Author: Samantha Dille
The primary purpose of the Exchange Visitor Programs is to offer people from around the world an opportunity to increase their knowledge and understanding of the United States firsthand through a combined cultural and “work” (i.e. internship/training) experience. Participants must be provided with a balanced program, including a meaningful cultural experience that will include a variety of opportunities to meet Americans (in and outside their workplace) and a chance to learn firsthand about American society, culture and values. In recent years, the “work” component of this exchange program has too often overshadowed the core cultural component that qualifies these programs as cultural exchange.
While employment is a critical element, it is neither the only nor the primary element of any of the Exchange Visitor Programs. In order to confirm that each job/internship/training placement leads to a meaningful cultural exchange experience, the U.S. Department of State advises all program stakeholders (including Host Companies) to consider the following questions about each job/internship/training placement:
- Does the position allow for routine interaction with Americans during the workday?
- Does the program provide a balance between work time and free time?
- Does the location of the Host Company provide opportunities for cultural activities and community engagement (after work)?
What kinds of activities promote and encourage cultural exchange?
- Regular/daily on-site interaction with American coworkers, customers, guests, etc.
- Lunches, pizza parties, birthday celebrations, and other employee gatherings either on- or off-site
- Team building, company picnics, and recreational events
- Organized sports
- Holiday parties and gift exchanges
- Halloween costume party/contest
- Thanksgiving celebration
- Inviting participants to employees’ family parties or other events outside of the workplace (birthday parties, BBQs, excursions, hiking, biking, etc.)
- Visiting with participants (or encouraging participants to visit) local attractions, sporting events, museums, art galleries, concerts, festivals, theaters, historic landmarks, scenic locations, etc.
The above list is not exhaustive; it is just to provide a better idea of what could be considered a cultural exchange opportunity. The more the participants are able to immerse themselves in the American culture- the better their program is, the more enriching their experience, and the better their program meets the U.S. Department of State requirements.
Encouraging your employees to engage in cultural exchange with the program participants creates a more vibrant work environment. A diverse and multi-cultural workplace breeds new ideas, insights, and ways of doing business. You have the opportunity to learn as much from your international interns/trainees as they will learn from you!