by Karen Hilbes from Germany
I did the J1 Program 8 years ago in 2012, and have dedicated my work to Cultural Exchange ever since. The J1 Program was a life-defining,mind-changing, and simply one of the best years of my life.
Just before finishing university, I had met some Americans traveling Europe. That is when the idea formed in my head, "Why not do an internship and start my career in San Francisco?“ Until then, I did not have a great opinion about the US. Political news and the perception of its leadership were always negative. The American stereotype in Germany was that Americans are shallow, unhealthy, obnoxious, and polluting the environment. I had never heard about the National Parks. We only knew Lord of the Rings and New Zealand. But the Americans I met were so fun and friendly, lived in San Francisco and told me about its live music, the beaches, the nature, Hawaii, etc. and so I went.
Oh, was I surprised! People would greet you on the bus, everyone would be so friendly and genuinely interested. They even ask you how you are when you enter an H&M! Not only did they have music festivals in the parks,but they were also recycling everything everywhere! Never had I seen a more beautiful, wild, and diverse nature than in U.S. National Parks. It completely blew me away. To date, I am still comparing it to the nature I see in other countries and always find that it is very very hard to beat. The incredible versatility in the landscapes, the sheer grandeur of the mountains, waterfalls and forests, the endless outdoor activities, the amazing wildlife, and just the absolute vastness of it all.
The encouraging and motivating environment at my internship was also something I had not experienced like this in Germany.
"There is a Can-Do attitude in the U.S., which made me grow beyond my ideas of what I am capable of. I was able to take on responsibility for large projects, did big presentations, drove through the whole state for work, learned new technology,and so much more. In the end, I had the confidence to fight for a real job I wanted and the belief that I could do it."
I decided to work in Cultural Exchange and enable other people to have the same life-changing experience that I was lucky enough to have. Since then I have met hundreds of people visiting the U.S. on a J1 visa and contributing to its economy. They contribute with their skills or their willingness to work in far-flung places. They spend their hard earned cash on activities and sights in the country. And they start appreciating the U.S. so much, they come to visit again and spread the love.
I too found American friends for life that I still keep meeting up with now. I too have come back to the U.S. to visit many more cities and states, and still have some National Parks left on my bucket list.