Exchange Visitor Welcome Night in Frisco, CO

Dec 28, 2018

CCUSA, a U.S. State Department Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor, and the Frisco International Student Outreach Program (ISOP) group recently held the third annual J-1 Welcome Night in Frisco, Colorado. Any J-1 participant in the area was invited to attend, as well as their sponsors and employers.

According to the J-1 Visa government website, ISOPs are "community support groups that provide support to Work and Travel exchange visitors and assist in providing a safe and successful experience for those exchange visitors who temporarily live and work in their local community, building a sense of comfort and belonging. These community groups identify systemetic issues and concerns in their area, find solutions, and coordinate forums to educate the community and businesses regarding the Work and Travel program."

There are 29 groups throughout the country in multiple states. These community organizations are led by local businesses, charity organizations, churches, individuals, or the chamber of commerce, and they are often partnered with a sponsor.

Because Spirit is part of the Frisco ISOP group, representative Austin went to the welcome event to meet our participants, help out where needed, and check in to see how the program is going. This event allowed exchange visitors in Colorado to enjoy free food while meeting other exchange visitors in the area. It's also a great way to provide participants with local resources. Thanks to fellow sponsors like CIEE, the night was a huge success with a total of 200 attendees.

During the evening, there was a raffle, and the grand prize was a two-night stay at a local hotel. With events like this, the Frisco community is able to support participants in a way that is fun as well as informative. Spirit is proud to be part of such a lively and helpful community.

Spirit Partcipants at the Welcome Event

Thanks to CCUSA and the Frisco ISOP group for organizing such a great event!

Click here to learn more about Work and Travel Community Support Groups.

Spirit's #IEW2018 Happy Hour!

Nov 15, 2018

Here in the U.S., people across the country are dusting off their favorite homestyle recipes, preparing the kitchen, and getting excited for the flavors and scents of Thanksgiving Day next week. Many households will be indulging in "All-American" dishes like stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and of course, apple pie.

This week at Spirit, however, we indulged in a different kind of feast. As a way to celebrate International Education Week, the office enjoyed an #IEW2018 Happy Hour. Staff members were encouraged to bring their favorite international dishes to share, and everyone spent the end of the day sampling treats from around the world.

International Happy Hour at Spirit

Whether it was food from our favorite local restaurants or a dish from a favorite family recipe, the office kitchen was filled with flavors from all around the world. Our International Happy Hour included:

·         Kugel (eastern European)

·         Polish sausage

·         Wine

·         Dumplings (Chinese)

·         Baklava (Greek)

·         Cheeses (French)

·         Taquitos de frijoles (Mexican)

·         Tim Tams (Australian)

·         Pastelillos de guayaba y quesitos (Puerto Rican)

·         Paczki (Polish)

·         Sticky rice (Thai)

Some Spirit staff picked their dish based on their own nationality, and others brought favorite foods from their time abroad. It was a great way to learn about the cuisines of a variety of nationalities, and we spent the hour sharing family stories, travel experiences, and enjoying each other's company.

At Spirit, we always love a reason to learn and to celebrate!

Meet the Spirit Team!

Nov 13, 2018

Spirit Celebrates International Education Week 2018!

Nov 12, 2018

What is International Education Week?

International Education Week (IEW) is a "joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences."


How is Spirit getting involved?

On Our Blog: If you follow the blog, this week you will find themed posts about IEW, fun introductions by our Spirit staff, and more!

On Social Media: We will use our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts to spread awareness about IEW and help foster a dialogue that celebrates our participants' cultures and the importance of learning from one another.

In Our Office: At Spirit, we will be hosting events for our employees including an International Happy Hour with food and drinks from around the globe and a "name pronunciation" training session, so we can learn more about our participants' many backgrounds and show that we are dedicated to serving them as best we can.

Spirit Staff Kailei at YMCA


How can YOU get involved?

This week, we encourage our partner agents, employers, participants, and anyone else who has been touched by the benefits of cultural exchange to start a dialogue on social media with the hashtag #IEW2018. Share to all your followers what international exchange has meant to you!

You can also take part in a variety of IEW events being held all across the country. This collection of 2018 IEW events is a great place to start! You can also look up your local colleges and universities to find public lectures, activities, and other events that celebrate cultural exchange.

Spirit Participant at Fair Hills Resort


Got a special story or an event recap to share? with your story and photos, and you might just find yourself on our blog!

Visit to YMCA in Colorado!

Jul 30, 2018

50/50: A Global Movement Focusing on Gender-Balance

Apr 26, 2018

Today marks the second annual 50/50 day, which is a day dedicated to working towards a more gender-balanced world. There are over 35,000 events taking place worldwide in 60 countries throughout the day. People are gathering to watch films, listen to speakers and have conversations about this important topic.

Spirit values the importance of a gender-balanced society, as the majority of our staff members and roughly 54% of our Summer Work Travel participants are women. To commemorate our support towards this movement, Spirit staff members gathered to watch films 50/50: Rethinking the Past, Present, and Future of Women + Power and Why I Pledge 50/50 together.

These films provide a history of gender and power and explored where we are in terms of gender equality today. They also discussed the benefits of gender balance and the importance of getting involved. The films gave some shocking statistics in regards to our world’s current gender imbalance.

  • Of 870 Nobel Prize winners, 48 have been women which is only 5%
  • For every $1 white men earn, women earn 77 cents and women of color earn even less
  • In 2016 when the film was produced, only 21 out of 116 heads of state were women which is 18%
  • Of all the elected officials in the USA, 80% are male and 80% are white
  • 95% of CEOs are men and only 5% are women
  • Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland are considered the happiest countries in the world and they have pay equality and parental leave for all genders

There is clearly a lot of work to do when it comes to making our world a more gender-balanced place. To learn more about 50/50 day click here and to learn about actions you can take, click here.


Spirit Co-Leads Participant Safety Summit!

Apr 24, 2018

Spirit Cultural Exchange recently collaborated with other J1 Visa Sponsors, Greenheart Exchange Work and Travel and CENET, to host the Midwest Safety Summit. With the busy summer season rapidly approaching, the Midwest Safety Summit was designed to heighten awareness, provide training, and instigate new initiatives to further improve J1 participant safety. 

“There are no trade secrets when it comes to participant safety. Spirit, Greenheart, and CENET are committed to sharing their best practices regarding participant safety. We are also working collaboratively to develop new initiatives to better protect the health, safety, and welfare of our participants.” said Richard Baader, CEO of Spirit Cultural Exchange. 

The event which was held at the American Red Cross regional headquarters in Chicago, included presentations from industry experts on human trafficking and the emotional support of those who experience a traumatic event. In addition to the speakers, there were breakout sections where sponsors shared their best practices and brainstormed new initiatives to better prepare for and handle participant safety issues.

Topics discussed included:

  • Bike safety
  • Housing
  • Mental health
  • Emergency response
  • Credit Card Scams
  • STD Resources
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Winter season safety

The Midwest Sponsor Safety initiative is a follow-up to the success the three sponsors had developing the J-Day event.  J-Day started in 2014 and strives to promote cultural understanding and community service in J1 communities. In just three short years it has become a nationwide event, with 52 J-Day celebrations across 20 states in 2017. 

Overall, the Midwest Safety Summit was a productive day of sharing perspectives, brainstorming new ideas and networking with others in the industry. While representatives at the summit were from three Midwest based sponsors, we hope to share our ideas and coordinate implementation across J1 organizations nationwide.


Spirit CEO Speaks Out: J-1 Visa Program Under Review, Possible Elimination

Sep 8, 2017

Via Door County Pulse

President Trump’s administration is reviewing the J-1 visa program for significant reductions, according to the Wall Street Journal. The program is being reviewed for its impact on the American workforce following the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order President Donald Trump signed in Kenosha on April 18.

The Wall Street Journal reported the State Department has been directed to rewrite regulations that would end the J-1 visa program, which includes the Summer Work Travel program used by many Door County businesses.

An estimated 440 students from abroad lived and worked in Door County this year. Local officials and visa sponsors believe the elimination of the program is misguided.

“It really is based on their misunderstanding that the J-1s are taking American jobs,” said Phil Berndt, membership director for the Door County Visitor Bureau. Berndt is also a liaison for local businesses taking part in the J-1 visa program and was able to listen into a conference call between business owners nationwide and Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump.

“Every single one of [the businesses], very clearly they demonstrated that they post the jobs and they aren’t getting any applicants for the positions,” Berndt said.

The “Buy American, Hire American” executive order signed by Trump called for a federal review of trade and immigration policies, including visa programs, to ensure they protect American companies and workers. Opponents to the visa programs believe they import a cheaper workforce, putting Americans out of jobs.

“The J-1 program exists not as a work program, it is a cultural exchange program,” said Richard Baader, CEO of the visa program sponsor company Spirit Cultural Exchange. “It’s effect on public diplomacy and national security… We change the hearts and minds of the future leaders of these other countries.”

According to Berndt, J-1 Summer Work Travel visas are regulated to ensure they are not taking these jobs away from American citizens.

J-1 visa applicants must prove they are enrolled in college and will be going back to school at the end of the season. If they wish to come back the following year, they must reapply. Other visas, such as the H-2B and H-1B, allow extensions of up to six years.

Baader said the program also ensures employers have a need for seasonal employment and have not laid off American workers in the past year.

“The whole program matches up with so many of the resorts who take advantage of the summer break,” Berndt said. “All of them fall within those key months of where you have peak need for employees.”

Brian Kelsey, managing director of Peninsula Players Theater and member of the Governor’s Council on Tourism, participated in a listening session with Congressman Mike Gallagher about tourism in general, but the J-1 conversation was one of the first topics of discussion.

“It was a group of us sharing how important the J-1 is and how it should not get wrapped into the other travel visas the administration is looking at,” said Kelsey. “[Gallagher] was very respectful and we definitely got the point across to him.”

Gallagher may be considered to join Travel and Tourism Caucus, a group of Congress members tasked with developing policies in support of tourism. He did not respond to a request for comment.

“The reality is that the Summer Work Travel program could be put out of business overnight with executive authority,” said Baader. “If you really understand the program, you would support it. Everyone would support it. We’re trying to get that communication out early so that well-intentioned people don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

On Aug. 8, a group of 17 U.S. Senators, including Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in support of the Summer Work Travel program.

“Many small businesses in our states are dependent on the program to meet their seasonal labor needs,” said the letter. “It is important to note that [Summer Work Travel] program regulations contain provisions to ensure that exchange visitors do not displace American workers.”

A report from Politico determined that for some business owners in the United States, the reduction of available H-2B visas, or those for seasonal workers who are not students, did result in more Americans being hired and an increase in wages.

Berndt expressed concern that elimination of the J-1 program could have the opposite effect.

“Without those students, we would have a tremendous loss of American jobs because of the businesses that would have to close,” said Berndt.

Calling All Distinguished Alumni

Aug 2, 2017

For our 15th anniversary in 2017, Spirit Cultural Exchange wants to recognize exceptional alumni with our first Alumni Awards.

We want to know how the J1 Work and Travel experience here in the United States impacted their life. Applicants will answer the two following questions as part of their entry:

  • Describe your professional or academic career including significant involvement in community organizations, government or non-government organizations, or charities. 
  • How has your experience in the United States on the Summer Work and Travel program affected your life?

Spirit Cultural Exchange will select 10 finalists whose story will be featured on our website and highlighted with the U.S. Department of State as model alumni. They will also receive a $150 Visa gift card for travel or cultural experiences such as:

  • concert tickets
  • airline vouchers
  • hotel nights
  • tune-up English classes
  • 2-year membership to Internations networking organization

One Grand Prize winner will be selected from the finalists. Depending on their situation they will receive either:

  • $2000 personal business grant for marketing campaigns
  • $2000 donation to their NGO or charity
  • FREE 6-12 month Spirit J1 Internship Program sponsorship, insurance, visa fees (valued at over $2000)
  • $2000 towards attendance at leadership conference such as IYLC ($1650 conference fee + up to $350 flight)

Spirit understands that exchange programs can be life-changing experiences for young adults and we look forward to celebrating the impact the program has on our alumni.

Spirit Travels To: Okoboji

Jul 11, 2017

In June, Spirit representatives Jessica Hines and Austin Bentz visited Okoboji to host an International Student Outreach Program (ISOP) Orientation for J-1 participants in the area. The orientation gave participants information about the area, answered questions they had and gave them a bus tour of Okoboji. While they were there, they also got to meet with participants and employers in the area to check in and make sure everything was going smoothly so far this summer. Take a look at photos from their trip and a great article about the importance of the J1 program in Okoboji.

Spirit will be back in Okoboji on August 7th to host  J-Day, which is a celebration of J-1 participants across the United States. For more information on J-Day or to sign up to attend, click here.