By Tina (Wan Ting) Chang, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2016 and 2017 alum
My name is Tina. I’m from Taiwan. I made a big decision two years ago and it changed my life. I have been dreaming of traveling around the world and living in other countries since I traveled to Europe when I was 19. I made a wish that I can go travel abroad every summer vacation before I graduated from university. When I was 21, one of my friends asked me, “what’s your plan for this summer?” She suggested that I join the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. I was really interested and then I signed up for this program without hesitation. I talked to myself if I don’t go right now I will not ever go in my entire life. After doing lots of research and preparing for everything, I was ready to go on my adventure. I was hired at Glacier National park. I was so nervous because I had never lived abroad for that long not to mention working abroad. However, when I arrived at the airport my employer sent somebody to pick us up and he really made me so excited about living in the mountains and working there.
When I got to the lodge and checked in, the location manager was so welcoming and she introduced me to my department manager. I felt more relief because of their great hospitality. I was assigned to share a room with a Polish girl who is also a dishwasher like me. I think this was the best part of my experience in the U.S. because I had more chances to practice English because of having a roommate from another country. I had a really great time with my roommate. Thanks to her, I made lots of friends and had a chance to be part of their “Polish community”.
She gave me lots of advice on work and we hung out every night when we got off work. On my days off, I used to go hiking with my friend. We spent a couple of hours on each hiking adventure to enjoy the majestic view. My favorite part was having lunch next to the waterfall. One one hike our group included people from Taiwan, Poland, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Mongolia! We hiked to Two Medicine Lake
I felt so relaxed and comfortable even though my job was hard. I was in charge of taking dishes to and from the kitchen, dining room, and bar area. It was always busy at dinner. I always enjoyed my work and had fun with my awesome coworkers. When work would feel difficult, I tried to focus on the music that we were playing at kitchen; I’d start cleaning dishes and working to the beat of the music! When we were not that busy we made jokes with each other. I always had plenty of work to do and there was always someone helping, like other teammates and coworkers, including my manager. It really felt like a team of friends.
On my last day of work, I followed the “kitchen tradition”: the “getting pied” tradition is just for people who work in kitchen department. People will get pied on their last day of work in Glacier Park Lodge as a farewell and celebration. I got pied and more than just one time on that day. And the biggest and craziest one is flour with water.
The working culture in the U.S. is so different from Taiwan. For example, there was one time the HR department held a one-day rafting trip for the employees. Many of the employees couldn’t have the day-off all at once so my friend and I went to the location manager and asked for another chance to go on another day. Surprisingly, we found out there was a chance to take the same trip the next day.
This was so fantastic. I felt free to share ideas and give feedback to my manager because they were opening to listening to my ideas. I talked to my manager about organizing the dirty dishes a little bit better so it would make the dishwashing job easier. So he asked everyone in the kitchen to organize dirty dishes the way I suggested and it worked! I do not feel that I could have given that same feedback to an employer in Taiwan, so that was a very different experience for me. In Taiwan, to me, I feel like we do not share ideas in this way with a manager because of our culture. Respect can mean doing whatever your boss tells you to do. We are more conservative than Western countries. However, with this working experience I finally have the courage to share my ideas with my manager.
I have learned so much from this experience. My English really improved. I don’t have any chance to practice and speak English in Taiwan but I had to speak English all the time when I was in the U.S. My friends also noticed a change in me when I returned home. I was very shy and afraid to get away from my comfort zone before I left for the U.S. But I returned home more confident and outgoing. With the opportunity to share varied insights and different stories. I also became more open to other cultures and better able to understand different opinions and perspectives. For example, I have learned that people in the U.S. like to enjoy their life and live in the present. In Asian culture, we focus more on the future and worry about the future. I expanded my horizons through making friends from over the world. Luckily, I still get in touch with those friends and hope to them again in the future. I felt I improved myself so much and became Tina 2.0 due to this experience!