Midwest Sponsors 2019 Health Safety Welfare Summit

Apr 12, 2019

With the busy summer season rapidly approaching, the Midwest Health Safety Welfare Summit functions to heighten awareness about participant safety, provide relevant training, and inspire new initiatives to further improve J-1 participant health, safety, and welfare.

The day began with breakfast and an opportunity for employees from all three Midwest sponsors to mingle before the presentations. This year’s presenters included U.S. Department of State Representative Lynette Evans-Tiernan, author and licensed therapist Shannon Plate, and Spirit Director Michelle Chapman-Rienstra.

Lynette Evans-Tiernan discussed the “pillars of public diplomacy” as they pertain to the J-1 visa program. She explained why the Department of State felt that the program was valuable and how we can use our unique positions as J-1 sponsors as a way to advocate for cultural exchange programs.

In Shannon Plate’s presentation, “Counseling 101,” she focused on good communication skills when dealing with someone who is suffering from emotional trauma or a mental health problem. Part of the discussion included practicing good communication using hypothetical situations.

Following Plate was Spirit’s Michelle Chapman-Rienstra, who discussed the ways that sponsors were addressing sexual harassment. She presented many useful materials like slideshow presentations and flyers that host employers could use in training sessions that address sexual harassment and help spread awareness to all participants on the program.

After lunch, attendees were broken into teams and discussed best practices and opportunities for collaboration. Topics discussed included:

  • Housing
  • Anti-trafficking
  • Mental health
  • Cultural activities
  • Alumni engagement

Overall, the Midwest Safety Summit was a productive day of sharing perspectives, brainstorming new ideas and networking with others in the industry.

Special thanks to the teams at Greenheart International and CENET for helping to coordinate such a successful event, and to the American Red Cross in Chicago for the use of their excellent facilities!


Monthly Cultural Almanac: April 2019

Apr 4, 2019



Opening Day

First Week of April - American football season is out, and baseball season is in! Opening Day is the day on which professional baseball leagues begin their regular season. For Major League Baseball and most of the minor leagues, this day typically falls during the first week of April. Baseball fans use the occasion as a chance to forget last season, since all 30 of the major league clubs and their millions of fans begin with 0-0 records. Going to a major or minor league baseball game is a fun cultural activity that anyone can enjoy!

National Library Week

April 7-13 - First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association and libraries across the United States each April. Each year, the week has a new theme! This year’s theme is "Libraries = Strong Communities." The theme aims to show how libraries are at the heart of our cities, towns, and schools, providing important resources for the whole community. Throughout the week, join in on celebrations, conferences, and events around the country in honor of our libraries!

Visiting your area’s library is a great cultural activity that can give you useful information about where you’re living. Many local libraries offer free events, so be sure to grab a schedule while you’re there! Click here to find a library near you.

Tax Day

April 15 - In the United States, Tax Day is the name of the day when individual income tax returns are due to be submitted to the federal government. Since 1955, Tax Day has typically fallen on April 15. People are encouraged to file a return on the Internet since this is efficient, and it reduces the risk of mistakes being made or documents being lost in the mail. While Americans may feel stressed about submitting their tax returns on time, everyone loves getting a little of their money back from the government!

Keep your eyes out for emails from Spirit about our partner When it comes time for you to file your taxes, can make the process simple.


April 21 - When you start seeing stores fill up with bunny decorations and candy eggs, you know that Easter is on its way! Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Many Americans take part in the tradition of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving baskets of candy to children! Easter parades are held in many American cities, with the New York City parade being the most well-known.

Earth Day

April 22 - Caring for the planet is an important value for many Americans. Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22, marking the anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement in 1970. Today, the fight for a clean environment continues with great urgency, as the effects of climate change become more visible each day. Many communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on the environmental issues that the world faces. See if you can find an Earth Day activity near you and pitch in to make our world a better place!

Our 2019 Winter Photo Contest

Mar 20, 2019

The 2019 Winter Photo Contest marks our 3rd annual photo contest for participants on the winter Work and Travel program, as well as the Intern and Trainee programs. For nine weeks in the winter, we announce a different weekly photo theme for anyone who wants to participate. To enter, participants must be following us on Instagram (@spiritexchange) so they can tag us. They must also use the hashtag #ShowYourSpirit. It's as easy as that!

At the end of the nine weeks, we announced our final Grand Prize Winner - Ana L. from Hotel Terra Jackson Hole! She received a GoPro camera (and plenty of bragging rights!). We hope you enjoy viewing the winning photos and getting a taste of all the cool things our participants have been doing!

Week 1 - Holiday Celebrations

Winner: Irish I. from St. Louis Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, MO

Week 1 Winner

Week 2 - Your New Friends

Winner: Twitchelle Z. from The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV

Week 2 Winner

Week 3 - At Work

Winner: Maria M. at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Week 3 Winner

Week 4 - Winter Fun

Winner: Ivaylo A. from Rainbow Leather in College Point, NY

Week 4 Winner

Week 5 - Your Town

Winner: Ana L. from Hotel Terra Jackson Hole in Teton Village, WY

Week 5 Winner

Week 6 - Keeping Warm

Winner: Ricardo I. from Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Week 6 Winner

Week 7 - Dinner with Friends

Winner: Cristiano S. from Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Week 7 Winner

Week 8 - Your Boss or Coworkers

Winner: Cede G. from Azabu Miami Beach in Miami Beach, FL

Week 8 Winner

Week 9 - Your Favorite Memory

Winner: Javier T. from Safeway in Frisco, CO

Week 9 Winner

Congratulations to all of our 2019 Winter Photo Contest winners! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. Keep exploring!

Spirit Attends Advocacy Day 2019

Mar 14, 2019

Advocacy Day is hosted by the Alliance for International Exchange as “a distinct opportunity for Alliance members to come together and educate Members of Congress about the value of international exchange in their respective districts and states.”

Day 1 of this two-day event focuses on educating attendees on the nuts and bolts of advocacy work as well as the challenges facing the Educational and Cultural Exchange programs designated by the State Department. The evening reception is spent networking with one another and learning about the international exchange work of other Alliance members. This year, speakers included Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and French Hill, a U.S. Representative from Arkansas. They each spoke highly of the value of cultural exchange and the international exchange programs that promote it across the U.S.

Advocacy Day Reception

On Day 2, attendees were broken up by state into groups of two to four. Christina joined “Team Illinois” in meeting with various staff members of Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Rep. Danny K. Davis. At these meetings, Team Illinois spoke with staffers about international exchanges and ways that the Members of Congress can support the work of educational and cultural exchanges. Staff members were invited to local celebrations for Exchange Day, which will take place August 5, 2019.

Team Illinois: Christina (Spirit Cultural Exchange), Bonnie (Greenheart International), and Russ (Hostelling International)
("Team Illinois": Christina from Spirit, Bonnie from Greenheart, and Russ from Hostelling International)

Overall, the staff members were supportive of international exchange programs, understanding the value that international exchange brings to the economy and to national security.

This is the sixteenth year that the Alliance has organized Advocacy Day for its members, and Spirit is grateful to have been part of this event for the fifth year in a row.

Special thanks to the Alliance for International Exchange, and especially Ilir Zherka and Sue Yang, for organizing such an educational and enjoyable event!

Interested in learning more about advocacy for international exchange? Click here for resources!

Spirit Celebrates International Women's Day

Mar 8, 2019

According to the International Women's Day website, this is "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."

With the help of our international partners and U.S.-based Host Companies, we at Spirit are committed to bringing cultural exchange to young women around the world. We're proud to provide these women experiences that will transform them into the world's future leaders, teachers, and creators.

Participating in cultural exchange programs empowers young women, providing them with a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.

At Spirit, more than half of our participants are female, and each year we help many young women take part in the training opportunities of their dreams in a number of professional environments. Many of them excel in fields that have traditionally been dominated by men.

We look forward to a future, more gender-balanced world where women have the opportunity to contribute fully in creating a "spirit" of international peace and understanding.

Click here to watch our video celebrating what cultural exchange means to women.

International Women's Day Video

International Dinner at YMCA of the Rockies

Mar 5, 2019

Each year, YMCA of the Rockies hires staff from all around the world, and this winter, there are four Spirit participants who have been living and working in Estes Park and experiencing all that Rocky Mountain life has to offer.

According to their website, “To celebrate all of the different and unique cultures and traditions of the staff, the YMCA of the Rockies hosts an International Dinner every year. The International Dinner gives the staff the opportunity to cook a traditional meal and share their traditions from their home country.”

YMCA International Dinner

This year, eleven countries were represented at the International Dinner, from China to Brazil. J-1 participants at the YMCA cooked traditional dishes from their home countries and even shared a piece of their culture by performing traditional dances for the attending community members.

In fact, there were over one hundred guests from the Estes Park community who attended this event and got to experience their own “trip around the world.”

The participants enjoyed interacting with the community and sharing the richness of their home countries with Estes Park. Dishes included Colombian Ajiaco soup and Meringues from Chile, and the United States served tapioca pudding!

YMCA International Dinner

J-1 Interns at the YMCA ran the International Dinner, acting as the evening’s MCs and using the skills they’ve been learning to host the successful event.

Overall, it was a great night, and we loved seeing both the local and international communities interacting and learning from one another.

Check out more photos below:

Winter Trip to the Wisconsin Dells

Feb 21, 2019

2019 Alumni Event with Yero

Feb 18, 2019

Spirit Announces New J-1 Teacher Program

Jan 29, 2019

Spirit partners with accredited K-12 schools across the USA to help match them with qualified international teachers for a period of 1-3 years. Spirit’s international teachers bring both their expertise in teaching and the rich history of their home culture to the Host School and community.  Formal cross-cultural events and virtual classroom exchanges are arranged during the program to familiarize the school and community with the teacher’s home culture and its citizens. The J-1 Teacher Program is a wonderful way for American Host Schools to bring the world home to their students and communities!

Placements for the 2019-2020 school year are available for experienced international teachers with at least two years teaching full-time in the areas of Spanish, Mandarin, or Special Education.  Accredited K-12 schools in the USA interested in hosting an international teacher are also encouraged to contact us for more information at

Want to learn more? Click here to download our information flyer!

Volunteer Event with Gloex

Jan 24, 2019

Giving back to the community is a powerful way to bring people together from around the world. Thanks to the efforts of Gloex staff and Spirit representative Colleen, as well as representatives from Noah’s Ark Water Park, YMCA of the Rockies, and Wilderness at the Smokies, our service project in the Dominican Republic was an enriching experience for everyone involved, including the local community.

Twelve Gloex and Spirit Work and Travel program alumni showed up to help clean a local beach that was unfortunately covered in trash from the nearby rivers. A group of young boys were playing baseball near the site and were curious enough to come over, ask questions, and ultimately offer their assistance in the beach cleanup effort.

Local authorities noticed as well, and they explained that the rivers carry trash from all over the community and deposit it at the beach. While they do the best that they can to keep the beach clean for the public, it is a constant effort, and they were very happy to have the extra help, taking pictures with all of the volunteers.

The attending employers and past participants liked interacting with each other on a personal level. They learned a lot about what the alumni have been up to since the completion of their Work and Travel program. One young woman mentioned that she has begun studying to be an engineer!

Volunteer service is emphasized when participants are in the U.S. on the Work and Travel program as a meaningful way to engage with their local communities and learn about the importance of volunteering in American civic life. Spirit participants frequently participate in service projects during their time in the U.S., so it was important to make sure that we joined them in giving back to their own hometown in the Dominican Republic.

The staff at Gloex, led by Wally the General Manager, has a passion for bringing awareness for environmental issues. A beach cleanup project was the perfect way to bring a local community together toward the wider goal of environmental protection across the globe.

Overall, the project was a huge success with over twenty bags of trash collected!

It was a great way to learn more about the environment of the Dominican Republic and to get to know our former participants as they use their tools from the Work and Travel program to achieve an exciting future.

Special thanks to Waly from Gloex for getting the word out locally, and a big shout-out to the alumni who were so excited to come out and spend their morning with us!

Want to see more from the volunteer event? Check out this awesome video from Gloex!

Global Educational Exchange Video

See more photos below: