Suzy – “Expectations Met!”
I started my journey with the expectation that I would be able to travel and experience life in US with minimal costs. And my expectations were certainly met!
The most memorable thing? The whole experience! From the first day I started my journey from KLIA to the day I left JFK airport in New York. The places that I worked, my colleagues, the people that I met , the town that I stayed in, the places that I traveled, friends I made – all were memorable to me.
I worked in a town called Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains. Famous as a centre for Country & Western music, it is a tourism town that is packed with people during the summer. I worked in the reception of a company that rents out cabins, Colonial Properties. My job duties were quite easy – answering phone calls, taking reservations using their own software system, check people in and out of the cabins, some paper work and filing.
After three weeks in an Inn, my friends and I moved into a new house. The house was exquisite! Full of amenities that anyone could think of. It has a beautiful fireplace in the living room, next to it there is a game room with a pool table that flips to an air hockey table, a dining table that leads across to a fully equipped kitchen, 5 bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. On the right side of the kitchen, there’s a small room with a washing machine and a dryer. On the porch, there are two wooden rocking chairs for us to sit and chat while watching a forest sparkling with fire flies at night. In between our driveways we had a beautiful lawn area. Behind the house, there is an enchanting waterfall with clear and cool water. The house was situated on a hill, partly secluded. Thanks to Bong, who was the only person to succeed in finding us a place to stay.
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One particular incident stands out in my mind that I could say was the highlight of my stay in Pigeon Forge. Our new house was 3 miles away from the town and we had no car. The guys I was staying with had already bought bicycles to get to work, but I hadn’t yet had time to do this. So on the first day I walked down the hill with Voon Chong to the main road which locals “the Spur”. Two ladies stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride to town, which we gladly accepted. The same thing happened on the second day, when another Good Samaritan stopped to give me a ride. His name was Peter. After hopping on to his jeep, he sent me to my work place. That was about 8.40am. At about 10.30am, Josh – my colleague at Colonial Properties, said there was someone to see me. It was Peter. He told me wanted to show me something. From his jeep, he pulled out a red bicycle and laid it on the driveway of my work place. He said it was for me, as he didn’t want me to have to walk to work everyday. Okay, now I realize this wasn’t only just a Good Samaritan, he was an angel sent from God! I didn’t even know how to express my feelings, I was totally overwhelmed with gratitude. After that, I thanked Peter and we became good friends.
Although the job was easy, not everything was! Talking to the local people was harder than I had expected. They had this Southern accent that was weird. I could understand them most of the time but found it hard to imitate it so they could understand what I was saying better. Sometimes if they were speaking in a really Southern accent then I could barely understand!
People in the US often eat fast foods and the variety of food is not as wide as we have in Malaysia. Maybe their diet is why there seem to be so many overweight people – I put on a little weight as well!
But overall, I felt stress free and relaxed while I was there. The people were cool – everyone was nice, friendly and very helpful. People in town would greet you on the street even though we don’t know each other. Other than the holiday traffic, which did not concern me because I was riding a bike, there was no sense of rush in the town. People seemed to feel satisfied and comfortable the way things were.
... lot of presents. People usually stay at home at Christmas-time and spend the day with their families. ... of course in a good company. During the travel I forgetting all my problems, all my pain ... when grain, fruit and vegetables become ripe. Winter months are December, January and February. Sometimes it is ... our first symphonic poems, sonatas, and many works for piano, choir and organ. The greater ...
I worked for 2 months, originally just in Colonial Properties, but I got a second job in McDonalds. I earned about US $ 400 a week, working 36 hours a week at Colonial Properties and 24 hours a week at McDonalds. Accommodation cost me US$ 250 per month, and I spent about US $ 200 a month on food. Apart from that, I spent about US $ 80 per month on leisure, laundry, etc.
And I definitely enjoyed my holiday! In the beginning, before going to Tennessee, I spent 3 days in New York. Then I spent another day in New York when returning from Tennessee before taking a 5-day bus tour around four northern states. The pictures I took will all go into an album as a collection, because the places I have traveled are truly one of the greatest treasures I gained from this trip. At the end of my trip I spent a final 2 days in New Jersey with my sister, before flying home.
I believe I’ve gained a lot from two months working and traveling in the US. Living in a totally different place with a different culture has made me more independent than I used to be. Learning to face and solve problems that come abruptly will certainly help me in making future decisions more wisely.
For example, on the first day we arrived in Knoxville, near Pigeon Forge, we waited for hours for the person who was supposed to pick us up, only to find out he had come the day before because I had told him the wrong date – I had got the difference in time zones between the US and Malaysia mixed up. A few hours of waiting aimlessly and the feeling of being lost was quite a lesson. Luckily we were able to sort the problem out with a couple of phone calls and the help of a friendly local.
Also, I’ve learned to treasure friendship more than ever before. In the US, living far away from home, the only people I could rely on were the friends I made there, who helped me survive for two months.
Yes, most of my expectations from this programme have been achieved. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t have much time for traveling. If I had been able to stay longer, I would have more time working and earning more money to travel more!
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And I would definitely recommend it!!
Suzy is a student at UPM, and traveled to the US between May and July 2006.
Lina – “Awesome Experience!”
I wanted to join the Work & Travel USA programme to experience a different culture and to improve my English. Sure my expectations were met! The best part about it was the time we spent at work, making friends with people from around the world. That was truly awesome! People in the US are great – I had no problems while I was there. Help is just right beside you. Just speak out and they’ll come to you. It has to be said, however, that there was some racial discrimination in the more rural areas.
I had a job working in a laundry, but I wanted to earn more so I could travel more. Finding a second job was easier than I expected, and I worked part time in a restaurant. I have to admit, though, that keeping in shape was difficult because the food is irresistible!
The hours you work are dependent on season. During the summer, there is lots of overtime, and some people work from morning till night, and I really mean from 7am to midnight! But, you’ll earn a lot. Since each state has a different minimum wage, I recommend everyone to check what it is before they go. Where we worked it was US $ 5.75 per hour, but I earned more than that. Most people take a second job to be sure they have enough money to travel. I found one working in a fast food stall – they provided free meals!
Accommodation was easy to find, but where I was staying, in Cape Cod, not the cheapest. We spent USD87.5 per person per week for a twin sharing room.
There are many differences between Malaysia and the US. One thing I did like was the food – it is good! But it is difficult to find good Chinese or Asian food, unless you are in Chinatown. I was proud to be Malaysian because I understand their national language (English), but in certain areas like Miami, most of them speak Spanish. We get to learn a few sentences though!
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Americans dress neatly and smartly, and they are very particular about hygiene. I found that lifestyles vary a lot, depending on where you are. In Manhattan they stay up late, bunches of pubs, stores close at 1am (unbelievable).
In Cape Cod, the place we stayed – no more lights at 10pm (everyone goes to bed early).
I should say you are free to do anything as long as its not against the law. They are freedom seekers and respect human rights.
On the down side? Sometimes we had to get up early to work. You can’t imagine how cold the weather is! Also, everything is taxable! I hate tax! And tipping!! It is compulsory. Your waiter will ask you what is wrong if you don’t tip!
We traveled for one month to travel, and we saw about half of the US! Starting in Boston, we traveled to New York, Olrando and Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Transport costs are reasonable, for example a one day unlimited rides subway and bus pass in New York is only US $ 7, in LA around US $ 3 per day. Air tickets are cheap too. Do plenty of research on the internet!! Accommodation is cheap and you can find motels for around US $ 150 for four nights twin sharing. For lone travelers, hostels are cheap at around US $ 18-20. Don’t think these are unsafe or dirty, because it will not be what you expect. Do some research, read testimonials from the internet so you can find out which are good and which are not.
There is so much to do! Movies are expensive, USD10 to 12 per show. But I strongly recommend Broadway shows. The tickets are expensive – US $110, but with a bit of research you can find plenty of cheap special offers! We went to lots of shows – Broadway show, The Naked Boy, Arabian nights, Jubilee (Vegas hot show).
And clothing! All sorts of brands, you name it. They have the largest factory outlet malls on earth. Everywhere you can buy branded goods for cheap prices. Nike for USD2.99? Calvin Klein wallet for USD19.99? Ralph Lauren for USD19.99? much more…. Never ending shopping for girls!
My favourite place? Florida! I loved it so much, and miss it too. It is like heaven! Make a note to go there.
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All in all, I would say it’s been a great experience. It really has changed me. I am now more independent. Americans are so kind, and I learned how to treat people politely. I learned a lot, mentally and physically. How to be stronger when your family is not around. We did a lot of planning for our holiday, whereas research on the internet will do. Americans need 2 years to plan out a framework and only need 2 weeks to carry out the plan. It always works – I know, because we experienced it!
I got lots of exposure to new things, I traveled to my dream places, I experienced working with Americans and best of all – I did it all on my own, which brings great satisfaction. Plus, I have friends around the world, which are very precious. I will never ever forget the time I spent in the US.
Everyone should take up this challenge and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, I promise. I did!
Lina is a student at HELP, and traveled to the US between June and September 2006.
Shu Tyng – “Experience a new culture”
I wanted to join Work and Travel USA to experience a new culture, meet friends and travel to some places around the US and I was lucky to achieve all of this. The most memorable thing that happened to me was that I visited a number of famous places in the United States, enjoyed the natural and beautiful scenery such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and had fun in Disneyland, Sea World and Universal Studios.
I stayed in small town called Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where the people are very friendly. They will greet you and smile to you even though they do not know who you are.
My job was as a housekeeper in a hotel in Pigeon Forge. Being a housekeeper is hard work, as you have to clean a lot of rooms every day and repeat the same routine daily. Sometimes you will have to clean dirty and disgusting rooms. This experience has taught me that parents work hard to earn their money!
I lived in a Family Inn for the first week which cost around US$280 per week for a room sharing with three others. After the first week, we found a house that was fully furnished. It was perfect – with air-conditioning, heating, washing machine and kitchen. The rent was US$750 per month and the utility bill for three months was US$475. Six of us lived together in the house so it was cheaper than living in the Inn.
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Fast food restaurants are easy to find in the US, for example McD or Burger King, and the price ranges from US$3 to US$6 or you can have a buffet in some restaurants. Apart from that, you can buy food in Walmart supermarket, which is similar to Giant or Jusco Supermarket in Malaysia, and cook the food by yourself. For example, instant noodle costs US$0.10 plus tax each. Everything sold in that supermarket is cheap!
For transport, I bought a bicycle (prices ranged from US$60 to US$100) in Walmart. In Pigeon Forge it is also possible to buy a 1-year trolley pass (US$25) and go to work by trolley bus. Pigeon Forge has many factory outlet stores, where you can buy brands such as Nike, Coach, Calvin Klein, Polo, etc, for much lower prices than other places. And there are plenty of interesting things to do there, including shows, visiting Dollywood (the Country and Western experience named after Dolly Parton), or have fun in theme parks like Splash Country.
As a housekeeper, I earned US$7 per hour and I worked an average of 40 hours per week. In peak season, you will work more than this. I also took a second job working as a hostess, where the salary was US$7.50 per hour. This enabled me to earn enough money to pay all my expenses, and to travel with.
After three months of working, I joined a trip for ten days with another three friends. We went to San Fransisco, Disneyland, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Diego-Sea World, and Universal Studios. We found the tour in Malaysia, and it cost RM 2,188 including accommodation and tickets to enter the parks. According to one person that I met on the trip, you can find this kind of tour on various websites, which is cheaper, or you can plan the trip by yourself.
Joining this programme was a great experience as you can gain more experience, learn a new culture, meet new friends, travel to the famous and beautiful places in the US, have a lot of fun with friends. The most important thing is that you will know that you have to work hard to earn money! It is a good programme and I recommend it to everyone!
Shu Tyng is a student at KBU, and traveled to the US between June and September 2006.
Narila – “A Dream Come True”
Although I was lucky to be given an opportunity to study in the United Kingdom, it has always been my dream to visit the United States of America (USA).
When my friend told me about a programme that allows you to travel and work in America, I immediately jumped at the idea. The thought of going to the place that I only know through watching soaps and sitcoms was unreal. It was such a great opportunity to make money and at the same time see new places that I never gave second thought to the idea.
Being a student in the big city of London, money was always an issue. However, I managed to save enough of my scholarship money to pay for my trip to the US. My first obstacle was to convince my parents to let me go on this adventure. It was really hard as they were not confident of their little girl being able to survive in another foreign country. I was only 20 years old then. After failing to convince them myself, I asked my friend to convince my parents that it would be safe as we were traveling together and after all I was already half way around the world from them then. Finally I got their blessings and I started planning for my trip from thereon.
My friend and I decided we preferred employers that provide jobs together with food and lodging. That option would be easier especially since we do not know what to expect in the new foreign land. That was almost 15 years ago when the internet was unheard of and mobile phones were virtually non-existent! Communications were mainly through post and telephone. When we applied for the job, we mentioned that we are muslims from Malaysia and studying in England. One of our options was a family owned bed and breakfast in Maine. When the lady owner, Ginny Farrins, interviewed me over the phone, she was really shocked that I could speak perfect English as she thought communication would be difficult with us being Malaysians. They offered us jobs as chambermaids for their family run bed and breakfast called Howard House in the outskirts of Maine, USA. The place is called Boothbay Harbor, totally unknown to us who lived outside of the USA. They agreed to take us both and provide food and lodging.
After all the preparations had been made and armed with a small bag, we were off on our journey to New York. When we arrived in New York, we had to take a Greyhound bus to Portland, Maine, the closest city to Boothbay Harbor. Arrangements had been made beforehand so that the employer could fetch us at the bus station in Portland. Having stayed in London helped us in getting by in New York as the transport systems were similar.
Finally, we arrived in Portland for our first encounter with a typical American family, driving a station wagon (MPVs did not exist then) with 2 of their 3 children. We met Ginny, the lady who gave me a phone interview, the husband Jimmy and their two older children, Jenny and Jonny. They were friendly and we immediately clicked. The motel was situated approximately another couple of hours drive from Portland. It was situated in a big piece of land with lots of big trees. A real picture postcard of serene surroundings, with two blocks of wooden buildings that blend in well with the nature.
We were put up in a room with bunk beds. The next morning we were briefed on what we were supposed to do at the motel. We arrived in mid June, summer had just started and the motel was not that busy. However, the family was preparing for a busy summer, which was why we were employed. We were told there would be a couple more girls, one from England and another from France, who would come to work for them that summer.
The work was mainly cleaning the rooms, doing the laundry, preparing for the next day’s breakfast and occasionally baby sitting for their 3 children. Ginny had high standards of cleanliness and I quickly adapted to her standard. She was also an environmentalist and everything was recycled, except for organic waste which they buried to make compost in the woods within their land area. That was my first encounter with the concept of recycling, and I’m proud to say that I still practice recycling today.
I also learned to love baking as Ginny would bake from scratch all the breakfast that would be served every morning. Food wise was not a problem as the family did not consume pork or any red meat for that matter. We were lucky as the Farrins were very understanding and sensitive to us being Muslims. Since we were not going to be around for their Thanksgiving in November, they did Thanksgiving dinner, an American Tradition, for all of us in September. The Farrins took the trouble to get a kosher turkey for us and another normal turkey for them. Hence, the next week or so, our lunch revolved around turkey meat, turkey sandwiches, turkey salad and anything that has turkey meat in it!
We were given a bicycle each to get by around town. I think that summer I was the fittest apart from gaining a few pounds from eating good food as we had to cycle up the hill to get to town. Down town Boothbay Harbor is by the sea. On one of our days off, three of us (including the French girl) went on a boat trip to an island and had the famous Maine lobster. I only know that Maine lobsters were expensive and apparently the best when I came back to Malaysia. We had lobster dinner a couple more times when we were there.
The time came when we had to leave the Farrins and Howard House and of course goodbyes were sad especially so as I was really attached to the children. We were off on our one month jet setting around the US after making quite a bit of money from working for three and a half months.
During the one month traveling we covered some of the main cities in the US as well as Canada and Mexico. Our trip was planned out properly as we had only one month in which to do it. For the next month our homes were youth hostels, airports and sometimes airplanes. Only when we were in Las Vegas could we afford to stay in 5-star hotel as the price was the same as that of youth hostels in other places.
We had fun hopping on and off planes. Quite tiring at times, but meeting new people and seeing new places were refreshing experiences. Every day was a new adventure for us. Finally the time came when we had to go back to London and back to university. The whole experience in the US left me feeling euphoric and fulfilled. I know that I was feeling more confident to take on any challenge than I had been 4 months previously.
Two years after that I came back to Malaysia and started working. Still feeling energetic, it helped me to start off my working career on the right foot. I was enthusiastic in what I was doing and eager to learn new things in working life.
Now, almost 15 years later, when I look back, I’m quite happy to have done what I did when I was studying. Although I was pretty poor (in monetary terms) back then, the experiences through traveling made me rich inside, built up my personality, made me more confident and wiser.
I notice in Malaysia that local graduates lack these personalities. In my current position, I sometimes recruit staff for my company. I find that they are an unenthusiastic lot with a lack of confidence in themselves. They have no drive, no energy – even though some of them have been jobless for more than a year after they graduated. I don’t remember being that way after I graduated. I guess in some ways all the exposure that I got through traveling in my younger days helped me to be more confident and bolder in communicating. To me, nothing is beyond me, everything is possible if you have the will to work towards it.
Narila participated in Work & Travel USA some years ago while studying in the UK. She now works in Malaysia.
Stas – “culture shock”
When a student comes to America, he will experience some “culture shock” and need to adapt to another language environment. When I first arrived, I had to stay in New York for the orientation. The “Big Apple”, so-called by its 18 million residents. Traffic jams there could be so big, it’s better to get around by subway. In other parts of America it’s better to have your driving license, driving a car is much more convenient there.
46th Street and Times Square – they never fall asleep! Neon signs, music, restaurants, street performances – that’s what distinguishes the central street of New York. In fact, everyday in New York could be a masterpiece, especially if this day is a holiday. During my first visit to New York I saw a great