Plan shorter road trips, you will get to know the real atmosphere

"Together with my boyfriend Boris, we spent two fantastic summers across the pond, which we still fondly remember today. We worked both summers in Jackson, New Hampshire. As we wanted to visit a lot of interesting places and intend to bring home some of the money we had saved, we had two jobs – working at the local golf course in the mornings and at a restaurant in the afternoons.”
Marcela Belianská from Topoľčiany
Student of journalism at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Comenius University
What were your working days like? Working at a golf course is both extremely pleasant and physically demanding. You drive a golf cart, take care of the lawn and flowers, collect lost golf balls, or prepare the sand on the course. Easy going, or as the Americans would say #easypeasy. The pace is faster in the restaurant – almost two thousand people came to the restaurant during the day, the tables were full and there was a line of people outside, waiting for an available seat. In the U.S., however, they are used to this kind of waiting and the residents like to wait for good food (I can’t quite imagine how the nature of Slovaks would show in such waiting times, haha). In the restaurant, I worked either as a “front desk person” – that is, as a hostess who welcomes guests and seats them at tables. Later, I wanted to try working in the kitchen, so I started preparing salads. Every day I prepared small sandwiches and delicious salads for hundreds of Americans. My boyfriend worked as a “busser” – his task was to clean the table after the guests left and prepare it for the arrival of new guests – you can say that he was a kind of right hand of the waiters. Since we were an extremely busy restaurant, time passed very quickly and before we knew it, it was the end of summer.

How was your life in Jackson?

It’s not a huge city illuminated by the lights of evening establishments – but it is the most charming American small town I’ve ever seen. A town where you don’t have to worry about people in the evenings, but rather moose crossing the road. A town where you don’t fall asleep to the sounds of driving cars, but to the sounds of the forest and the waterfall, which is only a few minutes away. It is an ideal location for those who prefer a quiet place in a pleasant natural environment.

What type of people do you think the Work & Travel program is most suitable for?

I think it’s for everyone. Regardless of gender, nationality, skin color, or religion. And that’s the wonderful thing about the program – that it connects and creates unique friendships between people from different corners of the world. More introverted types can settle down in a quieter town or surrounded by the trees of a national park during the summer. Extroverts will come to their own in large amusement parks or in coastal cities full of people and shops. But for whom, in my opinion, the program is not very suitable, are people who cannot or do not want to tolerate other cultures or nationalities. However, for those who do, the program can become a perfect life experience that will open their eyes in many ways.

The strongest experience of the American summer?

Getting engaged at sunrise on a cruise ship en route to Mexico. My boyfriend and I spent two summers in America, each time we traveled a lot and both times we didn’t miss a cruise – the first summer in the Caribbean, the second in Mexico. And it was here that I experienced a moment that was just the icing on the cake of two wonderful summers in the U.S. But we can’t forget other magical moments – the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, New York from the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building, a basketball game in a sold-out stadium in Washington, the huge trees in Sequoia NP or the usual “beer pong” made famous by American movies, taught to us by Americans.

Is there something you didn’t expect that the program brought you?

I expected to visit many places – it happened. I expected to improve my English – it happened. I expected to meet a lot of interesting people – it happened too. However, what I did not expect was that, thanks to ordinary work in the kitchen, I would learn unique cooking tricks that I still use in cooking today. Work and Travel in the U.S. brings great benefits – it’s not so much about the money earned, but mainly about the travel experiences, unique life experiences and, above all, broadening your personal horizons.

If you had to repeat your summer in America, would you do anything differently?

I would go from my first year in college. Every single year. It is a great pity that I only found out about the program later – or my fault that I didn’t decide until then and didn’t go into it earlier. There is really nothing to be afraid of, the process of finding a job and handling documents is not difficult, and every agency is ready to help and do everything to make the American summer special for the students. However, if someone is afraid to go alone, it is possible to get a partner – and traveling in pairs is also more pleasant.

Would you prepare something else for the trip?

I would take less stuff in general – and leave the suitcase half-empty so that when I return home, I have enough room for all the things that one buys in the U.S. Whether it’s super cheap clothes, cosmetics, electronics, or travel souvenirs. And I wouldn’t have the stress of the language anymore – in the U.S., nobody really cares about grammar, pronunciation or speed of reactions. Americans are more inclined to help, to explain – not to laugh if you happen to get the word order of a sentence wrong. The second year I already knew it and went into it with much more self-confidence.

Any travel tips or practical advice on what to pack?

I would recommend dividing individual travel circuits around the U.S. into at least two summers – during the first visit, for example, the west of the U.S. (National Parks plus “must see” cities such as San Francisco, L.A., or Las Vegas) and the second year to go to the east coast, for example. This approach will ensure you get to experience the real atmosphere of the cities with everything that goes with it. When planning road trips, I prefer to visit fewer places and really absorb the atmosphere. After all, a person can return to the U.S. for another year, as long as they are still a university student. As for your luggage – be sure to take your passport and all the necessary documents, including your work permit. You also need to take some cash for the first week – you will only get paid after the first week has been completed, but on the first days you will want to buy groceries, pay for accommodation, etc. In other words, a person should have some U.S. dollars in cash when entering the country. Be sure to take all the necessary electronics and chargers – but don’t forget that American sockets are different from European ones, so buy a special adapter before leaving Slovakia (they probably sell it in every electric store for a few euros :). Among the electronics, a camera or a GoPro camera should not be missing, so that you can record all the great experiences that await you (of course, a smartphone will do, haha). You don’t need to take too many clothes – you will be in work clothes or a uniform at work and you won’t really have time to bring out all the outfits you have prepared for the whole summer. Clothes are also extremely cheap in the U.S., and brands that you would spend a fortune on in Slovakia cost a few dollars in America. So, take only a few pieces of clothing for every type of weather – don’t forget swimwear, flip-flops, sportswear or sneakers. We went to work by bike, so we also took basic reflective elements or a light to be sure (but if you don’t take it, Walmart sure does have it). If you also go to work by bike or on foot and happen to get caught in the rain, it’s great to have a raincoat handy. As for cosmetics, I would certainly not buy unnecessarily large packages of shampoos or creams there either – there is a wide range of diverse products in American drugstores. When packing, don’t forget the medicines you normally take or the medicines you usually take for health problems. Of course, you can also buy medicine in the USA, but it never hurts to have a mini travel first aid kit with you.