This post is by VOA intern Matthew Kupfer, and was originally written in Russian for our sister blog, Альма-матер. Matthew says, “although my post is written with a Russian-speaking audience in mind, the topic should be relevant to most everyone because the Work and Travel program is open to students from around the world.”
When I studied in St. Petersburg as part of an intensive Russian language program, I often talked with Russian students, who shared their plans and dreams with me. Among the most popular themes of these intimate conversations were student exchanges in the U.S.—especially Work and Travel.
Work and Travel is a program that allows foreign students to come to the U.S. to work and simultaneously plunge into American culture for up to five months. A typical student who participates in this program spends the first few months working, and then can spend time traveling in America if he or she so chooses.
To participate in this program, you are required to apply through a U.S. Government-approved sponsoring organization—such as CIEE, CetUSA or Intrax. These sponsors sometimes help participants find work, but not always. If the employer does not help the participants find housing, he or she ultimately must do it themselves.
The sponsoring organizations’ websites advertise Work and Travel as an unforgettable adventure—not just an opportunity to spend the summer in sunny America, but also to interact with Americans and master the English language. But the summer doesn’t always turn out the way it is advertised. From hearing the stories of former participants, it’s clear to me that many have had great experiences on Work and Travel. But I have also found that there are a sizable number of students who have experienced real difficulties in finding housing and jobs while in America. Many had to borrow money from relatives to afford plane tickets and other necessary expenses, and found returning this money not to be so easy. Furthermore, not everyone’s summer consisted of recreation, travel, and sightseeing. For many, this vacation turned out to be hard work and stress.
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