Save our summer!

Jun 26, 2017

Dear exchange community, 

International students have visited our communities for years. Learning our culture. Working in your businesses. Becoming our friends.

Now, the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program is under attack.

Some in the government don’t consider Summer Work Travel a valuable cultural exchange program. They believe that SWT students take away American jobs. These government officials want to make changes to SWT that could severely damage it, and ultimately make it unworkable. 

They don’t know how much you and your guests value the diversity and international perspective SWT students bring. They don’t know how hard you try to find Americans for your seasonal jobs, and how important SWT students are to keeping your American employees working year-round. They also don’t understand that raising your costs won’t just mean you raise prices – it likely means you would need to cut back on your services and hours, or just shut your doors.

We need to tell the government about these realities, and we need your help to do it.

The Americans for Cultural Exchange coalition – coordinated by the Alliance for International Exchange – is launching the #SaveOurSummer campaign so we can make our voices heard.

Here’s what you can do: 

1. Write your US Congressional Representatives. This will only take a minute as the letter is pre-written and you can send as is.

2. Call your Representative and Senators. We’re providing talking points to help you make your case - click here to make calls.

3. Join our webinar on how to go to engage your Representative’s or Senators’ offices, how to talk with them, and how to effectively demand action to save Summer Work Travel. We’ll hold a live webinar where we can answer your questions, and will make a recording available afterwards. You can sign up here.

4. Sign our petition in support of Summer Work Travel. We give a copy of this petition, with every signer arranged by state, to every Representative, Senator, and government official we meet. You can sign the petition by clicking here.

5. Participate in the #SaveOurSummer social media campaign. Check out all the social media tools and recommendations here, and start posting #SaveOurSummer on all your social media sites. Also, encourage your SWT students to join this campaign.

Now is the time to act, during summer vacation, when Members of Congress are back in your hometown, and your Summer Work Travel participants are here. Let’s #SaveOurSummer.


Rich Baader

CEO, Spirit Cultural Exchange

Spirit Sponsors International Student Outreach Program

Jun 6, 2017

Spirit Cultural Exchange recently hosted the first Okoboji International Student Outreach Program (ISOP). ISOPs are common in regions that host a large number of J1 international students such as the Wisconsin Dells, Outer Banks and Ocean City. As the number of J1s placed in Okoboji continues to grow, the ISOP aimed to bring together sponsors, employers, and community members that support the many J1 students that spend their summers in Okoboji each year. A representative from the US Department of State, Henry Scott, also presented at the meeting to discuss their role in the participant’s program.

At the meeting we discussed important terms and what they mean to the J1 program in the Okoboji area including “participant,” “agent,” and “sponsor.” The agent is located in the participant’s home country and facilitates the visa process with the sponsor, such as Spirit. We also discussed the importance of the cultural exchange attribute of the program. The J1 program is an exchange program with a work component, which means that cultural activities should be a high focus, especially for the members of the ISOP.

We talked about the best practices that employers and community members utilize to help the participants be the most successful, and also the challenges that Okoboji faces, including finding short term affordable housing.

The Okoboji ISOP was a great step in making Okoboji an even better place for students to spend their summers. Moving forward, an introduction to Okoboji website and handbook for participants is being created and will be available for distribution shortly. We’ve also created an online forum for all Host Companies, community members, sponsors, and participants to join and share information.

We appreciate all the help and cooperation as we launch this group aimed at helping the J1 community in Okoboji! For more information on the Okoboji ISOP, click here to check out the great coverage of the meeting from the Dickinson County News.

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Support Senator Booker's Response Letter to President Trump's Proposed Budget

Mar 28, 2017

Our exchange community has done a great job engaging the House these past few weeks. Now our attentions turn to the senate.

We need to support Senator Cory Booker as he leads a “Dear Colleague” letter to the Senate State, Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in support of exchange programs. Like the House letter, this calls for the highest possible funding level for State Department exchanges in FY2018. 

The deadline for Senators to join this “Dear Colleague” letter is Friday, March 31 Thursday, April 6. We helped generate more than 7,000 letters to the House of Representatives and we want to do the same for the Senate! 

Here’s how to help:

  1. Send a letter to your Senators, asking them to sign the Booker “Dear Colleague” letter. The letter is prewritten and takes only minutes to send. You also have the option to personalize your letter.
  2. Ask your host institutions, families, friends, and other acquaintances to send a letter as well.
  3. Share the request on social media.

The letter writing campaigns are a response to the Trump administration’s release of its FY2018 budget, which calls for an unprecedented 28% cut to the Department of State. If enacted into law, these cuts would harm our nation’s public diplomacy efforts and, ultimately, our national security and economy.

Click here to learn more about the global impact of international exchanges.

Spirit CEO Responds to President Trump's Proposal to Cut State Department Budget

Mar 16, 2017

Today, the Trump administration released their recommendations for unprecedented cuts of 28 percent for the Department of State, and significant but unspecified cuts to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). See page 33 of the administration’s budget. The outline suggests that the Fulbright Program will be funded at some level, but other funded programs may be dramatically cut. At this point there is no indication of cuts to the Office of Private Sector Exchange which includes our Summer Work Travel, Internship, and Trainee programs. The Alliance for International Exchange, which represents the international exchange industry, issued a press release warning that these cuts could do significant long term damage to US foreign diplomacy and national security. It is more important than ever that we clearly communicate the low cost and strong benefits of our international exchange programs. In doing so we will keep the following in mind:

• The administration’s budget is a set of recommendations to Congress. Although Congress will actively negotiate with the administration, Congress ultimately has the authority and responsibility to develop and pass a federal budget.

• The international community has already begun advocating for exchange funding. Spirit joined other members of The Alliance for International Exchange in meetings with 171 congressional offices on March 9th. We received many supportive comments from Hill offices during these meetings.

• There is already strong, bi-partisan congressional support for international exchange programs. In fact, leaders in the Senate and House have either rejected or voiced deep skepticism about making dramatic cuts to State’s budget.

• The budget details for ECA will be released later this spring, most likely in May when the entire budget is released. The 2018 budget is likely to be resolved sometime in the fall or early winter.

• There will be additional advocacy activities in the weeks and months to come through which we can all engage congressional offices. So stay tuned!

Our programs have the power to transform individual lives and make the world a safer place. We have a track record of reaching future leaders and delivering a positive experience in the USA. In fact, the State Department reports that 1 in 3 current world leaders have been on an exchange program in the United States. I am confident that those results will become clear over time and that we will successfully navigate these choppy waters.

Thank you for everything you do to make our international exchange programs successful,




Richard Baader
Spirit Cultural Exchange

Spirit CEO comments on outlook for U.S. immigration regulations

Feb 10, 2017

February 10, 2017

Dear Cultural Exchange Community,

The USA is definitely in a period of self-assessment about our immigration and visa policies. While the immigration issue is complex and multifaceted, Americans largely agree that international cultural exchange is positive for our country and the world. The J-1 Visa is an important part of that cultural exchange system. The J-1 Visa is not an immigrant visa but rather a cultural exchange visa providing various opportunities to work, intern, study, travel, or teach while exchanging cultures and ideas with Americans. As a J-1 Work/Travel, Internship and Trainee Program sponsor, Spirit provides an opportunity for future leaders from around the world to learn about our culture and values. We encourage young people to experience the United States in a way that is educational for them and productive for the USA. These young people experience the USA up close, develop a strong understanding of our culture and values, and return to their home countries to profess an honest, positive view of our country. In fact, in a recent industry-wide survey of J-1 Work/Travel participants, 90% of participants reported having a positive experience with Americans and the American workplace.

Some of our host employers, international agents, and program participants have expressed concern that recent Presidential Executive Orders might affect the Spirit J-1 programs. What I can tell you is that Spirit has received no information that would suggest an imminent change to program regulations. The J-1 Work/Travel regulations have been strengthened over the last several years and the result is a stronger program that better serves and protects our program participants. Spirit expects that those regulations will continue to evolve to meet changing conditions and program needs. When appropriate, Spirit actively provides feedback to the Department of State regarding proposed regulations.

What is most important now is that we do our jobs well. The   J-1 Program will continue to thrive if we live up to the ideals of the program and deliver a high quality cultural exchange experience to our participants, which will enhance their lives as well as the communities they visit.

Spirit is excited for the coming year and looks forward to welcoming our participants to the USA!

Warm Regards, 





Rich Baader
Spirit Cultural Exchange

Spirit CEO discusses the USA election and its impact on Spirit’s exchange programs

Nov 10, 2016

November 10, 2016

Dear Participant,

The recent Presidential election in the USA was a historic event. A new President was elected and with him a new set of policies and priorities. Some of you may have questions about how these new policies might affect your cultural exchange program through Spirit. Please rest assured that you continue to be warmly welcomed in the USA on Spirit’s program. All active visas remain valid and your program will continue to completion. All visa applicants are being processed by Spirit as usual and US Embassies continue to process visa applications.

The President Elect will select his Secretary of State and senior staff over the next few months in preparation for his official inauguration on January 20, 2017. Spirit will closely monitor these steps and will advocate for exchange programs. Fortunately, international cultural exchange has support in Congress from both political parties and the Department of State recognizes the public diplomacy value of these programs. Our cooperating employers and host communities also recognize the value of international cultural exchange and are eager to welcome you.

At Spirit, we know that our exchange programs build international friendships and help achieve the goal of long-term international peace and understanding. We thank you for being a part of our programs and look forward to providing you with a rewarding cultural exchange in the United States.

Warm regards,




Richard Baader
Spirit Cultural Exchange

Spirit Staff Sees Secretary of State Speak

Nov 1, 2016

On October 26, 2016, Spirit staff members heard U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speak at a Chicago Council on Global Affairs event. Secretary of State Kerry emphasized the importance of diplomacy for improving the global economy, promoting peace efforts in areas of conflict, and finding international solutions to climate change. Cultural exchange programs, like the J-1 program, contribute to U.S diplomacy efforts.

Work and Travel and U.S. Diplomacy

Oct 31, 2016

After attending the Alliance for International Exchange’s Annual Meeting, I left feeling (re)inspired about our field –that our collective efforts are an important part of U.S. diplomacy, and our work leads towards a more peaceful world. During a time in which anti-immigrant sentiment has infiltrated both left and right political sides in the U.S., Europe and other nations, I believe that international exchange plays a vital role in fostering greater understanding between individuals and across nations. The participants who come on our programs are the motivated ‘movers and shakers’, who go home and take with them a positive view of the U.S., impacting future relations between our countries.

All of us at Spirit joined the international exchange field because of that - we were significantly impacted by our own exchange experience and came home with a changed worldview. International exchange has provided me with immense personal growth, impactful professional opportunities, and vastly changed and improved my life. And I – along with all of us at Spirit – are wholly committed to providing these opportunities for others. We are extraordinarily lucky to get to give that experience back to others, impacting the hearts and minds to the future leaders of the world.

-Alison Gold, October 2016

2016 Civic Leadership Summit inspired students to be Changemakers

Oct 25, 2016

In addition to the Summit meetings and programming, the participants spent time exploring Washington D.C.

“This was my first time visiting Washington D.C, first time touring the capitol and visiting the White House, needless to say, this trip was filled with a lot of firsts for of me,” said Ackime T.

“The city tour in one of the most grateful city in the United States, Washington, D.C., has exceeded my expectations! I am extremely grateful for these colorful and very intense three days in the US capital, which will be remembered forever,” Viktoriia P. adds.

It’s obvious by their own accounts that the Civic Leadership Summit had a positive impact on Ackime and Viktoriia’s summer in the USA, and was an experience that will not be forgotten.

“The staff, team leaders, presenters, participants and most importantly the different sponsors all pooled in and made this a life altering experience.  The only problem we had was saying goodbye on the last day,” said Ackime T.

“I left United States not only with newly gained knowledge on American culture, politics and law but also with a broader, more open minded and greater understanding of other international cultures. And of course coming back to your own country inspired and full of energy and make the change that you want to see in the world,” said Viktoriia P.

Thank you to CIEE for including Spirit Cultural Exchange in this year’s Civic Leadership Summit! Our participants had a wonderful experience, and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Read more from Viktoriia and Ackime in their blogs.

Be The Change You Wish To See...

Oct 25, 2016

The purpose of the summit was to empower the participants to make effective changes in their communities.

“The main point of the Civic Leadership Summit was to ‘Be a Changemaker’. During the Summit we went to interactive sessions about discrimination, improving the level of education in some countries, women's and environmental issues,” said participant Viktoriia P., who is from Kyrgyzstan. “During the workshops we discussed the problems existing in our own countries and tried to find causes and solutions for the existing problems. We identified our passions to create change for social issues, and then worked in groups to develop plans for launching our own social ventures in our home countries.”

Jamaican participant, Ackime T., believes that through uniting together, change can be made.

“We belong to the same human race, despite our skin color, nationality, size, or religion and we all face the same social problems. Coming together and creating smart sustainable solutions is to quickest way to make a difference,” he said.

Viktoriia P. said she was inspired by the other participants she met from around the world, and the spirit of diversity that was present at the summit.

“You look at the social justice and civic leadership from different perspectives and will hear the experience of other young leaders from different corners of the world. They inspired me and shared their passion, experiences, lifestyles and culture with me. The Civic Leadership Summit helped me to believe in myself more and gave me a faith that I can be a Changemaker. I will never forget the amazing people who empowered me to believe change is possible.”

Through activities and discussions, participants learned that changing the world can start with something simple.

“In one powerful activity, we had to walk around the room with our heads hanging down, with no eye or physical contact for two minutes.  We were then instructed to look up and without a word, just smile and make eye contact as you walk around the room. And as I walked around the room, everyone started to smile and the spirit of the room lifted. It showed that all it really takes is a small act of kindness, a smile, helping your neighbor to affect a change in the world, to be a Changemaker in this world,” said Ackime T.

Learn more about their experience at the Civic Leadership Summit, and read what Viktoriia and Ackime thought about their once-in-a-lifetime experience in Washington, D.C.