Monthly Cultural Almanac: February 2020

Feb 4, 2020
February in the U.S. is an exciting month filled with cultural events.
Black History Month
Feburary 1-29 - All month long, we celebrate the contributions that African-Americans have made for our country. Black History Month is an annual observance in the United States in February. It began as a way for remembering important people and events in the history of African culture. You can celebrate by going to local museums or colleges to see Black History Month lectures and exhibits!
Academy Awards
February 9 - Are you a movie fan? The Academy Awards, more popularly known as “the Oscars,” are awards for achievement in the film industry. It is the oldest of four major annual American entertainment awards, which include the Emmy Awards for television, the Tony Awards for theater, and the Grammy Awards for music. The Academy Awards gathers billions of viewers throughout the world. This year’s nominees include movies from Brazil, France, Macedonia, Poland, South Korea, and Spain!
Valentine's Day
February 14 - Love is in the air! Valentine's Day is celebrated annually on February 14 and is a celebration of love and lovers. Across the United States, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Many school children exchange valentines with one another on this day. You can join in the fun too, by making cards or giving candy to your friends!
Presidents' Day
February 17 - Washington’s Birthday is a United States federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States, who was born on February 22, 1732. The day is also now widely known as Presidents’ Day and is often an occasion to honor all who have served as president, not just George Washington. Most businesses remain open with many offering sales and other promotions.

Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 3

Jan 31, 2020

Our participants have been working and training in a variety of fun and interesting positions this season. This week's theme was "At Work," and we received photos from chefs and lifeguards all across the country! You can see our top three picks for Week 3 below.


1st Place - Sarvesh J., India

The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV

"I love becoming family with my colleagues. It gives me pleasure, and I enjoy preparing different food with them."

Spirit Participant Sarvesh J.


2nd Place - Eduardo L., Peru

Split Rock Resort and Golf Club in Lake Harmony, PA

"My masterpiece shining in the United States."

Spirit Participant Eduardo L.


3rd Place - Heloisa D., Brazil

Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, WI

"The people I met here are incredible. No words to describe my supervisor so far. Everyone in the waterpark management has been really attentive and kind with the J-1s."

Spirit Participant Heloisa D.

Spirit Visits Turkey for 2020 Job Fair

Jan 30, 2020
Earlier this month, we traveled to Ankara, Turkey for an exciting week of cultural activities, Summer Work Travel preparation, and incredible Turkish hospitality. We began our week with meetings with representatives from two of our important Turkish agents, EDEX Overseas Education and Success International. Then we took part in a special service project coordinated by our partners at Yero International Exchange.
Two Yero representatives accompanied us to an apartment in Ankara, where a woman has been serving asylum seekers to Turkey for the past thirteen years with the Ankara Refugee Lunch Support Group. That day, there were a total of 25 international activists who came to make food for the asylum seekers waiting at UNHCR Turkey. We made soup and around 320 sandwiches, as well as sorted clothing donations.
Spirit Staff Making Food for UNHCR Turkey
We then walked over to the UNHCR offices where the food and clothes were distributed. Our efforts were appreciated, as Christina learned from a woman who traveled eight hours to get to the office and needed new shoes. Afterward, the volunteers got lunch together and learned they were made up of grad students, spouses of government workers, and exchange students from all over the world, and that some volunteered weekly. It was a meaningful and exciting day of service to the international community.
Along with representatives from Noah’s Ark Waterpark and Wilderness Resort, the staff from Yero showed us around to some of the most interesting spots in Ankara, including a beautiful mosque and Anitkabir – the mausoleum of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Our Yero partners were wonderful hosts, and every night we had fun going out to dinner and celebrating cultural exchange together.
Spirit Staff at the Yero Job Fair
When the two days of job fair came, our Host Employers were impressed with the students and their level of English. Almost every attendee was hired, and even more participants were hired than anticipated! Thank you to Yero International Exchange for being an amazing and accommodating host. We look forward to welcoming our Turkish participants this summer!
Meet Anna Marie!Meet Christina!

Spirit Externship with Noble Network of Charter Schools

Jan 22, 2020

The Noble Network of Charter Schools is an open-enrollment public charter school network with 17 campuses across Chicago and over 12,000 students in grades 9 through 12. Their Winter Externship Program is an opportunity for alumni to be immersed in the workplace in order to gain a better understanding of a career field. Spirit staff members participated in this year's program by planning activities suited to our extern's intended majors: Communications and Spanish.

Among those who worked with our extern, Aldo G. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, were two members of our Marketing team, who supervised the primary project - an audit of our Instagram account.

"Aldo showed great efficiency throughout the week and came up with his own way to conduct the audit and analyze his findings with the basic guidance he was given. He made full use of his project time each day and was very independent and efficient. His interest in the project and in the company were also great bonuses," said Chelsea Scarnegie, Communications Coordinator.

Noble Extern at the Spirit OfficeThroughout the week, Aldo attended meetings, toured the workplace, met our partners, and spent time with other members of our organization. The experience provided a thorough introduction to the work that goes into being a J-1 visa sponsor and working with international partners.

"Aldo was eager to learn about Spirit’s Agent pre-screening process and observed a call with a potential new partner. When asked for his feedback, he provided spot on observations about the call. I appreciated the way he was flexible with the initial Skype difficulties and felt that he carried himself in a professional manner," said Kailei Kluck, Internship Account Executive.

Spirit continually seeks out new partnerships that coordinate with our overall mission of working together to develop a "spirit" of international peace and understanding. Local organizations like Noble provide a great way for staff members to work together with our local community and to encourage young people from a variety of backgrounds to learn about the extraordinary benefits of international exchange.

We concluded the externship with a "performance review" and some suggestions for Aldo's resume!

Thanks to this exciting new partnership with Noble, we will now be offering all qualified alumni a chance to receive our Ecuador Volunteer Scholarship. We look forward to continuing this partnership in the future!

Spirit Gives Back 2019

Dec 17, 2019

American Red Cross

Spirit held a training event at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago that resulted in valuable mental health education of its staff and represented a valuable fundraiser for the local Red Cross chapter. Click here to read more about our Midwest Sponsors 2019 Health Safety Welfare Summit!


Beyond Hunger

In November, Spirit staff volunteered at Beyond Hunger, a hunger-relief organization that provides food, resources, knowledge, and skills to the people of Cook County. Our staff unloaded food trucks, sorted food by nutritional value, and bundled servings of produce.

From Beyond Hunger:

"It's because of our donors and volunteers that we are able to provide reliable services and share healthy food with the neighbors of our community. Yes, that helps provide our neighbors food when they need it. But it provides something more: A sense of certainty. Of safety. Of community. We reckon that's about as important as the food."

Spirit Staff at Beyond Hunger

Illinois Environmental Council

Spirit supports the work of the Illinois Environmental Council and was a Gold Sponsor of the Illinois Environmental Council fundraiser on December 3. This exciting event included food, drinks, raffle prizes, and a visit from Illinois Representative Will Guzzardi. Spirit’s “Green Team” enjoyed participating in the fundraiser and meeting other environmentally aware Chicago professionals.

Spirit Staff at the Illinois Environmental Council Holiday Fundraiser

Brookfield Zoo

Spirit participated in the Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic fundraiser and donated a tree to support Misericordia of Chicago. Misericordia offers a community of care that maximizes potential for persons with mild to profound developmental disabilities, many of whom are also physically challenged.

From the Brookfield Zoo Vice President of Government affairs:

"A big thank you to Spirit for donating a tree for Misericordia to decorate this holiday season. The group of 10 residents really enjoyed the experience."

Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic Fundraiser

Thank you to all of the above organizations for their wonderful work in helping the community!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: November 2019

Nov 6, 2019

Veterans Day

November 11 - Many Americans have relatives who have volunteered to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Veterans Day is an official U.S. public holiday observed annually on November 11 that honors military veterans. Because it is a federal holiday, some American workers and many students have Veterans Day off from work or school. It is celebrated with parades and church services, and in many places the American flag is hung at half-mast. A period of silence lasting two minutes may be held at 11am. Click here for a list of Veterans Day parades, events, and more!

International Education Week

November 18-22 – Celebrate international exchange experience! International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. Institutions across the United States and around the world are hosting events throughout the week to recognize international students, education abroad, and internationalization. Spirit will join institutions around the world to celebrate global exchange during the 2019 International Education Week. Attend events and help us spread the word about global exchange programs! Click here to find an event near you and send your photos and stories to to be featured on our Instagram page!


November 28 - Feeling hungry? Thanksgiving, currently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, has been an annual tradition in the United States since 1863. Historically, Thanksgiving has been a celebration of the blessings of the year, including the harvest. People will travel to see extended family or close friends and make a large dinner to spend the day with them and give thanks for what they have. We recommend trying popular dishes like green bean casserole, sweet potato, cranberry sauce, and - of course - turkey! If you want to make some traditional Thanksgiving foods yourself, be sure to check out these Thanksgiving dinner recipes. And check out this list of unique Thanksgiving events to attend!

Black Friday

November 29 – It’s shopping time! Black Friday is an informal name for the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It has been the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States since 2005. In order to take advantage of this, almost all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales including limited amounts of “doorbuster” items to bring in shoppers. Store openings can get very crowded and crazy! Spirit suggests you go shopping later in the day if you want to participate. Stay safe out there!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: October 2019

Oct 2, 2019

Columbus Day

October 14 – Since 1971, Columbus Day has been celebrated on the second Monday in October in the United States. It is generally observed by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service, federal agencies, state government offices, many businesses, and most school districts. Actual observance varies in different parts of the United States, ranging from large-scale parades and events to complete non-observance. Many people will travel for the long weekend or hang out with friends and family.


October 31 - Don’t be afraid! Halloween is a celebration observed on October 31. The main event for children of Halloween in the United States is trick-or-treating, in which children and their parents disguise themselves in costumes and go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling “Trick or treat!” to get a gift of candy or similar items. Teenagers and young adults will usually attend Halloween-themed costume parties hosted by friends either on Halloween itself or a weekend close to the holiday. Other popular activities are watching horror movies and visiting haunted houses. Click here for a list of the best Halloween festivals for 2019!

Pumpkin Festivals

Recommended Activity: Pumpkin Festivals – Across the country, farms are celebrating the season with family-friendly festivals where you'll find all the pumpkins, freshly baked desserts, and hayrides you could ever wish for. The Circleville Pumpkin Show is an annual festival held in Circleville, Ohio, about 30 miles south of the state capitol of Columbus. Considered to be the biggest festival in the United States dedicated to the pumpkin, it is often called “The Greatest Free Show on Earth.” The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival is a yearly celebration that is held in Laconia, New Hampshire before Halloween. Each year, New Hampshire residents and tourists try to get the largest number of lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place, to meet or beat the world record. Click here for a list of the best fall festivals across America!

October Traditions

Other October Traditions - No pumpkin festivals? No problem! There are other popular October traditions that you can experience wherever you are. You can carve a jack-o'-lantern, visit a pumpkin patch or corn maze, and try apple cider or candy corn! A jack-o'-lantern is a carved pumpkin associated with Halloween. A pumpkin patch is a garden where pumpkins are planted, commonly available for sale. A corn maze is a maze cut out of a corn field. Apple cider is the name used in the United States for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples. Candy corn is a candy most often found in the United States, popular primarily around Halloween. See how many you can experience!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: June 2019

Jun 3, 2019

LGBT Pride Month

June 1-30 - The month of June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to remember the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. “LGBT” are the initials that stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Many pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBT people have had in the world. Nearly every city has its own big event, which is usually a large parade with plenty of rainbow images, glitter, and floats driven by local companies and organizations. Pride Month is a celebration of love, and you’ll be seeing rainbows all month long! Click here to find an LGBT Pride event near you!

Flag Day

June 14 - In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It honors the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. Some organizations hold parades and events in celebration of America’s national flag and everything it represents. You’ll be seeing a lot of red, white, and blue this summer!

Father's Day

June 16 - Fathers get a special day, too! Father's Day is a celebration honoring fathers, celebrating fatherhood, and recognizing the influence of fathers in society. In the United States, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. Similar to Mother’s Day, families will usually gather to celebrate the father figures in their lives. Stores cater to the holiday by selling greeting cards and gifts such as electronics and tools.


June 19 - On June 19, 1865, the end of slavery was announced in Texas. Juneteenth is an American holiday that honors the freeing of enslaved African-Americans throughout the Lower South region of the United States. Today it is mostly observed in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and reading of works by famous African-American writers like Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations may include rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, or Miss Juneteenth contests. Click here to find a Juneteenth festival near you!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: May 2019

May 1, 2019

May Day

May 1 - Although celebrated with far greater fanfare in other countries, May Day, usually celebrated on May 1, is a celebration of spring as well as a day honoring organized labor. In some parts of the United States, May baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. In Minneapolis, the May Day Parade and Festival is presented annually on the first Sunday in May and draws around 50,000 people to Powderhorn Park.

Cinco de Mayo

May 5Looking to add a touch of Mexico to your time in the United States? Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration held on May 5 to honor the Mexican Army’s surprising victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. More popularly celebrated in the United States than Mexico, the date has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture. To celebrate, many display Cinco de Mayo banners, go into town for local festivities, and eat Mexican food. Some schools hold special events to educate students about the importance of Mexican culture. If you join the fun, be sure to support restaurants owned by local Mexican immigrants for a truly authentic experience!

Mother's Day

May 12 - Mothers are an important part of an American’s life! Mother's Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as the importance of motherhood and the influence of mothers in society. The United States celebrates Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. Before the big day, daughters and sons go shopping to find the perfect gift for Mom. Mother’s Day is one of the biggest days for sales of flowers, greeting cards, and other gifts used to show appreciation for everything the mother has done for the family.

Memorial Day

May 27Kick off the summer season with a truly American weekend! Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service; others will either travel for the long weekend or hang out with friends and have a barbecue. Memorial Day weekend is considered the unofficial start of summer, and American tourism starts to get busy!

Exchange Week in the District 2019

Apr 25, 2019

Spirit teamed up with four other J-1 sponsors to organize meetings with various Members of Congress across Wisconsin throughout the week. Christina led a meeting  in Madison, Wisconsin, with Congressman Mark Pocan, whose district includes part of the Wisconsin Dells. Congressman Pocan expressed support of cultural exchange programs and awareness of the economic impact that J-1 programs have on the Wisconsin Dells. Spirit and other sponsors invited Wisconsin Dells host employers to attend the meeting and Congressman Pocan enjoyed speaking with his constituents and learning more about the benefit from cultural exchange and enrichment it brings to their community.

In Illinois, Greenheart Exchange organized meeting with several members of Congress. First was a meeting at the office of Senator Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth’s staffers at the meeting specialized in education and immigration/foreign relations. They were each extremely supportive of international exchange and offered their support for the various programs and organizations that meeting attendees represented.

There were plenty of stories to share about individual cultural exchange experiences and the lives that have been impacted by exchange programs in Illinois, from high school students to professional trainees.

Congressman Danny K. Davis also took the time to meet with the group of sponsors. It was exciting to hear the ways that Davis had personally benefitted from cultural exchange programs both as a young person and throughout his long career as a Representative of Illinois 7th district. He was very generous with his time and hopes to attend the Chicago Exchange Day event in August.

While Advocacy Day focuses on the national impact of exchange programs, Exchange Week in the District highlights the value of cultural exchange on a more local level. To see more of the advocacy meetings that took place all across the country, be sure to check out the Alliance for International Exchange Twitter page!