For some of you this might be a bubble-bursting read so stop reading now if you don’t want your dream-like vision of the US be disturbed. So. I’ve spent two summers in the US working summer jobs as a European student through the Work and Travel program which has been pretty popular among non-western European students since it enables them to spend a summer in the US, work, earn some money and travel across the country. Sounds as an amazing opportunity, right? Well, it is. Or at least it can be if you set your expectations right. The thing is, many students will tell you only about the good side of this experience because their pride doesn’t allow them to admit that their American summer was less than only rainbows and butterflies so you come to expect that it really is a dream-like vacation. The only difference being that it is not a vacation. It is work. So, let’s start from that.
Even though you can spend your summer with only one job, the one that had brought you there, you are most likely to have (at least) two jobs because you soon realize that you won’t be able to have any savings with only one source of income. Reasons for this may vary – you might not get enough hours in a week, the season or the place you work at may be slow (if you work on tips) or you might just want to earn as much as possible. Having two or more jobs means that you don’t have much free time to actually enjoy summer and everything boils down to late night hangouts when you and your roommates finally get home from work. This was a problem for me because I don’t like to sacrifice my sleep and be sleepy and cranky the next day, so I would always rather go to sleep after work (and by this I mean after 11, 12 p.m.) than do so at 3 or 4 a.m. But, surprisingly, having only one job doesn’t make things much better. This is because most of your roommates/friends do have at least two jobs which means that you are bound to spending most of your free time alone. Even if you don’t mind doing so, you probably won’t have many things to do and this is where I reach my second point.
W&T mostly takes place in small, touristic places on the coast where students as workforce are mostly needed and which don’t offer much more than the beach, restaurants and clubs. Believe me, all of that gets boring in a few weeks at best. If you get a job in a city this won’t apply, but that’s rarely the case. Next thing that people going to the US should be warned about is the food. It is not good, it is expensive and mostly tastes as if you are eating cardboard or crazy amount of sugar and fat. No exaggeration here. It is really hard to eat healthy because all the food somehow seems fake.
So, after being a waiter or a cook or a ride operator or all three for three or four months in a small touristic resort you finally get to the fun part – travelling. This is great, but there are also a few thing worth considering here. First of all, travelling doesn’t always equal vacation. Most of the students want to see as much as possible in their travelling part which often means rushing from one place to another, sometimes even a couple of cities in a day which doesn’t actually give you a lot of chance to experience the place you are visiting. It also means a lot of time in planes/buses/trains/cars and a lot of suitcase-dragging, and as much as you can picture this as a great movie plot, in real life it only means work exhaustion being followed by travel exhaustion. And oh, when you get to travel it is not even summer anymore, but early fall, colder and rainier weather.
I decided to write a post about this topic because this program is almost always presented as a great way to experience American life and culture and nobody talks about the hard work, the exhaustion from the American tour and the fact that you won’t actually experience much of America by working on a small island with twenty hotels and fifteen restaurants. After all, you have to invest quite a lot of money in this program so it is best to know all sides to it before deciding to plunge in. I cannot say that I’m sorry I went there, but neither I enjoyed myself that much so I could say it had really payed off. Hadn’t been a fan of the country before I went there and I’m still not one.
Here is a picture that pretty much sums up the whole thing.