J1 Experience in times of COVID-19


My US experience by Hatitye Makinzi

When the covid19 pandemic hit the entire World, it surely brought uncertainty across the board […] High levels of precautions were put in place, to ensure the wellbeing of all J1s.

Arriving in the snowy Wisconsin Dells neighborhood on the 10th of November 2019, it was an epic moment for me especially coming from the fair summer Cape Town weather. It was a totally different and thrilling vibe for me since it was my first time to be in a snowy environment. The fact that I had traveled over 26 hours by plane from Cape Town to Chicago, did not matter because I was so energized and looking forward to meeting new people, explore the surroundings, etc.

The warm welcome I received from the Housing staff at Hiawatha Residence was amazing. I was roomed with 2 roommates who come from China and Ecuador, and this was the exact environment I needed in order to mingle. On the 11th of November, I met up with other J1s from Thailand and we shared the taxi going to Human Resources so we could get ourselves registered and do our orientation. We were met by Tori, who works in the HR department, she was very welcoming and very hospitable, at that moment I felt at home. We were scheduled for shifts starting that afternoon and we were greeted with a warm welcome by the Front Office staff who were all friendly and helpful, that even our training process was extremely easy going. During November and December, more J1s joined the team, we had J1s from Peru, Brazil, Thailand, Jamaica, and South Africa in 1 basket. I can say my 2019 ended in a joyful manner, I managed to try and kick into the American groove of celebrating Festive Season, and I must say I did well in adjusting. I spent my Christmas Eve with my newly found friends, and we had an International dinner party where everyone cooked their staple food which was contributed to the party. On the 31st of December, I was staffed to work at the Waterpark where Mt Olympus hosted the End of Year Party for the guests, that whole experience was amazing because as I managed to get a glimpse of how the locals spend their New Year’s Eve and all I can say is there was love in the air that night.

One of the most encouraging and motivating moment was when I was promoted from being a Front Desk Agent to a Supervisor position, 6 weeks after starting my program. This initiative totally boosted my confidence as I knew that I was going to take on more responsibilities and I would explore more than I expected. The year kicked off on a good note, I also took part as the face of Mt Olympus when I posed as a Model, and in the photo was me, Fontini Laskaris “Mt Olympus Owner’s Daughter” and another gentleman. I felt that history was repeating itself since I had been The Face of Ellerman House Cape Town during my time there.

When the covid19 pandemic hit the entire World, having a large case number in the US, it surely brought uncertainty across the board as everyone was trying to adjust to the survival mode so they could get past this scary and traumatizing time. I must say I commend and salute Mt Olympus Management Team, Hiawatha Residence Hall Staff, and the Wisconsin Dell’s residence for putting all J1s under their wings in order to see us go past this just like everyone else. High levels of precautions were put in place, day to day check-ups on everyone were done, there we initiatives to provide free accommodation and free food for all J1s, healthcare was provided to anyone infected or exposed to the pandemic, the list is endless. I felt very safe the entire time and I am forever grateful for how everyone quickly jumped on board and positively responded to tackle this pandemic and prevent it from spreading, Wisconsin Dells did exceptionally well.

Although there were darker days caused by the pandemic and despite that most activities were affected, I can say I was fortunate enough to explore in the first few months of my program. I managed to explore the nearby towns, local restaurants and some local touring activities. During the last 7 months of my program, I did not get a lot of access to explore much as everything was limited, hence I spent more time indoors and avoiding large gathering just to reduce the risk of getting exposed. Regardless of all that, should I get another chance to relive this moment again, I would grab it with both hands. I surely created lasting memories during my time in Wisconsin Dells.

I know on your side as AAG Team, you took quite a big knock as well, but I hope things are getting back to normalcy on your side.

Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity!

AAG is my family and I am forever grateful, humbled and I cannot stop bragging about the Top-Class service I received from you Deon, Maurisha, Jen, Christin Roth and the whole AAG Family.

Stay Blessed and Stay Healthy!

Hatitye Makinzi

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