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Exploring the impact of the Work & Travel USA program, then and now


“Increase mutual understanding between people of the United State and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges” - Fulbright-Hays Act

In 2015, CIEE Work & Travel USA provided international exchange opportunities for some 20,000 young people. Students came in large numbers from countries like Thailand, Ireland, Bulgaria, China, and Romania but they also came from Ghana, Jordan, Venezuela, Egypt, and Ecuador. Each one of these students represents a story – a young woman from Turkey going to the United States for the first time and learning about culture and norms here, or a student from China who may have a very different perception of the law and authority based on his own experiences at home. Each student that experiences the U.S. while on the Work & Travel USA program retells their own story to their family and friends at home – a significant multiplier effect. At the very core, the Work & Travel USA program is a powerful tool for public diplomacy.

Given your role as host and the strong ties you build with students, we want to hear from all of you on how you keep in touch and engage with your students once they return home. Stories are fundamental to understanding the impact the Work & Travel USA has, and we want to hear from you on what your students are up to now. Are they pursuing their dream of opening a business, managing a multinational corporation, or following their career path in whatever shape they want it to take? Please share with us these stories and we welcome photos!
In this month’s spotlight you’ll hear Sheyla’s story and hope that you have stories like this to share with us!


Sheyla Ventura, 28, is a journalist and project manager in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2006, Sheyla traded the Brazilian sunshine for Chicago snow to work at a jewelry company, Sterling Works, during her summer break from University.

WAT - Spotlight - Sheyla Ventura

All photos: Sheyla Ventura

When she arrived in Chicago, Sheyla was only 18 years old; the freedom and independence of living in downtown Chicago, alongside other Brazilian and Argentinian exchange participants, was both exhilarating and challenging. She says that one of the most surprising aspects of her Work & Travel USA experience was the cultural diversity of Chicago. “I learned so much about different cultures, and looking at the other side of the U.S. was really empowering for me,” she explains. “I didn’t know I was really into hip-hop!”

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Sheyla says that her time in the U.S. was a formative experience both personally and professionally. Although her work in the jewelry shop was not directly related to her career path – Sheyla was in law school at the time – she notes that the training she got during her job contributed to her professional development. She says that receiving feedback from her American coworkers was significantly different from her experience in Brazil, and that her English improved during her time abroad.

“You’re going to feel like you’re not just Brazilian anymore, you’re more of a world citizen, and it is really amazing.”

Sheyla has advice for anyone considering working abroad: just do it! -- and maybe check the weather before you go. She says that her American friends were helpful in her process of adapting to American culture and learning English, and that her program changed her outlook on the world. “Once you return home, you’re going to feel like you’re part of the world,” she says. “You’re going to feel like you’re not just Brazilian anymore, you’re more of a world citizen, and it is really amazing.”

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After Sheyla returned to Brazil, she decided to focus her career path on journalism; inspired by her experience and independence in Chicago, she decided to move to Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. Sheyla returned to school for journalism, and went on to earn an MBA in digital marketing. In the past ten years, she has worked in public relations, journalism, and social media. Sheyla is currently working for a startup in product development and project management, and plans to eventually pursue a career in Silicon Valley, California. “It will be a second challenge to go back to the US,” she laughs. “It will be like I’m 18 again!”

– Jessica Kissell, CIEE Employer Relations Director