If you notice groups of international students, workers or trainees cleaning up a local park, collecting and packing donations for people in Ukraine, or enjoying a picnic on the beach on Aug. 7, they might be celebrating the ninth annual Exchange Day.
This day notes and promotes the value of educational and cultural exchange programs offered by U.S. organizations hosting a wide range of international participants—from Fulbright Scholars to au pairs to foreign professionals who are undergoing training or conducting research. It’s also a way for current and past participants and their employer hosts to give back to their local communities while socializing, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for International Exchange.
The day’s aim, said Mark Overmann, the Alliance’s executive director, is “about ensuring the participants have the most immersive, culturally rich experience they can while they’re in the U.S. … and bring American culture to them and their culture to us.”
The Alliance serves as a facilitator, providing materials and tools to host employers planning Exchange Day events, senior associate Gabrielle Cascio said.
“This day has double impact and is even more exciting for me,” said Cascio, a former Fulbright Scholar who taught English in Bulgaria as an exchange student. “Now I try to go as many [Exchange Day] events as possible.”
[SHRM resource: J-1 Visa Sponsorship]
These events take a variety of forms.
Last year, more than 75 Exchange Day events were held across 27 states and Washington, D.C. Activities included assisting at an animal shelter; working at a local zoo; collecting and donating canned food; and cleaning a church, as well as local parks and waterways.
A host organization in New York City held a “Governors Island Adventure” featuring a catered lunch and ferry ride, an educational session about the city’s harbor ecosystem, and bikes for exploring the island. Other host organizations have held picnics, luaus, and other social or cultural activities.
“In cases of local service events, it’s a way for the participants to learn more about the community, have a cultural experience that is very central to the American identity of giving back, and … there is some teaching of the community of who they are,” while including a fun element such as a picnic, Overmann said.
J-1 Visa Program
This year, SHRM, a longtime J-1 visa sponsor, will have its J-1 staff members and five local exchange visitors volunteer at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C. Participants have come from India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru and South Africa. They are doing internships or undergoing training at businesses in the D.C. area, including a hotel, a boutique architectural firm and several restaurants.
The J-1 Visa Program—officially known as the Exchange Visitor Program—has served as a diplomatic tool of U.S. foreign policy since its establishment as part of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961. Its mission is to increase understanding between Americans and people from other countries.
The J-1 visa classification is used for exchange students and professionals who come to the U.S. to conduct research, consult, receive training or graduate medical education, teach, observe, or demonstrate special skills.
Information on how to participate in Exchange Day is available on the Alliance site. The site also includes a style guide for branding purposes, templates for print materials and social media recommendations.
Other SHRM resources:
SHRM Leads Amicus Brief in Support of J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Programs, SHRM press release, Aug. 11, 2020.
SHRM Blog: A Conversation with SHRM Exchange Visitor and HR Professional Marion Anderson, SHRM Blog, Aug. 4, 2020.
What Employers Need to Know About Working with J-1 Visa Sponsors, SHRM Online, Jan. 30, 2018.
What Employers Need to Know About the J-1 Visa for Interns and Trainees, SHRM Online, Jan. 29, 2018.