In honor of our 15th anniversary in 2017, Spirit Cultural Exchange launched its first Alumni Awards contest in August. Our goal was to identify and publicize former participants who have gone on to do significant things in their home countries and are/were particularly motivated by their SWT experience.
We received over 90 applications from past participants that have done great things since returning to their home countries. We got a variety of applicants… we heard from participants that now work for the government in their home country, some who became entrepreneurs and others who use their language skills to teach others English. But the one thing they all had in common was the impact the Summer Work and Travel experience had on their future.
After much consideration, we narrowed down our search and selected 11 finalists that we thought best exemplified the impact that the SWT program could have on an individual.
Meet finalist: Yuyin Ning! She came from China through our partner agency, CSCEE to work at Sun Valley Resort in 2011. Since her program, she has found a love for teaching and is currently completing her Master’s in Education at Bishops University in Canada. Keep reading to learn more about Yuyin’s journey!
Can you tell us more about your SWT experience at Sun Valley?
At Sun Valley I worked as a Housekeeper. I met a lot of students from Romania, France and America, it was really great. It was the first time I came abroad, so the first few days were kind of hard, I didn’t even know how to say “How are you?”, but a couple weeks later I could communicate very well with people and I was very excited about that.
As Housekeeper I worked for the resort. In the mornings we would go clean the rooms, make the beds, clean the bathroom, wash the cups, etc. This shift normally ended at 4, but we could sign up for the night shift afterwards if we wanted to make more money.
What did you think about working as a Housekeeper?
At the very beginning I didn’t really like it, I was a student and I didn’t come here for this kind of job. But then I realized the people didn’t treat me differently because I was a housekeeper. I met a very good friend while I was working at Sun Valley and she taught me how to do everything very nicely. I was struggling at the beginning and was telling her that when I was back in China, in my own home I didn’t even clean the toilets for myself, but now I have to clean the toilets for others. I said to her, “What am I doing here?” My friend reminded me “It’s just a job… you have to be responsible for your job, which you’re doing.” I felt like if I was doing this job in China that people would probably see me differently, but at Sun Valley people weren’t treating me differently, people were still smiling at me and were interested in my story. I just took it as a job and did it carefully and I got a recommendation letter at the end, I was very happy.
How do you think your J1 experience changed your perspective on the US and Americans?
It’s really changed a lot, before I came to the US all the information I got was from the media, from the TV, from the newspaper. It was always talking about how China and America are not friendly to each other. Before I went, all my friends and family said “Are you sure about this?” and “Check the TV, look at the gunshots. It’s too dangerous for you to go there.” But I told them “I have to go there and see how it is.” And when I got there, I found that it’s not really like that, I still had to be very careful about my safety, but all the people I met through my experiences were very friendly. They were always smiling at me and trying to help me out. It totally changed my opinion. You have to be there to experience it and see what it looks like before you make assumptions.
Before I came to the US, I thought Americans were arrogant and didn’t like Chinese. I realized that the stereotypes between Americans and Chinese were just politics. We as people like each other.
Can you tell us more about your studies in Canada and what made you interested in pursuing a degree there?
I’m getting a Master’s in Education at Bishop University in Canada. I’m graduating this year. I worked for a couple of years and traveled on business trips and personal interest. And then I realized that because of my SWT experience, I’m not afraid to do what I want to do. I learned that everyone is different. People are individuals, everyone is different. They should do what they want to do and what they’re interested in, instead of just comparing themselves to others. They have a house, that’s what I want too. They have a good job, that’s what I want too. That’s just not true.
In June 2017, I participated in the Malawi Praxis program, which focuses on the professional development of the teachers in three local Malawi primary schools. We went to the Malawi schools to observe the classes in the morning, and had seminars with professors and local teachers in the afternoon. The target is to help the local teachers improve their teaching skills with their limited resources. We also raised funds to build a public primary school for the rural kids in Malawi. The project lasted four weeks. I found myself very interested in positive outcomes of this project and will stay connected in the future.
What skills does it take to be a successful student at Bishop University?
There are a lot of things going on, and people want to just shut them down and do their own stuff. But when you participate in things and put your whole heart in, you will find it’s different, it’s really different. One of the programs I participate is in an elementary school, but I didn’t know what I was doing at first. People were playing with the kids, and I wanted to too, but I didn’t really know how, I was shy. I just stayed there and stared at them and was smiling at them but I didn’t talk to them or engage. But this year, I talked to the individual kids one by one and learned about their families and stories, it’s just different.
I am also a coordinator for a program that helps international students at Bishop University adjust to campus and practice their English. I pass this message onto them too, that they should put their heart fully into what they are doing. I think that is very important.
Why do you think cross-cultural exchange is important?
If I didn’t come on the program, I would still have the stereotypes about people from other countries. I would not look at people from other perspectives. In that case, I don’t think I would be here [studying in Canada] right now. I would be like other friends from China, finding a normal job there and having a normal life.
It’s been 6 years since you came to the US on the SWT program, what would you tell yourself before coming if you could go back in time?
I think I really enjoyed my time there. The first day that I was in the airport, I was crying. That was the first time I ever took an airplane by myself and the first time I went that far away without anyone waiting for me. So I arrived to the airport and was calling my English teacher saying “I don’t know what to do.” My teacher told me to stay, and to be brave.
At the beginning, I was nervous about speaking English and would never say anything to anyone. But my teacher encouraged me to keep trying, and once I started practicing I got better.
I got a new job opportunity, I was working in the housekeeping department, and then I got an opportunity to work in the security department. I said “Hi, how are you?” and after some small talk they offered me a job in their department. So it is very important to be engaged and to go out to talk to people.
I am going farther in my life, and bigger and farther in the world and everything started from 6 years ago when I came on the Summer Work and Travel program.