My Fulfilling Journey Within the Cultural Exchange World

Bart Ilnicki, Regional Director, Alliance Abroad Central Europe

In my 20-year career in the Cultural Exchange World, the most rewarding part of my journey is assisting young people worldwide to experience the United States, understand its culture, and truly discover themselves. Seeing first-hand how these young people build relationships, network within the program, and then return to their home countries with a sense of accomplishment reaffirms that I have found my passion in work and life.

As regional director for Alliance Abroad Group, I often reflect on my rewarding adventures as a young student visiting the United States as the springboard into my successful career of recruiting young people from Europe to experience the American way of life.

It all began in 2001 when I was a college freshman who had just signed up for a cultural exchange program to work and travel in the United States for the summer. I was assigned a job on the beach, but it was quite a distance from my designated housing, which presented a significant problem for me. In addition, I was living with a group of other students—four from Poland, one from the Czech Republic, and one from Slovakia—and all of us were wondering how we would overcome this challenge.

At that point, an American couple who had two college-aged sons approached us. “Look,” they said, “We know you’re struggling with transportation, trying to fill your hours, and that everything is new for you as you’re here just to make a little money and get to know the culture. So, we’re offering that you stay at one of our houses—for free!”

As it turned out, they had a massive villa with a next-door beach house, which became our new summer home. A friend of theirs also helped us get a properly registered and insured car so we could go sightseeing and drive anywhere we wanted. After that, we were living the American dream.

The family even threw a Thanksgiving party for us in the middle of the summer so we could experience a unique part of American culture. They invited a whole bunch of neighbors and served an authentic Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. We met many people, spent time with their kids, played basketball and soccer, and enjoyed lots of time on the beach together.

After returning to Poland, I was delighted with my experiences, so I invited 20 more students to sign up for next summer so they could enjoy the same kind of benefits that I did. I also continued to participate in the program for five years.

On a personal level, the program helped me conquer my uncertainties about cross-cultural travel. I realized that I could navigate like a pro if I went anywhere in the world. I also learned to open up, meet so many new people, and enjoy the differences between various cultures.

Beyond that, the program helped set me up for a successful business career. My English improved dramatically, and I soon began working for an agency that recruited, interviewed and placed students in specific summer jobs within the United States. 

Several years later, I even opened up my own business and operated it successfully for many years until the COVID pandemic changed the world’s travel patterns. At that point, I found my current position at Alliance Abroad Group and have continued to thrive in this professional setting.

As I look to the future, I plan to continue growing personally and professionally within the Alliance Abroad Group. I am confident that we will successfully welcome increased numbers of young people to visit the United States and experience the opportunity of a lifetime.

I plan to continue within summer work-and-travel programs, whether a cultural exchange, internships, training, or camps in my work with Alliance Abroad Group. So who knows, maybe I will see you out there as you embark on your own incredible adventure!

Bart Ilnicki
Regional Director
Alliance Abroad Central Europe


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