How Summer Adventures Become Diplomacy

On November 1, 2018, American Diplomacy published an article by Michael McCarry regarding the Exchange Visitor Program. Per the publication’s website, American Diplomacy is “an electronic journal of commentary, analysis, research, feature stories, and reviews on American foreign policy and its practice.”

A copy of the article is included below:

How Summer Adventures Become Diplomacy

By Michael McCarry

As autumn arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the U.S. State Department’s least heralded but most effective exchange programs has wrapped up another successful summer.

Roughly 100,000 international students, participants in the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, have returned home to resume their studies after a summer-long cross-cultural adventure in the United States.

SWT permits international students to work in the U.S. during their university summer breaks, allowing them to earn money to cover their program, travel, and living costs.  The students boost the American economy by providing needed seasonal staffing in resort areas, and in turn, get a first-hand experience of the United States.  The program receives no funding from the U.S. government.

Many of these students are visiting the U.S. for the first time. Without SWT, most of these future leaders from around the world would never visit the U.S., given the high cost of American education or even a tourist visit.   Summer Work Travel is the State Department’s largest exchange program, and the only one specifically designed for undergraduates.

Origins and Intent

The U.S. Information Agency (USIA) began administering the Summer Work Travel program in 1965, under its Fulbright-Hays Act authority to foster mutual understanding through a varied menu of exchanges. Following a critical 1990 General Accounting Office (GAO) report, which argued that the Exchange Visitor (J-1) visa was being misused for programs with a work component, former Senator William Fulbright clarified the legislative intent in a 1991 letter to Senator Claiborne Pell, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Fulbright wrote, “…the Fulbright-Hays legislation was intended to cover a broad spectrum of educational and cultural activities.  The Summer Work Travel program is an excellent example of the activities authorized by the ‘other educational activities’ provision…of the Act.”

Fulbright continued:  “Surely USIA must recognize that work can indeed be an important and educational cross cultural experience.  Indeed it may be more influential in forming attitudes and impressions of American life than a purely academic experience.”

Participation Trends

Historically, participation in the program has roughly tracked global headlines.  In its early years, the program remained relatively small, populated by Western European students seeking a summer adventure in the U.S. But when new democracies emerged in Central Europe after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, participation from that region grew rapidly.  By the early 2000’s, Poland became the leading sending country in world, annually topping 20,000 participants.

The U.S. embassy in Warsaw commented at length on this phenomenon in a 2003 cable:

“Particularly in the context of scarce resources [for funded exchanges], the Exchange Visitor programs – especially Summer Work Travel – offer a cost-effective way to bring thousands of young Poles to the U.S. for substantive experiences that are almost invariably positive, and allow us to reach a much broader and younger public than we could ever realistically aspire to through our federally funded programs. Our official programs and these programs are by no means interchangeable, but we see them as playing important complementary roles in our public diplomacy in Poland.”

The embassy concluded,  “Sending such a large cohort of students to the U.S. annually builds a reservoir of good will that will support a strong bilateral relationship for decades as these young Poles move into leadership positions throughout society. Moreover, by helping them sharpen their skills, the program will help facilitate their success in a very competitive Polish job market.  In a very competitive economy with persistent unemployment, university graduates find it difficult to land a good entry-level job without facility in a foreign language, and English is usually the most desirable choice.”

When Poland joined the European Union and $50 flights to London and Dublin became available in Warsaw, an English language work experience became more readily accessible to Polish students.  Participation in SWT declined, a pattern repeated, less dramatically, in most of Central Europe.

Central European numbers were quickly replaced by swelling demand for SWT experiences in Russia and other former Soviet republics, especially Ukraine.  And as those numbers have leveled off, we have seen program growth in newly emerging actors, such as China, Turkey, Brazil, and Thailand.

Regulatory Issues

The rapid expansion of the program, especially in Russia and Ukraine, exposed weaknesses in the program’s regulatory regime. This prompted an internal Department of State review of the SWT program, focused primarily on Russia and the former Soviet republics, which led to a set of regulatory changes for those countries known as ‘the Pilot Program.’  These changes included stricter vetting of jobs to be occupied by SWT participants and more frequent monitoring by American sponsor organizations.

The 2011 ‘strike’ by SWT students who complained about working conditions in a warehouse in Hershey, Pennsylvania, drew more critical attention to SWT.  The State Department moved relatively quickly to cap the program at its then-current level over slightly more than 100,000 participants, to place a moratorium on designating new sponsors, and to publish new regulations in 2011 and 2012 that used the Pilot Program provisions as a basis.  The new rules, applicable worldwide, also expanded the list of prohibited jobs (those judged dangerous or otherwise inappropriate for students), required that all jobs be seasonal, mandated that most students (students from visa waiver countries excepted) have a confirmed job placement before arrival, and expanded expectations for organized cultural activities for participants.

Those regulatory changes emerged from an intensive dialogue among the Department, U.S. embassies, and the U.S. sponsor community represented by the Alliance for International Exchange.  Another proposed rule, published in 2017, is likely to be finalized soon.  After a fairly substantial period under the new 2011 and 2012 rules, it’s fair to say that the State Department and the U.S. exchange community share the view that the SWT program is more effective than it has ever been, and better able to deliver on its mission of meaningful cultural exchange.

Student experiences

In recent travels, I’ve met Summer Work Travel students who were clearly enjoying the opportunity to live and work in the United States during the summer, getting to know Americans in ways that have influenced their understanding of the country.

Dorde, a philosophy student from Serbia who hopes to be a filmmaker, says, “I’m most amazed by everyday things, like the architecture, which is so different from Europe.  “Being here has changed me a lot,” he continued.  “I’m a lot more independent.  Cultural exchanges like this really enrich your life.”

One student, who asked not to be identified, found another lesson in the American experience.  “Your country works really well.  In my country, if you want some sort of permission or certification from the government, it takes a very long time, “ the student said.  “If you have a friend or relative who knows the right clerk, it can speed things up.  Sometimes a bottle of whiskey helps.

“When I applied here for my Social Security card, I applied one day and got my card in the mail the next week,” the student reported, still with a discernible touch of disbelief.

Valery, a Ukrainian student who worked at a sandwich shop in Branson, Missouri, describes her takeaway from the experience:  “I can say that Americans are the great nation. They are all different — in their accents, location, country of origin, religion, color of the skin. But they are united in this diversity.“

Local impact

In addition to learning about the U.S., SWT students support American businesses in resort areas with insufficient supplies of high season workers.

A striking example of labor need is Branson, one of the leading tourist destinations in or around the Ozarks. Branson draws visitors to southwest Missouri with gorgeous scenery, fishing, golf, and a long menu of musical shows.  Branson has a population of 11,000, and on an average summer day, attracts 75,000 visitors.

When I asked Branson Mayor Karen Best where the town would be without the Summer Work Travel program, she replied succinctly, “We’d be in trouble.”

Asked for an example, she gestured toward one of her office windows. “There’s a hotel over there that I know would need to close one of its buildings in the summer without the Summer Work Travel students. And without a doubt, that would have a negative impact on the hotel and its American workers.”

Mayor Best added, “I know there are those who say these students are taking jobs from Americans. That’s not the case at all. Even with the students, we still have vacancies, and we’re still hiring.”

Shawn Clark, Employment Manager at Mohonk Mountain House, a resort in the Hudson River valley, counts on SWT students.  “American students aren’t much interested in seasonal work,” Clark said.  “SWT students represent only about 10 per cent of our summer work force, but they are absolutely essential.

“We never stop hiring,” he said.  “We post jobs all year round.  In mid-August, long after the SWT students arrived, we were trying to fill 78 vacancies.”

Steve Lavery, President of High Sierra Pools in Arlington, Virginia, says the SWT program is essential to his business that serves pools in neighborhoods and at apartment buildings.  “For our purposes, Northern Virginia has a ‘shortage’ of teenagers,” he told me.  “Local teenagers used to staff these pools, but now most of them are looking for internships, taking academic enrichment courses, or traveling.  Pools couldn’t stay open and safe without SWT students.”

People-to-people connections

Based on my recent conversations with SWT participants, one of their strongest impressions is of the American people:

  • “Americans have such kind, open personalities. They are always happy to help.”
  • “People here are so supportive. They make you feel like part of their family.”
  • “America is so multi-cultural. You can meet people from 7 different countries in one day.  And everyone manages to live together.  It’s a lesson for the whole world.”

The vast majority of SWT students take home a very positive view of the United States.   And that’s not just an impression.  A 2017 study by EurekaFacts, commissioned by the Alliance for International Exchange, includes these findings:

  • 91 per cent of program participants say cultural exchange is their primary purpose for visiting the U.S.
  • 90.9 per cent are either satisfied or very satisfied with their experience.
  • 98 per cent of participants recommended the program to their friends.
  • 91 per cent say they gained a better understanding of American culture during the program.
  • 94 per cent report making friends with Americans.

Summer Work Travel students return home and share their stories with their families, neighbors, friends, and classmates.  And, no accident, another 100,000 students will show up next summer, many persuaded by the tales of their friends’ summer adventures.

The Summer Work Travel program transforms thousands of authentic experiences – from simple conversations to Grand Canyon road trips – into powerful, ongoing diplomacy.  It makes lasting friends for the United States, and in part through the stories of its alumni, regenerates itself annually.  By filling a crucial seasonal need, it supports American businesses and American workers.  And it does all that without any federal funding.

A few years ago, the Foreign Service Institute invited me to speak to a group of experienced consular officers about the whole range of State Department exchange programs.

When it came time for questions, one of the officers expressed skepticism about the Summer Work Travel program, arguing that it was just a work program, rather than a true exchange.

At the time one of my sons was a college student who spoke pretty good Spanish and aspired to improve it.  So my response to this officer was more personal than policy: “If my son had the opportunity to spend a summer in Argentina, was able to support himself through legal work with a sponsor organization backstopping him, learned to navigate a foreign culture on his own and significantly improved his Spanish, I’d judge that to be a pretty successful summer.”

Unfortunately, very few countries offer Americans such an opportunity.

Through the collaboration of the State Department and the American entities and communities that host, support, and sponsor SWT students, the U.S. has created something rare and underappreciated:  a program in which nearly everybody wins, every summer.

Michael McCarry

Michael McCarry, senior adviser to CENET, served for 21 years as Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange.  Before joining the Alliance, he was a U.S. diplomat with assignments in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Beijing, and Washington, including a tour as Staff Director for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  His international involvement began with a year as a graduate student at Melbourne University. 

Cenet strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about cenet, please visit our Facebook Page.Cenet Logo_Black

Cenet Launches Cultural Classroom for Southeast Missouri Teachers

Since 2011, Cenet has provided Culture in the Classroom for area schools and groups. Through this program, Cenet has entered countless local classrooms with international visitors to provide authentic, cultural education.

Although Culture in the Classroom has provided free education for thousands of area students, Cenet has decided to take the program one step further by providing cultural experiences for local educators, as well.

In 2019, Cenet will launch Cultural Classroom. The mission is simple: to inspire cultural competency and create a better quality of life for our community members.

Local educators who are selected for Cultural Classroom receive the following:

  • Paid trip to the Dominican Republic with Intentional Tours in July 6-13, 2019 (flight, activities, tour guide, accommodation, transportation, and most meals included).
  • Pre-Departure Orientation.
  • Two workshops on cultural programming.
  • Reimbursement of related expenses (up to $400)*
  • Access to apply for 2nd year in program // includes trip to Europe.

*Cenet will provide criteria on eligible expenses. 

Cultural Classroom eligibility:

  • Must be a current teacher in Southeast Missouri.
  • Possess at least 2 years of teaching experience.
  • Complete the Cultural Classroom application.
  • Include one reference letter from a current administrator at your school.
  • Must be able to attend pre-departure orientation, the trip to the Dominican Republic, and two post-trip workshops (orientation and workshops will take place in Cape Girardeau).
  • Must implement at least 10 hours of intercultural education in your classroom (this can be woven into existing curriculum and workshops will assist in this planning).
  • Application must be emailed to by January 18, 2019.

If you are interested in the program, please submit an application by January 18, 2019. If you have any questions, please email Applications may be submitted to

Flyer, Information, and Application: 

To learn more about Intentional Tours, please visit:

Cenet strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about cenet, please visit our Facebook Page.Cenet Logo_Black

Cenet Hosts 5th Annual J-Day in Branson

#CelebrateJDay #EatPlayGive #ExchangeTheWorld #ExchangesImpact

On Monday, August 6, cenet hosted the 5th annual J-Day in Branson. Under the motto “eat play give,” cenet provided a service activity, food, and games.

J-Day festivities began at Ozark Mountain Family YMCA where the J-Day Ambassadors presented for nearly 50 children attending a YMCA summer camp. This camp is provided in large part for local foster children. Cenet selected 14 exceptional participants to serve as our J-Day Ambassadors. The Ambassadors represented the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Turkey, India, Thailand, Russia, and China. The campers learned about world cultures from the J-Day Ambassadors. Mayor Tate (Hollister) provided an introduction and thanked the exchange visitors for volunteering their time in the community.

In the afternoon, cenet welcomed nearly 275 guests to Moonshine Beach to celebrate J-Day. The party included beach games, swimming, dancing, and dinner. Mayor Best (Branson) welcomed the students and thanked them for spending their summer breaks in Branson. She also presented certificates to the J-Day Ambassadors in recognition of their community service. Afternoon attendees also supported Ozarks Food Pantry by donating canned and dry food items.

Special thanks to the following people and groups for supporting J-Day:

  • Mayor Tate, Holllister
  • Rick Ziegenfuss, City Administrator, Hollister
  • Denise Olmstead, Assistant City Administrator, Hollister
  • Mayor Best, Branson
  • Mike Ussery on behalf of Rep. Long
  • John Robinson, Branson Tri-Lakes News
  • DJ Christian Guerrero
  • Myer Hospitality
  • The Tracks Family Fun Park
  • Melissa Rangel, Bank of Missouri
  • Branson Baptist Church
  • Local volunteers: Rick Chastain, Carlos Hernandez, Maricela Melgar, Carla Hernandez, Victor Botica, Vladimir and Erica Don
  • Cenet staff: Mercedes Botica, Debra Chastain, Robyn Walker, Tina Schlosser, Sirena Watkins

A photo gallery from Branson J-Day 2018 is included below:

Cenet strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about cenet, please visit our Facebook Page.Cenet Logo_Black


Cenet Co-Hosts First International J-Day

#CelebrateJDay #ExchangesImpact #EatPlayGive #ExchangeOurWorld

In 2014, cenet, Spirit Cultural Exchange, and Greenheart International piloted J-Day, a nationwide celebration of the power of international exchange. Over the last several years, J-Day events have occurred in cities across the United States, bringing community members and exchange participants together to “eat, play, give.”

This year, cenet partnered with Smaller Earth to host the first international J-Day in Liverpool, England. The event welcomed alumni from the Exchange Visitor Program (J-1 visa) and their families.

Cenet’s Senior Director, Leslie Corn, spoke on the background and significance of J-Day. Smaller Earth’s Co-Founder, Dave Robinson, provided a welcome address and shared about his first exchange program in the 1980s, a life-changing experience in New York City. After Dave, various alumni told stories about how their exchange experiences impacted their lives for the better.

The event included a prosecco reception, dinner, games, face-painting and coloring stations for children, live music, and a charity drive for the Liverpool South Food Bank resulting in £225 in funds raised. The leftover food from the dinner was donated to the local YMCA.

Below are a few stories shared by program alumni at J-Day Liverpool:

I 100% would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for going on an exchange to the U.S.

Before heading out, I had a little ‘Art Studio’ at home – well I say art studio but it was a cupboard with a light plummed into it (Harry Potter style!). I would spend all my free time here and wouldn’t really socialise. After my first summer abroad, my family and friends saw a huge difference in the person who returned home. This newfound confidence just grew and grew each year.

I was lucky enough to be be made the Speciality Director in my last year on the program, this meant I was helping in 9 activity areas and assisting many staff in these areas. This was a very challenging summer, there’s no doubt there. But, not only did I develop strong leadership skills, but I was able to help give other exchange participants incredible summers and was able to watch them all grow, much like I did in my first summer.

I also wouldn’t have gotten the job I have now if it wasn’t for my confidence and the belief I have in cultural exchange programs. It changed my life and I love knowing I’m able to help change lives of others through cultural exchange.

–Imogen C., Exchange Visitor Program 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017; Field of Study: Advertising and Brand Management; Current Position: Social Media Specialist 

I was at Camp Lincoln as a member of the sailing staff. The place was unlike anything I had ever experienced. One morning I was up at 5am and I saw Sam carrying the water coolers around, ensuring they were full of iced water for the day ahead. Here was a guy who owned the camp, owned another across the lake, and owned 2 high-end holiday resorts, employing hundreds of people and he was up at 5 making sure the kids had access to cool water for the day ahead. 

Down at the dock I met Lafe, he ran the sailing program. We had 30 boats, some were up to 28 foot long. He would raise them up on a lift and spend hours scrubbing the hulls to ensure they moved through the water with minimal drag. No kid would ever notice the incremental benefit of this, but he ensured that everything was the best possible. Of the 60 activities at camp, sailing was by far the most popular.

Camp taught me the value or hard work, the conditions for success were set up and I did better than I had before. 

I was brought up in the an environment where children were told what to do. Where shouting was okay, as a member of the boys brigade we believed that discipline was key, and a louder voice meant results. I took this to camp and one day a kid was playing around on the dock when they should not have been. I shouted at them, they ignored me. Lafe the guy running the sailing program walked up to them, sat down next to them and spoke to them.

They listened to him and did as he asked. Throughout the summer I learned how to create an environment where children (and adults) could flourish. This people based approach has stayed with me ever since. Discipline is not something done in the moment, it is a environment created to ensure people succeed.

At camp in 2006 outside the dining hall, I met Sophie. She smelt of horses. It was really bad. She looked great in her denim shorts and white t-shirt, I spent the summer learning about horses, and we have now been married for 10 years. Our camp values based relationship has set us up to succeed.

I met all kinds of people in the U.S., from the maintenance guy Ron, who lived in a trailer and survived the cold winters with all kinds of woes, to Sam who owned camp and more. These experiences and connections mean that when I hear of opposing political views coming from America about current politics I can connect to each perspective because I know people on each side of the argument.

I have been lucky enough to further develop these skills. Thousands of young people go to the U.S. and have a similar experience, and they, too, have positively impacted the communities they have visited in the U.S, and then their communities at home.

Summer camp is where young people get to take responsibility for things other than themselves, they get to take on challenges they would not face at home in a safe environment where everything else (food, accommodation, planning what to do and more) is taken care of. They get to succeed at a higher level than previously possible.

J-1 cultural exchange makes our society richer, it helps us understand American society properly, and by opening this opportunity to the world, it creates a huge ripple effect.

Here’s a toast to Camp Leaders, CENET, the J-1 Program, the U.S. Department of State, America and participants & hosts!

Mark H. Camp Counselor Program: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009; Field of Study: Hazards and Geoscience; Current Position: Director of Growth and Development

I’ve met some of my best friends through the program. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others, and I have become a lot more confident. The program made me want to help others have the same experience as me.

Gabor S., Exchange Visitor Program 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016; Field of Study: Paramedics; Current Position: Travel Coordinator 

My summer J-1 program impacted me in a way I could never have imagined. I had everything I could wish for at home, including my dream job in London. But due to a burning desire to go to the USA, I took the plunge and went during my second year of University. Fair to say I loved every single minute. I gained the nickname “smiler” that first summer as I just couldn’t stop beaming from ear to ear the entire 9 weeks. The friendships I made were unlike any other that I’ve had in my life. They were deep, honest and we just connected in a way that I hadn’t done with anyone else. I went for my second summer and it still was the best place I’d ever worked. Upon returning home, I got the blues but was then offered my dream job at MTV in London. I was thrilled – yet a part of me still yearned to be in the U.S. with friends from all over the world, doing what I loved. My boss could see it in my eyes and when I sat her down to tell her I didn’t know what to do – she told me I had to go back for another summer. Decision made – 3rd Summer here I come. I qualified as a lifeguard and I developed a love for the water. By my 4th Summer I earned a Waterfront Director position and my life was changed forever.

I was lucky enough to be offered a full time job with Camp Leaders in ’08 and moved up to Liverpool to begin this journey – which I’m still on 10 years later.

It’s hard to put in to words how cultural exchange can impact and change your life, but my god is it important that we all allow ourselves the opportunity to experience its wonder.

Kim H., Exchange Visitor Program: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012; Field of Study: Dance and Professional Practice; Current Position: Head of People and Culture

Special thanks to our partners and friends at Smaller Earth for collaborating on the first international J-Day! 

Cenet strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about cenet, please visit our Facebook Page.Cenet Logo_Black

Midwest Sponsors Hold Annual Safety Summit

On April 12-13, cenet staff traveled to Chicago, IL to join fellow sponsors Greenheart Exchange and Spirit Cultural Exchange for training and networking at the Midwest Safety Summit.

The Summit kicked off at the Greenheart office with an advocacy update from Michael McCarry, former Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, followed by a networking reception. Day two included Psychological First Aid presented by the Chicago Red Cross, sponsor presentations on safety best practices, an anti-trafficking workshop led by a local expert, and break-out sessions regarding various safety and support topics.

This was the fourth gathering of Midwest sponsors since 2014.

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.

Cenet Attends Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

On March 7-8, over 100 Alliance members met in Washington, D.C. to advocate for U.S. State Department Exchange Programs.

The annual 2-day event featured training and educational sessions, congressional meetings, and a Congressional Reception.

The Congressional Reception at the U.S. Capitol hosted 177 attendees, including guests from the Hill and State. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and State/ECA Acting Assistant Secretary Jennifer Galt provided remarks at the event; both spoke passionately about exchange programs.

In total, 96 congressional offices were visited (48 House, 48 Senate), with at least 5 Members of Congress attending the meetings. Cenet met with the offices of Senator Blunt, Senator McCaskill, Representative Long, and Representative Smith.

As the voice of international exchange, the Alliance promotes the growth and impact of exchange programs and the effectiveness of its members by engaging in advocacy, providing member development opportunities, and building public awareness of the power of exchange.


CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.


Alumni Spotlight: Semih Karatas

Warning: exchange programs often lead to extended feelings of euphoria. Participants experience long-term benefits, lasting friendships, and memories forever credited as “best ever.” Proceed with caution.

Thank you for sharing your experience, Semih! We love to hear from our alumni and how their exchange programs continue to positively impact their lives and careers long after their programs conclude.

I was a hospitality trainee in Louisville, Kentucky for 12 months. I appreciated all of my colleagues. I learned so very much from all of them and I want to keep on learning. Now I am feeling completely different than before my program. I experienced so much and so quickly. I’ve had fun, I’ve been sad, I’ve been happy and scared. I can honestly say this experience was the big step in my future and will help me make my dreams come true. I had a lot to learn from the program and I will follow all the training and advice I received. It was my best experience of my life! Thank you again miss y’all! #internship #Usa #Kentucky #Louisville

– Semih, J-1 Alumnus 

Alumni Semih Karatas Trainee

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.