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My American Experience: Marija Gjorgijievska, Macedonia

This summer, CHI invited its USA Work & Travel participants to take part in a contest to help show off their program spirit. Participants were asked to submit an essay, video or photo slideshow that best demonstrated their personal ‘American Experience’.  In their own words and images, here is what this year’s CHI USA Work & Travel alumni have experienced during their summer in America.

Essay by Marija Gjorgijievska, Macedonia, worked in New York City, NY


Coming to the States was my first plane ride ever. It was a long flight and, unfortunately, instead of feeling butterflies, my stomach decided to do flips.  I get motion sickness. The six hour layover in Istanbul did not help at all. But hey, how else would I have learned that sleeping on a bench while cuddling your own backpack is a perfectly decent way to spend the night.  That first day I was in New York I was so tired,  that not even the spectacular view of the skyline….

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…the amazing diversity of people and languages, or the fact that I got to see my Retuned Peace Corps Volunteer friends after so long, could  make me show some excitement. The whole day I felt like I was walked around the neighborhood by my friends. But the following morning, fully rested and Dramamine free, I left the apartment I was staying at with my peace corps friend ready to take in the sites. I remember  looking at a map as I was standing on a metal grate alongside the road.  Suddenly, I heard a strange, robotic female voice out of nowhere, telling me the next Brooklyn bound train was arriving.  I had no idea what a Brooklyn was, and was suddenly terrified that a train might be choo chooing  down at me from any direction. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a gust of wind shot up from below me, and blew my dress almost over my head.  I walked away (I did not run—I am courageous) from the grate and stared around, waiting for the next crazy thing to happen.  One day in New York and already I was hearing voices! And on top of everything,  the voices spoke in English .  My  friend had been watching me the whole time, and was laughing.  What was so funny?  “That’s just the subway”, she said, and I realized that I hadn’t done as much research on New York  as I should have.  An underground subway.. I knew that.  “I know that” I said, just as I heard another voice tell me to “please stand clear of the something something”.  Even though I knew now it was just a speaker with a recorded voice, I couldn’t help but yell back at the underground lady “thanks for the warning”.  My New York summer had begun!

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A student’s summer experience in the States is usually described as amazing, unforgettable, or maybe even life altering. That’s why we keep coming back. With our siblings. I would describe my experience as amazing, unforgettable and life altering all at the same time.  It has also been brought to my attention that I was very lucky to have American friends,  former Peace Corps Volunteers in my third world country who could teach me useful stuff. They told me about amazing places tourists never go to, they introduced me to all their friends, they showed me how to get into every museum by making a generous $5 donation, and for a student like me it just doesn’t get any more useful than that. (I just like to focus on the travel part rather than the work one) . Knowing that, I started going to a different museum every week. First the MET, where 5 hours is not nearly enough time to see your 3 favorite sections. Then the museum of the Native American, where I finally got familiar with the basic motive behind every western movie. Next was The MOMA, where I got to see paintings from my favorite painter Frida Kahlo, and also a piece from my favorite architect Le Corbusier.  And by favorite I mean FAVORITE, I was so excited. Then I went to the dinosaur museum (also known as the museum of Natural History), and saw my first dinosaur when I don’t think I was completely ready to. I mean, why would you place a gigantic dinosaur in the entrance hall when there clearly is a section for that? But I guess kids here grow up with seeing dinosaurs so it’s ok……

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FOOD, is another thing about America I can not skip. If I show you the pictures and tell you that at one point during the summer I had to publicly (using facebook) apologize to all my American friends for making fun of them for talking about food all the time back in Macedonia you will understand why it can not be skipped.  Pictures:

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I think New York is the most amazing place I’ll ever go to. But I did make sure to see other parts of the States too. I went on two short trips. One was Florida, where one of my friends’ family lives. We went together and I had an amazing weekend with her family (proud former New Yorkers). They took me to all of their favorite places in Tampa and New Port Richie,  and made sure I was experiencing Florida in it’s finest. The second trip I took was, of course, Washington DC. There was so much to see, so many pictures to take… I made some very good friends there and, what was maybe the highlight of the trip, I finally had a Mexican meal that I absolutely loved. My friends in New York said it was a struggle to teach me what good food is.

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There are two things that you can not miss if you looked through all of these pictures. The first one is that someone has had an awesome summer. The second one is that someone came here alone. None of my friends were ready to leave home for the summer and go work overseas. It was too big of a price to pay in order to have the great experience. But I was more than ready , I was determined, and even though it meant taking a few exams early, and working day and night to get everything done in time, it’s the decision in my life I’ve made that I am most proud of. Being an architecture student takes this experience to a whole different level. I love buildings! I love bridges! And there is no better place to go and love them in person than New York City. Work & Travel summer was the perfect summer!

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