Making New Friends in Unexpected Places

The people you meet and the relationships you form are often the most lasting and rewarding parts of traveling.

And sometimes, those special bonds and friendships can come from the most unexpected of places.

That’s exactly the takeaway that Ben, one of our Train USA J-1 alumni and a winner of our 2015 contest, learned during his U.S. exchange experience.

“It was a cloudy morning, temperatures dropped way below -10 °C. I first wanted to stay in and pass on my daily routine to walk the city, but looking outside with snow falling, almost empty streets I decided on a walk in battery park and up the Hudson River. It was a wonderful silent morning a morning where most of the Hudson was closed due to too much ice. This was the first time I got to see a different pictures of New York, slowed down by nature itself.”

Meet Ben Schindler, Train USA J-1 Internship

Tell us a little about your experience. What was the most rewarding or surprising aspect of your internship?

So far the most rewarding thing is to be working in a professional environment, where you have to deliver work on time. Learning to deal with certain jobs the right way and evaluating certain steps yourself.

What advice would you give to future J1 participants?

This might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is no effort to be spared and if you want to be successful in what you do you have to always push for the best and try to work as hard as possible. A program like this gives just the right opportunity to do so.

What advice do you have for future photo contest entrants?

The story you can tell to a picture is much more important than the pictures. It’s not about the most beautiful pictures, it’s about the story a picture tells. 

Ben Schindler and his New York friend.

Speaking of stories, here’s a story behind another one of Ben’s photos:

“The New Yorker running to catch the train, tourist rushing from attraction to attraction and in-between the poor, the homeless, the forgotten talents. They sing, they play instruments, they support the latest conspiracy theories or they just sit and wait. One of them is Michel, 32 years old. He sits in front of Starbucks and he sings songs of the past century mostly blues and soul. One day he looked up noticing my colourful coat he started to sing about it. Every other day he would notice me when I gave him a dollar or two and would start the song.

Since then we have had many coffees in bakeries and coffee shops, he never wanted to eat “people don’t like it if you look to health as a homeless” he kept saying. Now Michel, with all his stories is a great companion for me. I feel incredibly lucky my life has been protected by wonderful parents, friends who helped me stay on a good path and gave a balance where needed. Michel, at some point of his life, didn’t have that, so his life turned and suddenly the roof collapsed over his head.

In the 21st century, we like to call ourselves happy with the little we have and still we worry so much. Michel has literally nothing, he carries his sleeping bag in a backpack and he has always one book he carries with, after reading he is changing it to a new one. He writes all over himself, on his clothes, backpack, on the pavement where he sits. The inside of his bag pack carries his most important phrases. After we talk, his coffee cup will be a reminder of our conversation, words of our conversation written all over it.

Meeting Michel has changed my view on New York. Michel has taught me a great deal about how positive I should be about my life. And most importantly he shows me anytime how important it is to connect with the people who have nothing. For him, a smile on the street when he sings is more than any dollar. Not to be looked down upon is like a hug and an actual hug is like the greatest present you can give him.

We are planning on our next adventures, a bike ride up the Hudson is something we have planned and for Christmas, he will be coming to my house. We’ll cook Italian and watch an old-time Christmas movie. After I invited him he told me “just like the posh people” smiled and gave me a wink.”

Snap, Share, and Win Our Photo Contest

Are you a current or former participant and alum of one of our professional exchange programs? Did you know you can win a free trip to Washington, D.C. (including airfare) through our  Transformed by Travel Photo Contest?