Monthly Cultural Almanac: November 2019

Nov 6, 2019

Veterans Day

November 11 - Many Americans have relatives who have volunteered to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Veterans Day is an official U.S. public holiday observed annually on November 11 that honors military veterans. Because it is a federal holiday, some American workers and many students have Veterans Day off from work or school. It is celebrated with parades and church services, and in many places the American flag is hung at half-mast. A period of silence lasting two minutes may be held at 11am. Click here for a list of Veterans Day parades, events, and more!

International Education Week

November 18-22 – Celebrate international exchange experience! International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. Institutions across the United States and around the world are hosting events throughout the week to recognize international students, education abroad, and internationalization. Spirit will join institutions around the world to celebrate global exchange during the 2019 International Education Week. Attend events and help us spread the word about global exchange programs! Click here to find an event near you and send your photos and stories to to be featured on our Instagram page!


November 28 - Feeling hungry? Thanksgiving, currently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, has been an annual tradition in the United States since 1863. Historically, Thanksgiving has been a celebration of the blessings of the year, including the harvest. People will travel to see extended family or close friends and make a large dinner to spend the day with them and give thanks for what they have. We recommend trying popular dishes like green bean casserole, sweet potato, cranberry sauce, and - of course - turkey! If you want to make some traditional Thanksgiving foods yourself, be sure to check out these Thanksgiving dinner recipes. And check out this list of unique Thanksgiving events to attend!

Black Friday

November 29 – It’s shopping time! Black Friday is an informal name for the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It has been the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States since 2005. In order to take advantage of this, almost all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales including limited amounts of “doorbuster” items to bring in shoppers. Store openings can get very crowded and crazy! Spirit suggests you go shopping later in the day if you want to participate. Stay safe out there!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: October 2019

Oct 2, 2019

Columbus Day

October 14 – Since 1971, Columbus Day has been celebrated on the second Monday in October in the United States. It is generally observed by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service, federal agencies, state government offices, many businesses, and most school districts. Actual observance varies in different parts of the United States, ranging from large-scale parades and events to complete non-observance. Many people will travel for the long weekend or hang out with friends and family.


October 31 - Don’t be afraid! Halloween is a celebration observed on October 31. The main event for children of Halloween in the United States is trick-or-treating, in which children and their parents disguise themselves in costumes and go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling “Trick or treat!” to get a gift of candy or similar items. Teenagers and young adults will usually attend Halloween-themed costume parties hosted by friends either on Halloween itself or a weekend close to the holiday. Other popular activities are watching horror movies and visiting haunted houses. Click here for a list of the best Halloween festivals for 2019!

Pumpkin Festivals

Recommended Activity: Pumpkin Festivals – Across the country, farms are celebrating the season with family-friendly festivals where you'll find all the pumpkins, freshly baked desserts, and hayrides you could ever wish for. The Circleville Pumpkin Show is an annual festival held in Circleville, Ohio, about 30 miles south of the state capitol of Columbus. Considered to be the biggest festival in the United States dedicated to the pumpkin, it is often called “The Greatest Free Show on Earth.” The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival is a yearly celebration that is held in Laconia, New Hampshire before Halloween. Each year, New Hampshire residents and tourists try to get the largest number of lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place, to meet or beat the world record. Click here for a list of the best fall festivals across America!

October Traditions

Other October Traditions - No pumpkin festivals? No problem! There are other popular October traditions that you can experience wherever you are. You can carve a jack-o'-lantern, visit a pumpkin patch or corn maze, and try apple cider or candy corn! A jack-o'-lantern is a carved pumpkin associated with Halloween. A pumpkin patch is a garden where pumpkins are planted, commonly available for sale. A corn maze is a maze cut out of a corn field. Apple cider is the name used in the United States for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples. Candy corn is a candy most often found in the United States, popular primarily around Halloween. See how many you can experience!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: June 2019

Jun 3, 2019

LGBT Pride Month

June 1-30 - The month of June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to remember the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. “LGBT” are the initials that stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Many pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBT people have had in the world. Nearly every city has its own big event, which is usually a large parade with plenty of rainbow images, glitter, and floats driven by local companies and organizations. Pride Month is a celebration of love, and you’ll be seeing rainbows all month long! Click here to find an LGBT Pride event near you!

Flag Day

June 14 - In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It honors the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. Some organizations hold parades and events in celebration of America’s national flag and everything it represents. You’ll be seeing a lot of red, white, and blue this summer!

Father's Day

June 16 - Fathers get a special day, too! Father's Day is a celebration honoring fathers, celebrating fatherhood, and recognizing the influence of fathers in society. In the United States, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. Similar to Mother’s Day, families will usually gather to celebrate the father figures in their lives. Stores cater to the holiday by selling greeting cards and gifts such as electronics and tools.


June 19 - On June 19, 1865, the end of slavery was announced in Texas. Juneteenth is an American holiday that honors the freeing of enslaved African-Americans throughout the Lower South region of the United States. Today it is mostly observed in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and reading of works by famous African-American writers like Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations may include rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, or Miss Juneteenth contests. Click here to find a Juneteenth festival near you!

Monthly Cultural Almanac: May 2019

May 1, 2019

May Day

May 1 - Although celebrated with far greater fanfare in other countries, May Day, usually celebrated on May 1, is a celebration of spring as well as a day honoring organized labor. In some parts of the United States, May baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. In Minneapolis, the May Day Parade and Festival is presented annually on the first Sunday in May and draws around 50,000 people to Powderhorn Park.

Cinco de Mayo

May 5Looking to add a touch of Mexico to your time in the United States? Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration held on May 5 to honor the Mexican Army’s surprising victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. More popularly celebrated in the United States than Mexico, the date has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture. To celebrate, many display Cinco de Mayo banners, go into town for local festivities, and eat Mexican food. Some schools hold special events to educate students about the importance of Mexican culture. If you join the fun, be sure to support restaurants owned by local Mexican immigrants for a truly authentic experience!

Mother's Day

May 12 - Mothers are an important part of an American’s life! Mother's Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as the importance of motherhood and the influence of mothers in society. The United States celebrates Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. Before the big day, daughters and sons go shopping to find the perfect gift for Mom. Mother’s Day is one of the biggest days for sales of flowers, greeting cards, and other gifts used to show appreciation for everything the mother has done for the family.

Memorial Day

May 27Kick off the summer season with a truly American weekend! Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service; others will either travel for the long weekend or hang out with friends and have a barbecue. Memorial Day weekend is considered the unofficial start of summer, and American tourism starts to get busy!

Exchange Week in the District 2019

Apr 25, 2019

Spirit teamed up with four other J-1 sponsors to organize meetings with various Members of Congress across Wisconsin throughout the week. Christina led a meeting  in Madison, Wisconsin, with Congressman Mark Pocan, whose district includes part of the Wisconsin Dells. Congressman Pocan expressed support of cultural exchange programs and awareness of the economic impact that J-1 programs have on the Wisconsin Dells. Spirit and other sponsors invited Wisconsin Dells host employers to attend the meeting and Congressman Pocan enjoyed speaking with his constituents and learning more about the benefit from cultural exchange and enrichment it brings to their community.

In Illinois, Greenheart Exchange organized meeting with several members of Congress. First was a meeting at the office of Senator Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth’s staffers at the meeting specialized in education and immigration/foreign relations. They were each extremely supportive of international exchange and offered their support for the various programs and organizations that meeting attendees represented.

There were plenty of stories to share about individual cultural exchange experiences and the lives that have been impacted by exchange programs in Illinois, from high school students to professional trainees.

Congressman Danny K. Davis also took the time to meet with the group of sponsors. It was exciting to hear the ways that Davis had personally benefitted from cultural exchange programs both as a young person and throughout his long career as a Representative of Illinois 7th district. He was very generous with his time and hopes to attend the Chicago Exchange Day event in August.

While Advocacy Day focuses on the national impact of exchange programs, Exchange Week in the District highlights the value of cultural exchange on a more local level. To see more of the advocacy meetings that took place all across the country, be sure to check out the Alliance for International Exchange Twitter page!


Midwest Sponsors 2019 Health Safety Welfare Summit

Apr 12, 2019

With the busy summer season rapidly approaching, the Midwest Health Safety Welfare Summit functions to heighten awareness about participant safety, provide relevant training, and inspire new initiatives to further improve J-1 participant health, safety, and welfare.

The day began with breakfast and an opportunity for employees from all three Midwest sponsors to mingle before the presentations. This year’s presenters included U.S. Department of State Representative Lynette Evans-Tiernan, author and licensed therapist Shannon Plate, and Spirit Director Michelle Chapman-Rienstra.

Lynette Evans-Tiernan discussed the “pillars of public diplomacy” as they pertain to the J-1 visa program. She explained why the Department of State felt that the program was valuable and how we can use our unique positions as J-1 sponsors as a way to advocate for cultural exchange programs.

In Shannon Plate’s presentation, “Counseling 101,” she focused on good communication skills when dealing with someone who is suffering from emotional trauma or a mental health problem. Part of the discussion included practicing good communication using hypothetical situations.

Following Plate was Spirit’s Michelle Chapman-Rienstra, who discussed the ways that sponsors were addressing sexual harassment. She presented many useful materials like slideshow presentations and flyers that host employers could use in training sessions that address sexual harassment and help spread awareness to all participants on the program.

After lunch, attendees were broken into teams and discussed best practices and opportunities for collaboration. Topics discussed included:

  • Housing
  • Anti-trafficking
  • Mental health
  • Cultural activities
  • Alumni engagement

Overall, the Midwest Safety Summit was a productive day of sharing perspectives, brainstorming new ideas and networking with others in the industry.

Special thanks to the teams at Greenheart International and CENET for helping to coordinate such a successful event, and to the American Red Cross in Chicago for the use of their excellent facilities!


Monthly Cultural Almanac: April 2019

Apr 4, 2019



Opening Day

First Week of April - American football season is out, and baseball season is in! Opening Day is the day on which professional baseball leagues begin their regular season. For Major League Baseball and most of the minor leagues, this day typically falls during the first week of April. Baseball fans use the occasion as a chance to forget last season, since all 30 of the major league clubs and their millions of fans begin with 0-0 records. Going to a major or minor league baseball game is a fun cultural activity that anyone can enjoy!

National Library Week

April 7-13 - First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association and libraries across the United States each April. Each year, the week has a new theme! This year’s theme is "Libraries = Strong Communities." The theme aims to show how libraries are at the heart of our cities, towns, and schools, providing important resources for the whole community. Throughout the week, join in on celebrations, conferences, and events around the country in honor of our libraries!

Visiting your area’s library is a great cultural activity that can give you useful information about where you’re living. Many local libraries offer free events, so be sure to grab a schedule while you’re there! Click here to find a library near you.

Tax Day

April 15 - In the United States, Tax Day is the name of the day when individual income tax returns are due to be submitted to the federal government. Since 1955, Tax Day has typically fallen on April 15. People are encouraged to file a return on the Internet since this is efficient, and it reduces the risk of mistakes being made or documents being lost in the mail. While Americans may feel stressed about submitting their tax returns on time, everyone loves getting a little of their money back from the government!

Keep your eyes out for emails from Spirit about our partner When it comes time for you to file your taxes, can make the process simple.


April 21 - When you start seeing stores fill up with bunny decorations and candy eggs, you know that Easter is on its way! Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Many Americans take part in the tradition of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving baskets of candy to children! Easter parades are held in many American cities, with the New York City parade being the most well-known.

Earth Day

April 22 - Caring for the planet is an important value for many Americans. Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22, marking the anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement in 1970. Today, the fight for a clean environment continues with great urgency, as the effects of climate change become more visible each day. Many communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on the environmental issues that the world faces. See if you can find an Earth Day activity near you and pitch in to make our world a better place!

Our 2019 Winter Photo Contest

Mar 20, 2019

The 2019 Winter Photo Contest marks our 3rd annual photo contest for participants on the winter Work and Travel program, as well as the Intern and Trainee programs. For nine weeks in the winter, we announce a different weekly photo theme for anyone who wants to participate. To enter, participants must be following us on Instagram (@spiritexchange) so they can tag us. They must also use the hashtag #ShowYourSpirit. It's as easy as that!

At the end of the nine weeks, we announced our final Grand Prize Winner - Ana L. from Hotel Terra Jackson Hole! She received a GoPro camera (and plenty of bragging rights!). We hope you enjoy viewing the winning photos and getting a taste of all the cool things our participants have been doing!

Week 1 - Holiday Celebrations

Winner: Irish I. from St. Louis Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, MO

Week 1 Winner

Week 2 - Your New Friends

Winner: Twitchelle Z. from The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV

Week 2 Winner

Week 3 - At Work

Winner: Maria M. at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Week 3 Winner

Week 4 - Winter Fun

Winner: Ivaylo A. from Rainbow Leather in College Point, NY

Week 4 Winner

Week 5 - Your Town

Winner: Ana L. from Hotel Terra Jackson Hole in Teton Village, WY

Week 5 Winner

Week 6 - Keeping Warm

Winner: Ricardo I. from Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Week 6 Winner

Week 7 - Dinner with Friends

Winner: Cristiano S. from Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Week 7 Winner

Week 8 - Your Boss or Coworkers

Winner: Cede G. from Azabu Miami Beach in Miami Beach, FL

Week 8 Winner

Week 9 - Your Favorite Memory

Winner: Javier T. from Safeway in Frisco, CO

Week 9 Winner

Congratulations to all of our 2019 Winter Photo Contest winners! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. Keep exploring!

Spirit Attends Advocacy Day 2019

Mar 14, 2019

Advocacy Day is hosted by the Alliance for International Exchange as “a distinct opportunity for Alliance members to come together and educate Members of Congress about the value of international exchange in their respective districts and states.”

Day 1 of this two-day event focuses on educating attendees on the nuts and bolts of advocacy work as well as the challenges facing the Educational and Cultural Exchange programs designated by the State Department. The evening reception is spent networking with one another and learning about the international exchange work of other Alliance members. This year, speakers included Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and French Hill, a U.S. Representative from Arkansas. They each spoke highly of the value of cultural exchange and the international exchange programs that promote it across the U.S.

Advocacy Day Reception

On Day 2, attendees were broken up by state into groups of two to four. Christina joined “Team Illinois” in meeting with various staff members of Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Rep. Danny K. Davis. At these meetings, Team Illinois spoke with staffers about international exchanges and ways that the Members of Congress can support the work of educational and cultural exchanges. Staff members were invited to local celebrations for Exchange Day, which will take place August 5, 2019.

Team Illinois: Christina (Spirit Cultural Exchange), Bonnie (Greenheart International), and Russ (Hostelling International)
("Team Illinois": Christina from Spirit, Bonnie from Greenheart, and Russ from Hostelling International)

Overall, the staff members were supportive of international exchange programs, understanding the value that international exchange brings to the economy and to national security.

This is the sixteenth year that the Alliance has organized Advocacy Day for its members, and Spirit is grateful to have been part of this event for the fifth year in a row.

Special thanks to the Alliance for International Exchange, and especially Ilir Zherka and Sue Yang, for organizing such an educational and enjoyable event!

Interested in learning more about advocacy for international exchange? Click here for resources!

Spirit Celebrates International Women's Day

Mar 8, 2019

According to the International Women's Day website, this is "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."

With the help of our international partners and U.S.-based Host Companies, we at Spirit are committed to bringing cultural exchange to young women around the world. We're proud to provide these women experiences that will transform them into the world's future leaders, teachers, and creators.

Participating in cultural exchange programs empowers young women, providing them with a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.

At Spirit, more than half of our participants are female, and each year we help many young women take part in the training opportunities of their dreams in a number of professional environments. Many of them excel in fields that have traditionally been dominated by men.

We look forward to a future, more gender-balanced world where women have the opportunity to contribute fully in creating a "spirit" of international peace and understanding.

Click here to watch our video celebrating what cultural exchange means to women.

International Women's Day Video