About Spirit Cultural Exchange

Founded in 2002, Spirit Cultural Exchange is designated by the United States Department of State as a J-1 Program Sponsor for the Summer Work and Travel, Internship and Trainee Programs. As an organization responsible for monitoring thousands of cultural exchange participants each year, we believe in the power of cultural exchange. Our mission is to encourage young people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds to take advantage of the extraordinary benefits of international exchange. Through travel, work experience and the sharing of ideas and perspectives, Spirit participants gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them – working together to develop a “spirit” of international peace and understanding.

Staffed by professionals with many years of experience in cultural exchange, Spirit provides program participants with the personal attention and extra support necessary to make each experience the best it can be.

Spirit is a member of the Alliance for International Exchange and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Senior Management

Richard Baader » Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder

Rich graduated from Northwestern University with an MBA in Marketing and University of Illinois (Champaign/Urbana) with a Bachelor’s degree in finance. Rich is a co-founder of Spirit and has been part of our leadership team for more than 10 years. Before Spirit, Rich was a Vice President of finance for several divisions of Kraft Foods. Rich enjoys physically and emotionally challenging activities like mountain climbing, Toughmudder races and fatherhood.

Kathleen Gault » President and Co-Founder

Kathleen graduated from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor’s degree in German and Commercial Studies. During her university career, she studied in Denmark and worked in Germany on a program similar to the J-1 Work/Travel Program. Both life-changing experiences set her on a cross-cultural path of no return. Kathleen’s concurrent interest in marketing led to an initial career path in marketing and advertising, which she left in 1995 to professionally pursue her passion for cross-cultural exchange. After 6 years in the exchange industry, she founded Spirit Cultural Exchange together with Richard Baader, Spirit Co-Founder. Kathleen speaks German and enjoys yoga, traveling and spending time with her young family.

Michelle Chapman-Rienstra » Director of Account Services & Operations

Michelle joined Spirit in February of 2013.  She is currently the Work and Travel Program Director.  Michelle graduated from Indiana University with a Master’s degree in East Asian Studies. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Social Relations with a focus in Japanese Studies from Earlham College. Michelle has lived and worked in Japan for a total of eight years as a teacher in Iwate-Prefecture and a director of an international community center in Kobe. She has also worked for an international relocation company as a cross-cultural training manager and an international project manager. She cares deeply about local community advocacy and international education. Michelle loves reading, cooking international dishes and travelling anywhere with her family.

April Bakke » Director of International Business Development

April graduated from Concordia College with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Russian. During college she spent a semester abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, studying Russian language and culture and lived with a host family. She has worked at Spirit since 2005 and has loved giving participants around the world a similar exchange opportunity. She enjoys traveling abroad frequently for work or pleasure, and her second passion is cooking and trying out challenging recipes.

Spirit Staff

Austin Bentz » Account Advisor

Austin graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. After spending several years in the hospitality industry, he moved to Thailand to teach English as a second language. During his time there, he realized his passion for cross-cultural interaction and spent the subsequent years working for a teacher training and job placement organization operating throughout S.E. Asia. In his free time, Austin is an amateur Muay Thai practitioner, an average photographer, and a connoisseur of fine television. 

Sarah FitzMaurice » Account Services Coordinator

Sarah FitzMaurice graduated with her Master’s degree in International Higher Education from Loyola University Chicago. She studied abroad in Nantes, France, and she returned to France after college to teach English to elementary students. During her undergraduate and postgraduate years, Sarah enjoyed international study, work and travel in Europe and Asia. In her free time, she enjoys attending concerts, trying new restaurants and daydreaming about her next adventure abroad. 

Rafal Flak » Senior Program Assistant

Rafal graduated from Loyola University Chicago with an MBA, minoring in Human Resource Management. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Roosevelt University. He has traveled abroad in Europe both through a university study abroad program and through personal trips. He is a voracious reader and loves keeping up with advances in technology.

Tina Frank » Operations Supervisor

Tina graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Art Theory and Practice. She has a wide variety of personal international exchange including living in Mexico for a year, participating in a high school ecology trip to Costa Rica, and backpacking across Europe and Morocco for three months after college. Tina loves going to music festivals and plays basketball in addition to coaching a youth team. 

Jessica Hines » Account Executive

Jessica began her career at Spirit in 2012. She received her Master’s degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Michigan and her Bachelor’s degree in History from Grand Valley State University. She studied abroad in Egypt in 2008 and has traveled to several countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia for both work and vacation. Jessica enjoys hiking, camping, mountain biking, and snowboarding.

Cathriona Keane » International Account Executive

Cathriona was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland where she graduated from Marino College with a Diploma in Nursery Nursing. While living in Ireland she had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and also enjoyed backpacking across Australia. Cathriona serves on the Board of River Forest Community Center. She enjoys volunteering at her children's schools, travelling and spending time with her family

Shannon Kelly » Account Services Coordinator

Shannon graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and Global Studies. She spent a semester on exchange in Melbourne, Australia and has also traveled to Costa Rica, South Africa, Hong Kong & Taiwan and throughout Europe. Besides travel, Shannon is also passionate about writing and environmental advocacy and is always on the hunt for a good grilled cheese. 

Kailei Kluck » International Account Advisor

Kailei graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. After college, Kailei joined the Peace Corps and served in the northern part of Thailand for two years as a Teacher Collaborator and Community Service volunteer. She likes to travel to new places, explore the outdoors, read all types of books, and is always on the lookout for life’s next adventure!

Suzanne Kolasa » Internship Program Supervisor

Suzanne graduated from Valparaiso University with a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and International Economics & Cultural Affairs (with a focus on Latin America). During college, she spent a semester living and studying in Granada, Spain. Upon her return to the United States, she worked with the Trade Commission of Spain to promote the opportunities to travel to Spain on her college campus. She enjoys traveling and attending as many events in Chicago as possible.

Christina Loranz » International Account Executive

Christina graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science in Urban Planning. She has lived and worked in Greece and France as well as traveled extensively. These days, she takes shorter trips, but she and her husband enjoy passing the travel bug on to their two daughters.

Ana Martinez » Application Coordinator

Ana graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communications and Political Science. As a student she traveled and studied in Latin America and later taught Spanish in her local school district. Ana is an advocate for elementary school foreign language instruction and is a member of the World Language Advisory Committee in her hometown.

Kaitlyn Pennoyer » Internship Program Account Advisor

Kaitlyn graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor's degree in Spanish and International Studies. She studied abroad in Seville, Spain, traveled throughout Europe and has spent time in Latin America. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, adventuring outdoors and is an avid dog-lover.

Gloria Quiñones-Garcia » Account Services Coordinator

Gloria graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies. She has worked as a foster care case manager, a Dual-Language Kindergarten teacher with the Chicago Public Schools, and as a Life Skills Coordinator for an agency which provides services to adults with special needs. Gloria dabbles in graphic design when she is not cheering for her children’s multiple sports teams, from the sideline.

Colleen Seaton » Operations Supervisor

Colleen received her Master’s degree in Counseling from Northeastern Illinois University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Ball State University. Colleen has worked in international education and with students from all over the world for many years. She caught the travel bug at age 13 with her first international trip to Kenya and continued to seek out travel adventures throughout high school and university, studying abroad in London. After university, Colleen spent a year working and traveling in New Zealand. She has traveled to many different countries in Europe, Central America and Asia for work and pleasure. She enjoys coffee, eating outside, and going on adventures with her two sons and husband.

Lauren Warczak » Account Advisor

Lauren graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Bachelor’s degree in Teaching of French and Gender and Women’s Studies. After studying abroad in Avignon, France, she taught International Baccalaureate French while organizing the annual exchange program for high school students to Paris.  In her free time, Lauren enjoys creating body products in her kitchen and traveling to new destinations.