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 staff organized a volunteer group for the annual Rock the Night 5k run at Soldier Field in Chicago which raises money for the Special Olympics. As volunteers, each attendee received a free t-shirt and a volunteer assignment. Our group was assigned to check-in the runners, and hand out racing numbers, t-shirts, and goodie bags. The participants learned about the popularity of “fun runs” in America, the Special Olympics, and the importance of giving back to communities through volunteerism. The other volunteers at the race were interested in meeting students from different countries so the participants had the opportunity to meet Americans and make new acquaintances.
The event check-in process had a three hour window from 4 to 7 p.m., so Spirit staff taught the participants how to play a game of bean bag toss, and explained event “swag”. The participants were very excited to receive free sunglasses and stickers as part of their volunteer swag. The event drew a larger crowd around 5:30 p.m. and our volunteer team went into full swing. Some of the participants received training on how to check in the runners on the computer and the others were put in charge of getting the correct t-shirt size for each runner. This race welcomes over 1,000 runners to Solider Field.
After the race, each volunteer received a meal ticket for a free cheeseburger and grilled corn. They were all invited to watch the race and stay for a live concert at the Rock the Night stage. Participant Mutlu Taygut from Turkey said of the day's activities: "I participated as a volunteer - we gave runners t-shirts. There was a nice atmosphere, like team work. We checked all the stands and got some swag (free stuff)! The day was little bit tiring but enjoyable. I hope Spirit will go on like this.”