By Alina Gabdrakhmanova, FLEX Student and Greenheart Club Member
Below Alina, the Greenheart Club Member who volunteered the most out of all other exchange students this year (368 hours) reflects on the trip she earned to Chicago. Alina also won a $500 grant to do a Greenheart project in her home country of Russia.

In the beginning of my year in the United States of America, I could not imagine that I would win a trip to Chicago for my volunteering work and to be recognized. I just did what I like to do and what I enjoy.

Doing volunteer work, I learned how to find a common language with little kids and how to work with them, to help environment, and how to be involved in community service projects. The experience that I got is an integral part of my successful year in the U.S. as I met many people through that and improved my social skills and life values. I saw the American life not only as an exchange student comparing the cultures, but also as an active member of that society.

Three other exchange students (Sunbul from Pakistan, Susanne from Netherlands, and Alex from Germany) and I were invited to Chicago as Top-4 volunteers from Greenheart Club to share our experience with CCI and be recognized for the hard work. Who could have known that these four days from 10 to 13 of May would be so unforgettable? On these four days we saw and did so many things!

On May 10, I had a flight from Houston to Chicago. Entering the baggage claim, in the far away I saw a young lady standing there with a hand-made poster with “Welcome Greenheart Winners” on it. Tiptoeing, I came closer to her and suddenly took a picture! That was my first picture in Chicago. The young lady’s name was Erin, she was going to be our chaperone. While waiting for the others to arrive we were talking about everything. Erin was a very interesting person and she works in CCI as a coordinator for the AYP Program.

Erin met us at the airport

After we  all  arrived, we had a dinner with CEO of CCI Laura Rose and with the founder and President, Emanuel Kuntzelman. We had a very nice talk, after that we started to the one of the highest buildings of Chicago to the 95th floor, where an amazing view spread out before our eyes. All the lights of Chicago buildings were lighting so beautifully!

Dinner with CEO Laura Rose

View of Chicago from the Hancock building

On Friday we had a tour in CCI -Greenheart offices where we met all the l people who work there to make our stay in the USA as good as possible. At lunch time we gave presentations about our volunteering experience to the CCI staff and ate Chicago style pizza! After the yummy lunch we headed out to the City Farm, where we not only helped, but also learned many new things about organic products and urban farming. One of the most significant moments of the day was riding a Segway! That was so amazing! I remember how scared we felt, however it turned out that riding it was easy. On the Segway we had a tour around Chicago. No less exciting, later in the evening was a dinner in the restaurant in style of 1950s. “Mean” and funny waiters, past time furnishings–everything caused such a joy! Everything seemed like in the movies!

Alina right on a Segway

Saturday was a busy day! In the morning we took part in the Greenheart Earth Olympics where we were active participants and more than once became winners. There we learned the difference between the tap and bottled water, did crafts, learned how to change wheels on a bicycle, and also learned some words in Polish and Portuguese. At the end of the event we were taught how to dance Puerto Rican dances. These Greenheart Earth Olympics were full of positivity and plenty of new and interesting information.

Susanne, Sunbul, and Alina at Greenheart Earth Olympics

Later on, we went to a baseball game of the White Sox team where we ate Chicago hotdogs. The conclusion of the day was a firework at the end of the game, – like a reminder that our remarkable time in Chicago was close to the end.

The Sunday morning was slightly sad since that was the ultimate day of our stay in this city. Got ready, we went for a walk in the Millennium Park. The weather was very pleasant, so we saw all the beauty of the park, and the Bean Sculpture! The view and atmosphere there were so gorgeous!

Alina at “The Bean”

At long last, after lunch we departed to the airport where after warm hugs and good wishes we said “Good buy” to each other.

Time I had in Chicago as one of the Top Greenheart volunteers were one of the best in my life. How the city met as with warm and sunny weather, and even with a little rain on the last evening, were unforgettable. I want thank the CCI staff for the opportunity to volunteer, encouraging, and always helping. An individual thanks are to Erin, our great chaperone. Thanks for her patience, hard work, and caring.

It is hard for me to express how grateful I am to my placement organization, CCI-Greenheart.  I can say with certainty that the Center for Cultural Interchange did everything possible and impossible to make my year bright!

P.S. Volunteers: try your best, do not be afraid of new things, and your effort will always be recognized and repaid with kindness.
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