level that I could run a business on my own. I was confident and ready to invest my money without fearing failure. Starting a food service shop required lots of engagement, responsibilities, dedication, and hard work. I was interviewing people every day to work for me, which improved my communications skills and helped me to know people better.
The best experience from this program was that I got to meet different people from nationalities religions and other cultures, from my co-worker to the owners of the company who worked hard to earn a living. Their working habits like working in teams, respecting others, and respecting the work place were the best example for me. I always try to learn every day and knowing other cultures helped me improve myself.
It’s been almost two years since I opened green&protein in Prishtina and our success is growing. We are trying to go international and make this business worldwide. There are many interested people to buy the license and open a green&protein in other countries like Zurich, Switzerland; Stockholm, Sweden; and London, UK to name a few. Born from a small country in Eastern Europe, green&protein will succeed as we work hard for it.
Without my exchange experience, I wouldn’t have gained the skills, global perspective, or confidence I needed to return home to my country and build a life for myself - and for others - by operating a successful business. The Work & Travel USA program was a foundation for me to start my own business. Thanks to this program, I opened my mind to ideas and opportunities. Now I live a good busy life with great memories. I tell everybody that is eligible for this program to be part of it. It changed my life and it could change theirs, too.
For more information on the CIEE Work & Travel USA program, please visit our website.