Exchange Day is a celebration of the power of international exchange! Under the motto “Eat, Play, Give,” communities across the United States hold events that provide cultural exchange program participants and their hosts an opportunity to showcase cultural diversity and give back to their local communities. Spirit loves celebrating Exchange Day every year, and we are excited to see our Host Employers organizing fun events and activities. Here’s what Kelli, Work and Travel Account Advisor at Spirit Cultural Exchange, had to say about her recent Exchange Day trip to Colorado:
J-1 Participants in Estes Park
I arrived at Estes Park and was greeted by Andrew, a Human Resources Intern from Jamaica, to begin our tour of the YMCA.
Andrew participated in the Summer Work & Travel program in 2019 and 2022, and Spirit was his sponsor! He returned to work as an intern in the International Department with YMCA.
Andrew took me to several facilities, including the Administration Building, employee housing, and the housekeeping office. He then took me to visit the craft center. This center is open to all employees of the YMCA as well as guests. For a fee, you can paint ceramics, make Tye-Dye shirts or tote bags, and create jewelry. They also offer basket weaving and silk scarf painting. Participants receive a discount on the arts and crafts.
The YMCA even has an ice cream truck that drives through the property in the afternoons for all employees and guests. The ice cream is complimentary, and of course, we stopped to get an ice cream cone before we continued our tour. The participants love this perk!
Andrew and I then took a drive up to the highest point of the YMCA property. Located there is an outdoor chapel at the top of the hill that overlooks Estes Park. It is a beautiful view!
Exchange Day 2023 at YMCA of the Rockies
My next stop was Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colorado. This location has many of the same facilities but is larger than Estes Park and in the process of expanding. We made our way to the dining hall, located directly next to the housekeeping and laundry building.
The dining hall has a large event room attached to the dining room that is used for staff and guest events, and this is where they were setting up for the International Fair. I spent time talking with some of our participants working in the kitchen and getting the dining room set up for lunch. They enjoy working in their position and love their placement.
Following our tour, we met at the International Fair. The events room was set up with booths for J-1 participants to display a board with information about their home country. Spirit J-1 participants from Jamaica, Mexico, Mongolia, and Thailand had displays. Other countries represented were Nigeria, Philippines, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
They had each country speak on their national cuisine, traditional dances, and share their favorite parts of their home country.
Three Spirit participants from Mongolia shared their traditional dance and followed with a brief history of their county and some of their national cuisine they think everyone should try. Four Spirit participants from Jamaica followed with a traditional dance and some interesting facts about the history of the island.
Our Thai participants shared a traditional Thai dance and their shared their favorite Thai recipes with the group. Our participant from Mexico shared a fun traditional game played in Mexico. All the J-1 participants had such a wonderful time at the International Fair and shared how wonderful their experience has been with the YMCA.
The kitchen staff encourages all participants to cook a traditional meal once a summer, and they had Colombian food that evening for dinner.
A Relaxing Experience in Granby
I met with our contact and Human Resources manager for my next tour at a ranch in Granby. She showed me the main Lodge that has a room devoted to ping pong, billiards, and board games. The top floor has an event room reserved for weddings and birthday parties with a beautiful mountain view. There is a library and many lounge areas with overstuffed chairs and cozy fireplaces. Participants can take advantage of this space as long as guests are not using it.
I met with three of the five participants working there this summer. One participant worked in the kitchen, and the other two participants worked in housekeeping. They were very happy and shared that they get tipped well in both positions.
We then went to visit the employee lounge. They have a full table, television, and snacks available to participants daily, which include fruit snacks, granola bars, chips, and drinks. The employee lounge is attached to the kitchen, and three employee meals are provided daily.
Granby Cultural Exchange
I met our contacts at another Granby ranch and the J-1 support team later that afternoon. I spent time talking with two of our Turkish participants working in the kitchen and dining room with Granby Ranch. They were very happy and had gone on a trip to Denver earlier in the week with the Host Employer. We then met up with another participant working in the kitchen on the top floor getting ready for an event.
She loved working with her Host Employer and would love to go back next year.
We visited the retail shops, where guests can sign up for a daily, weekly, or monthly ski pass, as well as lessons. Many of our Winter participants will work in these positions soon. The ski instructor manager has been working with them for over 25 years and loves welcoming J-1 students every year. He shared that they employ a couple of former J-1 participants full time that came back to the US years later, and they are like family. Participants may rent snow bikes and skis at a discount.
The housing for Granby Ranch is off site, but all participants agreed that they enjoy being off site. Their housing is in town closer to the grocery store and other friends, and it is easy to get a second job.
We then sat and had a snack and talked more. One of our participants was our waiter and so excited to talk with us and share his stories of the summer.
I also stopped by a local pizza restaurant, where one of our participants was working a second job. He let me know he enjoyed spending time in Granby, CO and was happy with Granby Ranch.
A Positive Experience in Fraser
I stopped into a grocery store in Fraser, Colorado, where we have six Thai participants working this summer. They were all hired in person by our contact earlier this year. They were so excited to meet a Spirit representative! One participant told me she had just submitted a Monthly Check-In asking how she could meet someone from Sprit, and then I showed up.
She was so happy to talk about her experience with her Host Employer, how she had met so many new friends, and that she would like to return next year.
The General Manager showed me around the store, and we met four of the six participants hired this summer. Our participants were working in the “Drive up and Go” counter and would deliver groceries to customers’ cars or have the groceries ready for pick up.
A few participants worked in the bakery department, one worked at Starbucks in the store, and a couple of participants were responsible for stocking groceries.
I visited the employee breakroom where every employee is assigned a locker to hold their personal belongings while they work, and they have snacks and drinks for employees for purchase during their breaks. The participant housing is located up the hill, about a 10-minute walk from the store. They love their housing and love that it is close to everything.
Idaho Springs Cultural Exchange
My last visit was to another grocery store in Idaho Springs. Two Turkish participants worked with this store and were so happy with their placement. They talked about all the traveling they had already done in the Colorado, Arizona, and California areas and are planning to visit Chicago at the end of their program.
I met with the Store Manager, who let me know how wonderful the J-1 participants were this year and every year.
It was wonderful to hear how happy our Host Employers and participants have been in Colorado this summer, and it was so exciting to see cultural exchange in action at the YMCA International Fair!