Life Lessons from the Summer Work Travel Program

Meet Paula Dzifa Xatse, an alumna of Greenheart’s Summer Work Travel program. While on a Job Fair in Ghana before COVID, one of our staff members met some of our program’s amazing alumni. Paula shared some of the lessons, reflections, stories, and benefits she gained through her time on the program.

  1. What are some ways you have applied your Summer Work Travel experiences to the professional world?

    I’m currently a postgraduate student of law, and although I do not have a permanent job yet, I’ve captured my Summer Work Travel experience as International Work experience on my résumé. During my Summer Work Travel program, I gained a lot of professional skills! The most substantial was the acquisition of great communication and customer service skills- something that has been very useful in everyday life. I’m also still gaining knowledge as I take on the position General Secretary of Youth Exchange Alumni Ghana. This is an opportunity I would have missed out on had it not been for my Summer Work Travel program!

  2. What are you up to now?

    I’m a first-year postgraduate law student at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration. The Summer Work Travel program has had a long-term impact on my life! Through it I have experienced how to live independently and all of the responsibilities that come with it, working in environments which are completely different from my indigenous one and their different requirements, such as strict punctuality. I also made a lot of great friends from all around the world on the program, and I still keep in touch with quite a few of them! I still have friends from Jamaica, the United States, Ukraine, Thailand, and Slovakia! One of the biggest lessons I learned from the program is to always be on time.

  3. Why is cultural exchange important?

    My participation in Summer Work Travel was purely out of my quest for a new adventure which would be both insightful and fun. I learned so much about the United States while I was there – from the history, culture with respect to their mannerisms, food – and so much more that came from living, working, and interacting so closely with the people. I also engaged in cultural exchange by cooking indigenous Ghanaian food for my supervisors and housemates. I also taught them all some Ghanaian expressions and some of our favorite fun activities such as games (baseball) and karaoke. To me, cultural exchange provides the opportunity to access a world full of knowledge, not only from people in the United States but also from people from a lot of other countries — some of which I had never even heard of before participating in Summer Work Travel. I have had the opportunity to network with others and create lasting friendships and bonds. Work and Travel also gave me the opportunity to make a societal change through the spirit of volunteerism it imbibes. Really embracing that spirit allowed me on my return home to effect a change in my home country. This is what I am doing now through being a member of Youth Exchange Alumni Ghana. This is also why other youth must have the opportunity to participate in the Summer Work Travel program. It builds their intellect through the world of information out there, makes them more confident and open-minded, and provides a platform for which they can effect societal change in their own way.

  4. How did you learn to turn challenges into opportunities?

    There were a couple of challenges I faced while on the program. The most significant of them was the distance from my housing to my first job in South Carolina. I had to walk for about forty minutes from my housing to the area where my job was located. My schedule was such that sometimes I had to work late (about 11:30 p.m.) and the trip back home was quite scary as the path was poorly lit. I also lived with a couple of other participants who were less mindful about issues concerning hygiene, and I felt that my health was at risk. Despite these challenges, I did not give up on the program. I decided to open up to my best friend who had introduced me to the program. She then spoke to her former supervisors and asked if they had any vacancies. Due to the rapport she had built with them through her hard work, they did not hesitate to offer me a job based on her referral. Greenheart Exchange sent me an email asking how my summer was going and I told them about my situation and asked for guidance. They were extremely helpful and I was finally on my way to a new host organization in South Dakota (on a bus trip that lasted 54 hours!). This was the best decision I made all summer. I met really awesome people and my host organization was the best! They were like a family who accepted me without any qualms, and together we made awesome memories. The little hitch I had in my first month and my successful move showed me the importance of perseverance and never giving up.

  5. What are some things still on your bucket list?

    My bucket list involves a lot of sight-seeing and scary heights! I’d love to see Las Vegas and also take the opportunity to bungee jump in Stratosphere. I’d also love to see the beautiful Caribbean Islands, especially Jamaica and see some of the best friends I’ve made through Summer Work Travel. The program taught me so many things that I, in turn, have tried to share with the people around me. In my second job, I was working in a restaurant and learned how to make several dishes that were both American and Italian cuisine. My mom works as a caterer, and she has also benefited from my knowledge, and I’ve taught her ways to prep and preserve better for her big orders. By doing this, she does not get too stressed in cooking.

  6. What was one of the funniest moments of your summer?

    The funniest experience I had was deciding to walk over two miles to Mount Rushmore with my friends to see the Lighting Ceremony. About a mile in we realized that we’d bargained for more we than we thought. Fortunately, an old couple decided to give us a ride there! After the ceremony, we were again making our way down Mount Rushmore when the old couple offered us a ride back to our town! We were ecstatic!

  7. Do you have any last thoughts regarding what the program taught you?

    My time on the Greenheart Summer Work Travel program was a time of independence where I learned to be truly responsible for myself and all my actions. I learned to be confident, self-reliant, persevere and be open-minded to be able to live in harmony with colleagues and housemates. All of these have had a truly positive impact on my life. I have embraced the spirit of supporting good causes and giving back through volunteering. My motivation for going on the Summer Work Travel program was purely for adventure and to see how different the world is from the American point of view – and I was beyond amazed. I have recommended the program to everyone I know who qualifies, as there is a world full of amazing opportunities out there! This is not only to benefit yourself but to also have something to compare one’s society to and strive to make a difference in the world. If any of my friends were skeptical about it, I’d tell them about my personal experiences and how they’d never feel abandoned because Greenheart Exchange is always there to assist promptly with their legitimate problems. I would advise any first time participant to work hard, have fun and get involved in all of the activities you can and make a network. Making friends was a very easy part, everyone was so nice!  I was just being myself and I have no idea how I made so many friends! My experience has shaped my views especially in how to accommodate different types of personalities. It has made me realize that hard work pays off – not only monetarily, but also in making a good name for yourself. Finally, it has shown me the world of opportunities that can be harnessed by the youth all over the world to change our societies one day at a time. All of these lessons will take me to a positive future, as I’ll be more sensitive to the needs of my society in all I do. I will continue to strive to make the world a better place for the next generation in my own little way.

Are you considering a Work and Travel program?  Learn more and apply here for Greenheart’s upcoming Winter or Summer Work Travel Programs.  

By: Paula Dzifa Xatse, Summer Work Travel program alumnus – 2016