Cultural Exchange is the cornerstone of our J-1 program. We plan for at least 2 cultural activities a month, which means we have thousands of participants across the United States experiencing local culture. Cultural activities increase in the participant’s emotional ties to the community they’re living and working in, strengthens the relationships with their colleagues, and introduces Americans to invaluable experiences from the participant’s home culture.
The local church organizations in Ocean City work together throughout the summer to provide free meals and cultural activities to participants through donations throughout the summer. The Christmas in July celebration, held at the Holy Savior Catholic Church, is the largest of those summer events. There was about 1,000 J-1s from Ocean City, 18 Spirit participants, 15+ American volunteers, 1 Spirit employer, and 1 Spirit staff member in attendance.
Several American volunteers greeted participants as they arrived to the church. Each participant had the opportunity to take a picture with Santa Claus and receive a Christmas present. Afterwards, participants went through a food line to be served a traditional American Christmas dinner – turkey, stuffing, vegetables, bread rolls, mashed potatoes, cake and ice cream. The entire room was decorated in Christmas décor including 3 Christmas trees, red and green tables, a life-sized Grinch, holiday garland, wreaths, and more! Christmas music played in the background during the entire event.
This event welcomes an average of 1,000 J-1 participants every year. This year, Jessica Jackson, a Spirit representative attended this event and had the opportunity to meet 18 of our current summer participants. Spirit donated about 60 presents for the event and almost everyone in attendance received a gift. The participants were also able to partake in another great American Christmas tradition – taking home leftovers!
Only some of the participants come from countries that celebrate Christmas. This event was a great opportunity for participants to come together while experiencing American culture and celebrate the holiday. Between the generous gift giving, the spirit of volunteerism, and the heaping plates of food, this event really captured the American Christmas spirit. Participants really enjoyed posing with Santa Claus and their presents, taking pictures with their employers and each other, and taking pictures of the decorations. They were very grateful for the event and thanked all of the volunteers that took time to serve and clean up.