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.
We are excited to introduce our first finalist, Kelice McCalla. Kelice participated in Spirit’s program in 2008, where she worked at Alder Gulch Accommodations in Montana. Read on to hear more about her experience on her program and about how it helped her in current position within the Jamaican government.
Please tell us about an experience you had or a person you met in the US that made an impression on you.
I met my boss, Linda Hamilton and her husband. They were exceptionally good to us. They treated us like we were like family. They brought us to the mountains and helped us explore Montana. It was really different because it would have been summer in Jamaica and it was snowing in Montana. So it was different but very nice. We also saw snakes in the water which we don’t have in Jamaica. So it was different, but it was okay.
They had a great impact. They treated me professionally and were kind. Their hospitality was awesome.
How did your experience change your perspective on the United States?
I now recognize and acknowledge and respect the different cultures. It made me realize that, yeah we live in different places and we tend to have more experiences when we travel. To do these exchanges it enhances your thinking and problem solving skills, because you’re somewhere different and it forces you to push yourself and work in a different environment and adapt to it.
How do you think your experience helped you make the world a better place once you got home?
The program helped with my communication skills and in relating to others of different ethnic backgrounds, it’s one of the best experiences that I have ever had. The program builds you personally and professionally, and even for the long term. It helps you grow.
Can you explain how you got your position with the government and what you do there?
My educational background in Management Information Systems helped me get my position. My current project that I'm working on for the government is a HR & Payroll system. This is to bring about some form of standardization within the public sector and for a whole new transformation on getting things done more accurately and efficiently.
My experience working with the government has been a tremendous one. The reason for this is that it provides a large network for me to meet and greet with persons of different backgrounds in ethnicity and caliber but most of all its given me the chance to make my mark in the business world by portraying my skill sets.
It’s an amazing thing to be working on a project for the government, because once you get a project, you have to work on the project until it is completed. So it is important that you remain focused and do a good job because you want to achieve your employer’s goals and desires, and you want to be selected for the next project.
How did the SWT program help you succeed in your position?
I have to communicate with people on a daily basis, I need to know how to greet people, meet people and adapt to people.
When I was in Montana I was always engaging with visitors so my customer service had to be on par. It helped me bring out these skills professionally, and now I’m able to enhance them today.
Why do you think that cross cultural exchange is important?
It is important for young adults because it gives us the opportunity to learn and develop tendencies of other cultures, and respect what they’re about. It’s important not to discriminate, it’s important to accept, learn and understand them. And respect them most of all.
This program gives people the opportunity to learn. And sometimes this program is the only opportunity for students to go to another country. Without this program they will lose out on all the benefits. And they would be grateful for this opportunity. And in years to come, young people will have the same exceptional good things to say about it.
It’s been almost ten years since you came to the US on the SWT program, what would you tell yourself before coming to the US?
I was always wanting to go to the United States! So I would still work hard and ask my parents to send me on this program. Being in the US, living there for a while, you get to understand, meet the people, learn their dreams and their goals and make your program what it is.