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6. Get OUT of your comfort zone but try to stay IN your jeans!
You may think that since you work so much and party so much, all this huge and unhealthy meals that you eat will stay in America once you go back to your country. But you will realize that this is not true very fast once your parents do not recognize you at the airport. Most of the food in America is highly processed, contains a lot of fat and sugars and comes in really large portions and packages. And since you probably would hang out with young people who work like crazy as well and do not want to spend so much money on food (the healthy options are pretty expensive) you may forget that you are not sixteen any more and it all goes on your back side (and it won’t look like a Brazilian butt if you don’t work out, it will be just a fat a**). So, trust me it is much better to pay the extra 2 dollars for a salad or some fish, fruits and nuts, then to spend them for personal trainers and gyms back in your country where you will be fighting with weight gain, depression and the existential question: “Who am I actually and what to do with my life?” It is not impossible! What is more it is even possible to come back even in a better shape. See how here.
7. Respect the Americans!
I have seen this a lot. People come to America for the WAT program, work or education and they start complaining how bad the food is, how fake the people are, how fat and dumb they are, how stupid the system is, how proud the American citizens are and so on. Even if this is all true in your opinion it is definitely not the attitude you need in order to meet new people, have fun and experience new things.
First of all, we are coming to their country, we are working their jobs and receiving their salaries, many of us are even staying to live here. Some legally, but some not. Does this country have its cons? Yes, of course. Like every other country. This is why there are so many so you can choose the one where you feel good and comfortable. But if you come and choose to be here either for 3-4 months, years or your whole life – enjoy it! You should respect their laws, people, culture and lifestyle, see other points of view, open your mind and eyes. Do not be judgemental, especially if this is the first time you are going abroad. The Americans are very proud people and some of them (a pretty big part) do not even know that there are other continents and countries outside of America. And they really are for respect and do not enjoy being disrespected at all! You better adapt fast and appreciate the good things than being an up-nosed and ignorant representative of your country.
8. Travel and participate
You will probably have 1 or not more than 2 days off. Do not spend them all on Skype talking with you friends and family. I mean, of course it is important to tell them that you are OK, alive and it is all flowers and roses. But talking to all of your friends every day off is a waste of time in my opinion. They will survive a couple of months without you and the same goes for you. It is much better to go out and explore so you have more amazing memories to share at the end. Go try a beer pong game, join an American barbecue weekend, mimosa’s Sunday, watch a football game, try some smorz, go paddle boarding, beer tasting…
And if you really want to have amazing memories visit some other states at the end of the program. If you have to save for your university fee, a car, a loan or whatever, you probably won’t have that much money to travel. But if you do, please go for it! The money come and go but the travel memories stay with you all your life. Plus, it is cheap to travel in America and there are even student programs. Check this one here.
9. Stay out of trouble!
If in your country you can always call your uncle who knows a guy that knows a guy that will get you out of trouble, it definitely will not work like this in the Land of freedom. If you get in trouble here they would simply put you in jail and eventually extradite you back to your country. And I thought it was a joke as well. But when I went to Whitefish, Montana 2 years ago I was still 20 years old. This would mean that I could not drink any alcohol anywhere in America and I could not be in bars and clubs after 10pm. No way, probably no one follows this rules! I am partying since I am sixteen (I am not proud of this) and I know how to fake my ID. And what is more in the US you can have a gun and drive a car even before you are 18 but you can not even have a glass of beer. What if you are getting married when you are 20 and you can not even say: “Cheers!” to your wedding. I was sure this was a joke. Well, it was not! They would not even let my friend who was 21 at the time to buy a bottle of wine only because she is with me and they would ask me for my ID as well. I was literally kicked out of a club (exactly how they do it in the movies) and after 10pm. was my sleepy time. Yes, it was depressing that is why I went to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday and celebrated for the whole 4 months of boredom.
By saying out of trouble I mean do not drink and drive in any situation, do not try to buy any drugs, do not fake your documents, do not sign any contracts for phones and leases if you are not going to pay them. There are some states that marijuana is now legal in. Still there are so many restrictions that this is the easiest way to get in trouble and I have already seen it happen to other students. And when back in your country do not lie when filling out your taxes refund (read here). If you are planning to go back to this country for any reason better do not mess with them. Otherwise you will not get a visa again.
Oh, and yes if you are going to Vegas do not get married! It is not “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” style. It is if “you are married in Vegas, you are married everywhere”.
10. Know your rights and fight for them!
This is a students’ program and you have a sponsor that is supposed to make sure everything is fine with you. Still, do not expect someone to welcome you at the airport, find you a place to stay or listen to every complaint you have. The sponsor basically is not doing anything else but sending you a monthly evaluation which is a survey for you to fill out about your living and working conditions and about your experience as a whole. This surveys are useless in my opinion because 90% of the students lie while filling them out. I did it myself. I lied that I am in a room with just 2 more people, when I was living in a room with actually 7 more people – and what is more boys. Why did I lie? Because this is illegal and they may make us leave the house which would be great if they would find us another place. But this is usually not the case – they would make you find a new place on your own which is pretty hard in the middle of the season.
So you are the person who is responsible for yourself. You have a lot of rights – being a student working in America with a program funded by the American foundation. A lot of times you are disrespected, harassed or exploited in you work place. Or you are living in awful conditions.I experienced them both. You have the opportunity to change this and you have to change it! Most of the students are scared and they are complaining and suffering instead of having a great time. Have the confidence and the strength to change your situation. Write to your sponsor, fight for your rights, know who you are and who you want to be. Do not ever lose yourself because of a job or because of a couple dollars more! Protecting yourself and your values will make you feel better for yourself and will give you much more value than money can. What is more you will be a positive example for other students that they can change their situations and the most important thing in this way we will improve the whole idea of the Work and Travel program.
For any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment!