World traveler pushed to believe in herself: Natalia's story

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Work Exchanges

By Natalia Chicu, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2017 alumna and Civic Leadership Summit fellow

Hello, my name is Natalia Chicu and I am from Moldova. I am excited to share some of my exchange experiences and inspirational thoughts with you!

First, a bit about me. I speak six languages: (fluently) Romanian, English, Russian, (conversational) Italian, French and Bulgarian. Currently I am studying Business Administration at the American University in Bulgaria, with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Recently, I have visited more than sixteen countries, including Great Britain, Poland, Turkey, Italy, Georgia where I have participated in Erasmus+ leadership programs, and Israel, where I am spending most of my vacation from University working for a startup company.  More on that a bit later…

In the summer of 2017, when I was a freshman at the American University in Bulgaria, I decided  to participate in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program to challenge myself. I received a great job as a server and a hostess at a resort on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Stepping into the U.S., my adventure started: getting to know new people, working my job, experiencing a fully independent life, and making money on my own while also enjoying the ocean and the beach during my days off. Despite the hard mornings when I had to wake up early for work, I can totally say that it was worth it. I believe I was also lucky to meet people who supported me when it was harder at work, with whom I could enjoy my days off from work, and from whom I could share and learn. These people were the ones I was working with most of the time, from different countries like South Africa, Puerto Rico, Croatia, Bulgaria and other European countries. These people made me feel like home, without feeling any cultural boundaries or language barriers. Sooner than I expected, I was feeling like I knew them for years. It was all about communication, developing a common bond, and being open-minded. 

Photo for blog post World traveler pushed to believe in herself: Natalia's story
With my colleagues from work celebrating July (and being the best staff ever!)

That summer I was accepted to attend the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit at American University in Washington, D.C. Those 45 fellows from 40 different countries around the world had a huge impact on me. This experience helped me understand that the world is not as big as we actually imagine it is and people are very similar:  nice and reasonable regardless of the difference in culture and language we might have. I made friends and I met amazing mentors with whom I am still in touch with today.

Photo for blog post World traveler pushed to believe in herself: Natalia's story
Natalia and the rest of the 2017 fellows at the Civic Leadership Summit, Washington D.C.

In the summer of 2018 I decided to go back to the United States – same location, same people, same atmosphere. I am truly grateful for everything I was experiencing, but a new opportunity showed up for me so I had to cut my summer short. I received an internship for BrainSole, a startup company located in Tel Aviv, Israel. So for the rest of the summer, I am working at this start-up (remotely since I was starting school soon) to develop my business skills.  As part of the internship, I contribute to the startup’s development as a Brand Officer and I help with Public Relations. I also assist the product management team on business analysis, research, and customer support. Even though I’m working remotely, I have traveled to Tel Aviv for conferences and events which has been exciting. I got to participate in many business start-up events, like “Google StartUp for Entrepreneurs” (on the Tel Aviv Google Campus).  This is helping me gain important professional experience that I will need for my future business career.

Photo for blog post World traveler pushed to believe in herself: Natalia's story
Spending time in New York City seeing the sights

 What’s next for me?  I’m excited to say that I will be an exchange student for an academic semester at the University of Vermont this year, which is one of the best business schools in America. I am expecting to gain more knowledge in the business field by taking advanced courses to improve my skills. I am excited to see what it will be like to be a student in the United States.  I am also planning to apply for an exchange semester in Europe, to diversify myself to the fullest and to improve the languages I speak. My biggest achievement will be to open my own business or a startup in the future. 

My summer in America was a “push” for me to believe in myself even more and to go forward with my self-development. The experience I had in the United States has indeed made me more confident and more open-minded towards experiencing and networking with people from different backgrounds. I am where I am today because of this exchange experience. My advice for potential CIEE Work & Travel USA program students is this: if you are ready for challenges and you like meeting new people, definitely go for it! I am happy to see people fulfilled, and no matter what, we should face each difficulty and receive it as a door to a brighter future. I am thankful for every challenge and to every single person and opportunity I have had so far in my life because it has made me a better person and improved my personality. Share love and positive thoughts.  Good luck!

Photo for blog post World traveler pushed to believe in herself: Natalia's story
This was taken in the heart of Jerusalem during one of my trips there. I am wearing traditional Middle Eastern dress, beautifully ornamented with Arabic script