5 Lessons Our J-1 Participants Learned During Their U.S. Stay

Interning and living in a new country will give you a new perspective. It’s a chance to explore and immerse yourself in a new culture.

We love hearing how our international exchange programs change perspectives and build connections. Recently, we asked our participants how their perceptions of America have changed after their U.S. exchange programs. In light of recent global and domestic affairs, their reflections leave us inspired and hopeful for positive change.

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1) Stereotypes are meant to be broken.

An International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participant from Bangkok was surprised at America’s inclusiveness.

“With the rise of Islamophobia and hate speech covered media, I expected to face some sort of discrimination for wearing a hijab. However, nothing of that sort happened. In fact, people were super nice to me, and complimented me on how beautiful my scarves were. This has made me realize that there are good people who see past one’s belief and acknowledge humanity above everything else in these trying times,” she said.

A J-1 Trainee from Quba, Azerbaijan echoed this sentiment, “I’m surrounded by loving and caring friends and their families who try to make me feel a part of their life.” She said it broke through “American stereotypes we have seen in Hollywood and media.”

When you make personal connections with people in your host country, you get to see the world through their lens. Interacting with locals can provide an unparalleled cultural education to correct preconceived notions. This is what a Japanese trainee from Tokyo, noticed:

“Before I came to the United States, I had somewhat negative stereotypes of the people in this country. We often refer [to Americans] as friendly to those who they meet for the first time but rather indifferent to others, and very rational but usually behaving largely only in their own interest. Most of my negative expectations turned out to be false—my coworkers took care of me daily, talked with me about broad topics.”

2) Everyone and every opinion matters.

IVLP WeAmericas 2015

While always a work in progress, many were amazed at how diverse cultures coexist in the United States.

“I was not aware of the incredible diversity in workplaces and in the community here. It has taught me a lot and it’s a part of the reason that I’m so thankful for coming here,” says an intern from Örebro in Sweden.

Others noticed how much American culture values free speech and fairness.

“In the United States, every opinion counts, all employees are treated equally, and there is a very good relationship between employers and employees,” mentioned another trainee from Azerbaijan.

A Begusarai, India native added that his perception about America has changed significantly due to the fair treatment he received while here. “I initially believed to face some discrimination in the course of my program but did not face any and was never made to feel like a junior. I felt that there was a strong sense of equality among U.S. citizens, which is extremely important. This sense of equality is what increased my confidence,” he said.

3) Vulnerability can actually prove your strength.

What if I don’t fit in? What if I fail? These thoughts might come to mind while preparing to live and intern abroad – whether in the United States or as Americans headed to overseas. It is only natural to feel a mix of anxiety, excitement, and fear when you face a new challenge. But, it’s important to let yourself be vulnerable.

Getting out of your comfort zone will push you to seek new solutions to problems. As one of our Italian interns from Naples offered, it can be “an amazing experience that helps you be more independent. You will grow stronger and more resilient as you explore your new habitat.”

In fact, studies show living abroad can lead to increased creativity and problem-solving skills. Daring yourself to learn and grow in new environments will teach you to be resourceful. Afterward, you will come out of the experience more self-aware than before. We see examples and hear this sentiment in our work almost every single day.

As Nelson Mandela said, “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

4) Being positive and open-minded leads to meaningful relationships and lifelong friends.

Jaehyuk ("Jake") Lim, now a Korea WEST alum, formed a close bond during his athletic media relations internship at Binghamton University.
Jaehyuk (“Jake”) Lim, now a Korea WEST alum, formed a close bond during his athletic media relations internship at Binghamton University.

Time and time again, when we evaluate our programs we learn about the many meaningful friendships made and close contact that continues with colleagues and locals, alike. Nearly 80% of our Train USA participants state that they will stay in touch with the personal and professional contacts. Case in point, a J-1 Trainee from Leipzig said he will ask his new relationships for advice once he is back in Germany.

Taking the leap to remain positive and flexible to change takes courage. But what you reap from the adventures will be beyond your imagination.

Even our neighbors in Canada are seeing the States in a new way as this Vancouver native attested, “I now have a greater appreciation for the people that live here. I see people that aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone to do a dance performance on the subway train. People work diligently to meet a deadline even after office hours. Strangers have approached me while walking just to spark a friendly conversation. This country is full of amazing people and I’m inspired by the energy of New York City. My experience here has helped me to be more mindful of my surroundings and be open to meeting new people.”

5) Sustained immersion can lead to a more nuanced understanding of yourself and others.

Living and interning abroad can lead to an enriching experience on both a personal and professional level. Often, it can contribute to developing a more sophisticated way of looking at the world.

Here’s what an intern from Hyogo, Japan had to say:

“Living in the D.C. area was an amazing experience for me. Before going there, my image of the city was like a typical urban big city with many commercial buildings and the White House. If I had visited there as just a traveler, that may not have changed. But the one and half month stay made me realize how D.C. residents and people working in this city have tried to preserve their cultural tradition and memories and deliver them to the next generation.”

Immersing yourself in the culture will also help you become more globally aware. Over 75% of our J-1 participants said cultural knowledge and communication skills were useful for finding a job and working. As an intern from Aachen, Germany summed up:

“The difference in cultures acted as a multiplier for everything I learned, as well as in the professional as in the social scope. Never would I have gained so much experience and useful business relationships staying in my home country.”

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What did you take away from your J-1 exchange experience? Did you encounter surprises while in the United State or in your host community? Tell us your stories in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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