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.
Spirit offered two meet and greets in early July for participants in Minnesota. On July 7, participants working in the Breezy Point, MN area attended a Meet and Greet, which began with pizza and soda and conversation. 62 participants from China, Mongolia, Turkey, and Thailand, and 4 American co-workers were in attendance, while a returning Chinese participant, and Spirit Ambassador Scholarship recipient Han Yan, assisted during this event’s sign in process for first year participants and helped guide the group. During dinner, participants discussed their everyday experiences in Minnesota and the cultural activities they hope to complete before returning to their home countries – many participants want to take swimming lessons before the end of their program.
After pizza, participants played a game of American trivia, which included questions about American history and monuments. Participants teamed up into pairs and shouted out their responses to questions read by their Spirit representative, Suzanne Kolasa. Participants were shocked to hear that Alaska is the largest state in the United States. The winning team walked away with two American flag beach towels as a prize.
The American coworkers in attendance informed us of a small tradition that participants enjoy during a work day – participants sing “If you’re happy and you know it” in Chinese, Thai, and English while completing their daily housekeeping responsibilities. After the trivia game, a few participants led the entire group through the song’s lyrics in each language.
Afterwards, the participants moved to the nearby beach where they enjoyed a campfire, s’mores and games of volleyball. None of the participants had eaten a s’more before and had fun roasting marshmallows and enjoying their dessert before returning to their housing locations.
The second Meet and Greet took place on July 8 in Brainerd, MN. 19 Chinese participants and one Spirit staff member were in attendance. During a meal provided by their employers and Spirit, the participants discussed the biggest cultural differences they have noticed since beginning their Summer Work and Travel program. Participants mentioned the notable difference between the costs of technology products – for example, iPads and smart phones are much less expensive in the United States. They also mentioned the differences between available cuisine options – there are a larger variety of fresh options available daily and much more exotic selections including eel and whole fish.
After enjoying their group meal, participants teamed up in pairs to play a game of American trivia. All of the participants knew that the Empire State building was located in New York. The winning team was awarded a prize of American Flag beach towels.
The participants were excited for an upcoming trip to the Mall of America that was being organized by their employer.