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“I’m without words,” is what Thato said when he learned that his story received the coveted Global Youth Travel Extraordinary Experience award. He literally was soaking it all in and then wanted to call his mother to share the news. Thato said she, too, was speechless after she learned that her son, living half way around the world, was being recognized in such a public and personal way. “She thought I was just coming to the United States to work,” Thato explains. “She can’t believe the encouragement and support I’ve gotten since coming here.” It’s been the most incredible experience and one that I hope becomes an inspiration for others, he told me later.
Thato’s video chronicling his journey from a South African township to an internship in the United States is making its way around the internet with over 7,000 views so far. Thato is both humbled and honored and feels hopeful that his story will inspire more students to travel. Thato describes his experience as a new beginning, not just for him, but for others he hopes will follow in his determined footsteps. “Not everyone can afford an opportunity like this,” Thato muses. “Without AAG, this would not have been possible for me.” He wants to implore more employers to give foreign students with similar aspirations a similar opportunity to work, travel, learn and contribute.
This experience has not just opened doors for me, it has the potential to impact others. “Maybe someone will see my story and believe that there is always something better out there. My mother is proud of my achievements and about how my story is helping to inspire others.”
He feels that he has grown personally, professionally and profoundly through this experience. It was a dream that for Thato has surpassed any of his most hopeful expectations. Thato’s advice to anyone with a dream or a purpose is sage. “If you are given an opportunity, grab it with both hands!”
Intrigued about cultural exchange or dreaming about living and working in a foreign country? There is no better endorsement than the real life stories of those who have had similar interests. A year ago Thato Khasuli was a local volunteer at the World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC), in Cape Town, South Africa. Today, Thato is a concierge at a luxury resort in a breathtaking mountain area in New Hampshire, USA. His journey half way around the world was recounted and submitted for the most coveted award in the youth and student travel industry and won. Why? Because Thato’s story reminds all of us in the business of cultural exchange and youth travel why we love what we do. And it encourages every young person who has ever dreamed of venturing beyond their own backyard or borders to take the same leap of faith, following in Thato’s amazing footsteps.
Travel and exposure to a different culture has opened Thato’s eyes and mind to a world of possibilities. Through his “Extraordinary Experience,” he has been both teacher and student, learning about the hospitality industry and a different way of life and teaching his friends, peers and business associates about his own country and customs. He has grown personally and professionally and has discovered that his greatest lessons have generally come from his most daunting challenges. Thato’s lasting legacy will be a reminder to all of us to be undaunted in the pursuit of our dreams and resolute in our commitment to achieve them.
Alliance Abroad is pleased and proud to be the winner of the WYSE Most Extraordinary Experience Award. We may have gotten the award and recognition for providing the experience, but Thato is the real winner. The honor for us is witnessing the fruits of our work and knowing that this experience has been a game changer for Thato and his family. That’s all the reward we need.
It’s been our life’s work to bring extraordinary experiences to thousands of global youths. It’s what motivates us and is still the passion behind our work.
We invite and encourage you to watch the video of Thato’s story and to stay tuned as we continue to follow his journey.
Keri Lowry on the State and Fate of J-1 Exchange Program
The newly appointed U.S. Department of State’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, Keri Lowry, will be attending The World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) later this month in Belgrade, Serbia. Keri oversees the U.S. Department of State’s Visitor Exchange program, which facilitates over 300,000 foreign visitors coming into the United States each year to teach, study and intern. The ultimate goal of the program is to create greater understanding and lasting connections among global youths. Keri is expected to provide important information and updates on the J-1 programs and the impact of current affairs on participants and providers.
“International education and cross-cultural exchanges are important elements of U.S. foreign relations. The people-to-people ties and transfer of knowledge achieved through international exchanges builds and sustains a more democratic, secure and prosperous world that benefits the entire global community. International exchanges are vital to our diplomacy efforts and establish lasting ties and relationships between individuals and nations,” said Ms. Lowry.
Current political and social unrest have shaken tourism and travel industries but youth travel remains strong maintains industry experts. The J-1 visa program is an important element in diplomacy and education and support continues as the program grows and evolves.
“I look forward to engaging with the global youth and stakeholders in the student and educational travel industry. Events like WYSTC help build people-to-people diplomacy by preparing young leaders and students globally to be engaged citizens, critical thinkers with broader perspectives of world, and an appreciation for cultural diversity and foreign languages. This ultimately helps break down stereotypes, transforming nations into peoples and translating ideologies into human aspirations.”
As cultural exchange enthusiasts, Alliance Abroad is passionate about the intangible and far-reaching benefits of visitor exchange programs. Because we believe that access to travel, education and amazing experiences shouldn’t be a privilege; it should be available to everyone, everywhere.
The World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) is the leading trade event for the global youth, student and educational travel industry. Since its inception in 1992, the conference has been held in a different international location and this year it will take place in Belgrade, Serbia September 20-23. Six hundred industry professionals from over 100 countries are expected to come together to network, exchange ideas and collaborate to fuel and further the youth and student travel industry.
David Chapman, Director General of WYSE Travel Confederation, the event sponsor, is optimistic about the strength and resilience of the youth travel market. “Despite the unsettled nature of travel as a whole, with terrorism and political unrest halting tourism in some areas, youth travel remains resilient. Not only do young people continue to travel during difficult times, but the agencies and organizations helping them also continue to offer new products and services that meet the needs of young travelers.
The conference covers all aspects and interests of the industry and is an incredible opportunity to strengthen partnerships and create new ones. The latest information on policies affecting the travel and tourism industry, innovations that improve the experience, industry trends and the emersion of new programs are some of the many topics discussed through workshops, networking and seminars.
WYSTC provides insights and education to the many influences and factors facing the industry and keeps us abreast and in tune with challenges and concerns of war, terrorism, safety and our important role as visa sponsors in facilitating safe and meaningful experiences.
Alliance Abroad is honored to be a finalist in the Most Extraordinary Experience category. Follow Thato Khasuli, our 2015 WYSTC intern recipient, on our blog and his amazing journey from South Africa to America. Thato reminds us that what we do has a higher purpose and can change the world…one person, company, community and country at a time.
Thato Khasuli’s story reminds us why we do what we do and why we believe in the higher purpose of our work. Though Thato’s tale is his own, in many ways he represents hundreds of thousands of young people around the globe – people with high hopes and taller obstacles. His is a story of perseverance and a testament to the power of the human spirit. His journey from a small township in South Africa to a resort town in New Hampshire gives us all reasons to believe that dreams can and do come true. One leap of faith and years of hard work set Thato on an incredible journey half way around the world that has been marked by lessons, friendships, insights and self-discovery.
In his own words, Thato tells his tale in this video about wanting, working, believing, praying and ultimately achieving.
Follow Thato on our blog as we continue to follow his journey that he hopes will serve as an inspiration for countless youths and businesses around the world.
Thato’s story will be shared at the World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) in Belgrade Serbia, September 20-23. We think his tale is remarkable enough to be recognized by the WYSE as Most Extraordinary Experience and it’s made the short list of contenders.
Watch the video and let us know what you think.