by Lauren Coffaro, Business Development Specialist, Career Advancement Program

Each and every day, I get the chance to help amazing and driven people from all around the world realize their dreams by coming to the U.S. for professional training with the J-1 Intern/Trainee visa program.  While in the U.S., I hear interns and trainees recount stories of how their lives, their skills, and their worldview have changed dramatically.  Most of these exchanges take place from a distance, I in the Greenheart International Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, and the interns/trainees spread out across the United States.

So I am always thrilled to visit CCI Greenheart’s Interns and Trainees in their “natural habitat…” at their host organizations!  Conducting site visits to host organizations is a wonderful way to not only ensure hosts of J-1 Interns and Trainees are having a positive experience with the program, but also to check in our interns and trainees and learn about their life, lessons, and memories in the U.S. first-hand.

In January 2014, I traveled to sunny Florida, where CCI Greenheart held our first ever Going Greenheart Tour in West Palm Beach at Mounts Botanical Garden.  There, I met a true Greenheart superstar, J-1 Trainee Renato from Brazil, who joined me for a day of volunteering, pizza, and conversation.  Mounts Botanical Garden is open to the public and showcases some of the unique flowers, trees, mosses, and vines that are native to tropical southern Florida.  Renato and I helped out the hard-working gardeners there by weeding flower beds that line the lovely walking trails of the gardens.  Renato shared how volunteering regularly in the U.S. has shaped his professional training experience into something extraordinary.

The rest of my visit was even more successful.  Interns regaled me with stories of their travels: Everglades National Park, South Beach Miami, Walt Disney World, Key West.  Others described the lessons they’d learned: mastering the computer system, becoming an expert on American wines, memorizing details of fine dining, communicating effectively with colleagues.  Interns laughed and reminisced on interactions they had with community members learning about their countries for the first time, lovingly described the friends they’d made in their American colleagues, and shared the fond memories of living in the U.S. that they would carry with them throughout their lives.

My visit to Florida’s East Coast this January was a lively reminder of the impact that the J-1 Intern/Trainee program has across the U.S., an oft life-changing series of lessons, learning, friendship, and fellowship which I’m proud to support, each and every day.