CENET’s First 100 Days

Op-Ed By Leslie Corn

#CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

I believe it was the wise words of Alabama that once proclaimed “you can’t keep a good man down.” And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Thanks Randy Owen. I’m not certain the song was written for this moment in time, but it could be. It is, after all, 2017– the year of anything is possible.

Due to events that will not be named in this apolitical post (hint: it started in November), it’s safe to say there’s been some recent challenges presented to the exchange community.

In the midst of adversity, it’s as though Alabama (the band) was singing directly to Missouri (the state), and we got to work. Although it felt like our course became uphill, we continued in forward-movement towards our goals.

Below is a snapshot of CENET’s first 100 Days; 100 days well spent, endeavoring to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.


Local:

CENET started the year in our new office, with our new website, with our old staff holding some new titles, and some new staff joining the team. We also welcomed a new J-1 category. It was like we won the lottery. But better because we didn’t get the curse that goes along with all lottery wins (source: the internet).

We also provided Culture in the Classroom sessions for 530 students, impacting 31 classrooms at 3 schools with 9 different presenters sharing their unique cultural backgrounds. A special presentation in Oran attracted media attention from the Southeast Missourian  and KFVS coverage; the session also had support from the offices of Senator Blunt and Representative Smith.

CENET hosted a Welcome Reception in our office space, to share our mission with new friends and long-time supporters. Over 150 community members joined us to sample international cuisine and wine & beer selections from around the world.

On April 27, over 40 CENET supporters gathered at Hedman Vineyards for a special culinary and wine event celebrating Swedish culture and raising funds for Culture in the Community. The funds raised at the event will be directed to sending area youth to the world-renowned Concordia Language Villages for 2017 summer programs.

In addition, CENET hosted a local Chamber of Commerce After-Hours event, presented at the women’s Optimist Club in Jackson, sponsored “Carnaval Night: Welcome to Rio” as part of SEMO of the World, welcomed various visiting partners from around the world, and hosted a Magellan University member from Zuyd University of Applied Sciences.

 


Regional:

In Branson, CENET cohosted the J-1 Community Forum, and the Branson Lakes Area Lodging Association’s monthly meeting. CENET was also selected to present at the County Partnership’s Workforce Summit. Community members in Branson are highly supportive, with the Branson Mayor and the office of Representative Billy Long regularly attending J-1 related events. CENET’s Regional Director, support staff, fellow sponsors, and community members continue to prepare for another successful summer season in Branson.


National:

We began the year with a visit to our west coast partners to provide J-1 education and training on our new website.

To connect within the exchange community and to gain valuable insight into the Camp Counselor program, CENET attended the American Camp Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Once again, CENET participated in Advocacy Day. CENET and fellow Alliance members visited over 170 congressional offices on Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of J-1 exchanges.

Recently, CENET had the privilege of participating in a volunteer project in Wisconsin Dells, which attracted approximately 360 winter work and travel exchange participants; the following day, CENET attended the Wisconsin Dells Annual Employer and Community Forum.


International:

CENET staff members have visited international partners in the United Kingdom, Budapest, Prague, Bratislava, and Warsaw, while also attended hiring fairs throughout Europe and the Dominican Republic. In addition, an alumni gathering was held in the Dominican Republic.

Magellan member universities, Aachen University of Applied Sciences and Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, also received CENET visits.

CENET attended the WETM conference in Munich, Germany.


Looking Ahead: 

As we move forward, CENET will continue to dedicate ourselves to programs that inspire a safer, more prosperous, and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. We will also continue to advocate for exchange programs and initiatives that promote global knowledge, cultural sensitivity, peaceful solutions. Should you be interested in learning more about CENET programs or how to get involved, please contact CENET.

And if you aren’t sure what CENET is or how you got on this page, you should probably go watch the Alabama Can’t Keep a Good Man Down video. You earned it.

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 Participates in ‘SEMO of the World’ Celebration

By Leslie Corn

Culture in the Community | #CITC #CENETJ1

Throughout the spring semester, Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) will provide activities honoring world cultures. Students, faculty, and members of the regional community are invited to participate in “SEMO of the World,” a celebration of cultural diversity in Southeast Missouri.

“This is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the numerous internationally-focused activities happening across campus and in the community during the remainder of the semester.  Not everyone is aware of the deep and meaningful ways Southeast is engaged in international education, and ‘SEMO of the World’ is an opportunity to demonstrate that engagement,” said Kevin Timlin, executive director of Southeast’s International Education and Services, “‘SEMO of the World’ is an opportunity to demonstrate how much we, as a University community, respect and value all that international students and scholars bring to the educational environment here. We hope everyone will take the time to attend some of these events to show that everyone from around the world is welcome here.” (source: Southeast Missourian)

Currently, 883 international students representing 50 countries are enrolled at SEMO. Various student and community organizations are joining forces to provide a calendar of meaningful activities for the “SEMO of the World” series; these activities will provide international students with opportunities to share their cultures and customs with their American counterparts.

CENET joined the festivities by sponsoring “Carnaval Night: Welcome to Rio,” organized by the Brazilian Student Association and hosted by Centenary United Methodist Church. Per the event description, the evening was a “high-energy night exploring the richness and diversity of Brazil by enjoying traditional Brazilian dishes prepared by Chef Juliana, a live samba performance by renowned Brazilian music and dance group Samba Bom, carnival dancers, samba lessons, bossa nova, capoeira, freestyle soccer and much more.”

The CENET staff especially enjoyed getting to see several Brazilian volunteers from Culture in the Community (CITC) participate in the event; one demonstrated capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music, while others performed a Brazilian pop song.

CENET’s contribution was used to hire Samba Bom, a renowned music and dance group, and to provide special lighting for the event.

The evening was a huge success and a true celebration of Brazilian culture.

Check out event photos in the gallery below. Details about other “SEMO of the World” events may be found here.

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.

Does ‘America First’ Mean ‘America Alone’? 

By Michael McCarry

Op-Ed | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

We are still in the first months of the Trump Administration.  Early indicators suggest that our new President is not yet a supporter of international exchange programs.

While detail is scant concerning Trump’s first proposed budget, press reports indicate he proposes deep cuts in funding for the State Department’s exchange programs.

And during his campaign, Trump indicated that he would eliminate a variety of unfunded State Department programs that reach large numbers of international students and young professionals.  These inbound programs comprise a creative range of activities for young adults that include internships, professional training, camp counseling, and casual work at summer resorts.  These are programs administered by Cultural Exchange Network (CENET) and other nongovernmental organizations in partnership with the State Department.

This apparent disregard for exchanges puts Trump outside a 65-year bipartisan political consensus that these programs are an important component of our national security.

Ronald Reagan, the ultimate Cold Warrior, was a believer.  After his election in 1980, Reagan wanted to deploy intermediate range nuclear missiles in Germany to counter a Soviet deployment.  The German public resisted.

The White House concluded that part of its public opinion problem in Germany was demographic. Germans who remembered the defeat of Hitler, the Berlin airlift, and the Marshall Plan were passing from the scene, along with their personal sense of gratitude toward the U.S.  Rising generations of Germans did not have a similar emotional connection to America.

The Reagan solution?  One element was The President’s Youth Exchange Initiative, designed to greatly expand high school exchanges between the U.S. and other nations, including Western Europe.  The idea was to foster what President Reagan called ‘a language of understanding’ between nations, powered by a cohort of citizens who had lived in each other’s homes, attended each other’s schools, and understood each other’s values.

Since the success of Reagan’s youth exchange initiative, American leaders from both parties have turned repeatedly to exchange programs in times of major international events, whether crisis or opportunity.  People-to-people programs were close to the heart of the American response to the 9/11 attacks, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the breakup of Yugoslavia, and China’s Tiananmen Square violence.

Republicans and Democrats have always supported exchange programs for a reason: these programs make a positive difference to our national security.  Exchange experiences build a web of understanding and relationships that lasts a lifetime.  They make us safer.

Think about how much harder it is to demonize an entire nationality – ‘all Americans are this way’ or ‘all Germans are that way’ – if you’ve actually met an American or a German, had a meal with them, worked or studied beside them.  That’s an equation that applies to international students who come here, and to Americans who study abroad.  We all win.

And think, too, how an American exchange experience affects the lives of those who come here.   Those participants return to their home countries with improved English and with new knowledge and self-confidence gained from successfully navigating American culture.  These qualities equip them for future success, and many exchange alumni around the world have gone on to careers as diplomats, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, or even heads of state.  And although if these alumni don’t pursue careers in politics or policy, their influence in business, academia, journalism, or other fields can be significant.

Simply put, these programs make friends, often influential friends, for America.

Our new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, made the point well in Congressional testimony in 2013, when he was Commander of the U.S. Central Command:  “…if you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition…

“… it’s a cost-benefit ratio. The more we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

For nearly 40 years, Republicans and Democrats have agreed that President Reagan had it right:  we need to keep working on his “language of understanding”, a language that connects Americans to the world, and by doing so, makes us all safer.


Michael McCarry

Michael McCarry is a Senior Advisor at CENET. With over 37 years of international experience– both as a Foreign Service Officer and the Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange– Michael McCarry is a leader within the exchange community, with distinct insight and knowledge in policy, foreign affairs, and public diplomacy. 

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 ACA Conference

By Leslie Corn

#CENETJ1 | Camp Counselor

On February 21-24, CENET staff attended the American Camp Association (ACA) National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Through ACA sessions and networking opportunities, CENET gained valuable insight that will further strengthen its J-1 Camp Counselor program. Special thanks to officials from the U.S. Department of State for participating in a panel discussion regarding the J-1 Camp Counselor program category, followed by individual meetings with designated sponsors. Per the ACA website , the following Department of State representatives were in attendance:

  • Diane Culkin: Diane is the Division Chief in the U.S. Department of State Office of Private Sector Exchange — Office of Designation.  The Department oversees and administers the Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa which includes J-1 Summer Work Travel and Camp Counselor visas.
  • Jacqueline Chisolmn: Jacqueline is a Program Analyst with the U.S. Department of State Office of Private Sector Exchange — Office of Program Administration.  The Department oversees and administers the Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa which includes J-1 Summer Work Travel and Camp Counselor visas.
  • Deena Pinckney-Cooper: Deena is the Lead Program Analyst with the U.S. Department of State Office of Private Sector Exchange — Office of Designation. The Department oversees and administers the Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa which includes J-1 Summer Work Travel and Camp Counselor visas.
  • Jennifer Nupp: Jennifer is a Program Analyst with the U.S. Department of State Office of Private Sector Exchange — Office of Designation. The Department oversees and administers the Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa which includes J-1 Summer Work Travel and Camp Counselor visas.

*Lauren Grimes was also in attendance and participated in CENET’s sponsor meeting.

Check out photos from CENET’s week at ACA 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.

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2017 Brings Changes for CENET

By Leslie Corn

Mission Oriented | #CENETJ1

In 2016, the CENET team gathered for a strategic planning session that focused on growth. At CENET, we believe cross-cultural experiences lead to a safer, more prosperous, and compassionate world; by broadening our reach, we hope to further enhance global knowledge, encourage cultural sensitivity, and ultimately inspire world peace. That’s right. We said it and we believe it: cultural exchanges are catalysts for world peace. (Source: CENET)

Despite clear intentions, the core question still remained: how? How do we accomplish our ultimate goals? How do we maintain a culture of continuous improvement? How do we grow in meaningful and effective ways?  In crafting our strategic plan, the outcome was clear: intentional growth is initiated by intentional change.

After a year of intensive planning and implementation, CENET is excited to introduce many initiatives to help us better serve our local and global communities, as we endeavor to promote a safer, more prosperous, and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.

The first major change our stakeholders may notice is our new website. Not only will the internal system improve the processes for our participants and partners, but this change also signals a farewell to the clunky, tongue-twister, “culturalexchangenetwork.org”; we have happily adopted “cenet.org.” We have a strong suspicion no one will miss being on either side of the phone calls that involved spelling out our former name. “Yes, please email us at i-n-f-o at c-u-l-t-u-r-a-l-e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-n-e-t-w-o-r-k-dot-o-r-g. Oh, you need me to repeat that? Certainly.” It feels good to drop 18 letters.

Other noteworthy changes include a revamped mission statement, expanded program offerings, and the addition of several new team members.

Lastly, one of the biggest transitions has been CENET’s move to a creative, new office space. Much like CENET, our new home at the Marquette Tech District honors its heritage and tradition in Cape Girardeau, while also embracing the future. A snapshot of the district’s history and  vision may be found below:

Downtown is steeped in the history and development of Cape Girardeau. As the city grew in the early 20th Century, downtown was established as the economic center of the local community and region. Like many communities, the 1960s and 70s brought about commercial relocation to areas near major highways and large downtown buildings, became a challenge to keep occupied and maintained.

The Marquette Tech District is returning these treasured structures to their prominence as the epicenter of modern economic expansion.

The Marquette Tech District is the next big step in making downtown Cape Girardeau a great place to live, work, and play. This major historic renovation development project is anticipated to result in significant economic impact from the establishment of a technology district that will bring 200-300 talented, enterprising professionals and many more guests to live, work, and play, in downtown Cape Girardeau.

The epicenter of the Marquette Tech District is the iconic Marquette Tower. Anchored by an expansion of Codefi, the historic building will be renovated into tech-powered, modern office spaces for technology-based and innovative companies, and organizations that support them. The building is being wired with gigabit internet powered by a new fiber optic network that delivers the fastest speeds in the world to the new tech district.

– Courtesy of Marqutte Tech District (www.marquettetech.com)

The CENET team is excited work alongside a community of passionate, dedicated professionals at the Marquette Tech District. Photos of CENET’s new space are included in a gallery below.

CENET looks forward to an exciting year. We are honored to get to do what we do each day. Thank you to our participants and partners; you give our passion a purpose.

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.

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CENET Staff Member Shares Peace Corps Journey

By Leslie Corn

Global Citizen | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

CENET staff member, Shay Priester, recently returned from 27 months of Peace Corps service across various remote regions of Ecuador. In the interview below, Shay shares her passion for international exchange programs and the positive global impact of exchanges.

You grew up a small, rural town in Missouri. For readers unfamiliar with Jackson, MO, could you describe the community?

Jackson is located west of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Memphis and is treasured for its rolling hills and vast farmland. For me, Jackson epitomizes “small town America” in the sense of being a civic-minded, hardworking people committed to a strong sense of community.

Who or what inspired you to experience new cultures?

My sense of curiosity, and also getting to know the world through National Geographic magazines and stories from family members. My maternal grandmother is French and emigrated to the U.S. after World War II. My paternal grandmother spent time carrying out medical missions in Bolivia as a nurse. When I was 17 I convinced her to let me tag along and help with triage and translation. I accompanied her through the Andean highlands and Amazon. Shortly after during my senior year of high school I became close friends with a Peruvian exchange student who lived in Bolivia when I had visited the country. It made the world feel like such a small place. I related to her closely when at first she had seemed so foreign. I could speak with her in Spanish and share experiences only known to those who had been where we both had been. I was motivated to study anthropology, continue traveling, and ultimately join the Peace Corps.

Can you describe a few of your exchange experiences?

My travels have seen me primarily through Central and South America, as well as Spain and Canada. I have participated internationally in educational and volunteer exchanges, and have also worked in the U.S. with youth exchange camps, English language programs, as well as for the Cultural Exchange Network helping administer the J-1 programs. Most recently I lived in Ecuador for about two and a half years for Peace Corps.

Please describe your motivations, core beliefs, and personal successes to date?

I’m motivated by the human spirit’s will to overcome the human condition. I’ve been called naive, but within that label find myself in the ranks of those who serve others in a way that allows people to help themselves. I continue to believe that the biggest changes must begin first within ourselves, and in that regard we as individuals can change the world. My biggest personal success is helping others find and accomplish theirs. Professionally speaking to date, it was carrying out that same idea through service in the Peace Corps.

Who or what made the biggest impact on you during your Peace Corps service?

During Peace Corps service I lived with a few different families and made close friendships. These Ecuadorians became my support network and gave me a sense of home. I lived with them, and in two years time lived so much life with them. They saw me through sickness, asked me to be godmother to their children, and welcomed my brother as family when he visited from the states. In the same way that my biological family has an indelible mark on me, so does my Ecuadorian family. Their impact is impossible to quantify and difficult to describe.

Did you experience culture shock?

Uncommonly, I didn’t experience much culture shock upon arrival to Ecuador, but in my return to the U.S. have experienced “reverse culture shock.” I’ve been patient with myself to overcome it, and have listened to advice given to J-1 participants and international exchange visitors to the U.S. I’ve maintained contact with my family in Ecuador, reached out to the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) community in the U.S., and have gotten involved in different social activities since returning home.

Although you were a visitor in another country, were able to share U.S. culture?

Sharing U.S. culture is one of Peace Corps’ three goals of service. As a longer-term resident of Ecuador I was able to share many aspects of U.S. culture including culinary creations, major holidays and customs, and the diversity of U.S. history and values. I broke down stereotypes that Ecuadorians have of U.S. Americans, but managed to uphold some with my love of Michael Jackson, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and baseball.

Did you make lasting connections with the people in your host community in Ecuador?

Absolutely. I still speak weekly with my host family, friends, and coworkers in Ecuador and am guiding a young man through applying for a passport. It’s his dream to visit the United States, and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to repay the hospitality he showed me. Every week I get messages from friends talking about what we were doing together last year at this time, and how I’m surviving in the U.S. without my favorite Ecuadorian foods. My Ecuadorian friends are just as meaningful to me as the relationships I have in the U.S.

Why is it important for people to experience other cultures?

Experiencing other cultures provides us the opportunity to see our own values and realities through a different lens, and to appreciate the differences that make the world an interesting place. Cultural exchange gives us the gift of understanding things from multiple perspectives, and considering those realities in our decision making.

What are ways a person can become a global citizen in his/her local community?

One doesn’t need to leave the U.S. or likely even their hometown in order to be a global citizen. It’s easy to connect with the international community on many levels. If you live near a university it’s probable that there are international students who would love to share customs from their home country. There are also opportunities for exchange visitors to temporarily live in the U.S. like the J-1 visa program. You could invite them to speak at your school or business. You can become pen pals with someone in another country, or even Skype into a classroom for a live discussion. You might try some international cuisine. The possibilities are endless and simply depend on your curiosity and engagement.

Cultural exchanges have been cited as top catalysts for long-term political change. Why do you think that is?

Catalysts for political changes are often born from the negative: famine, war, violence. On the other hand, cultural exchanges are positive experiences that participants enjoy sharing. Cultural exchange requires people to look beyond themselves and work for a greater good, while at the same time depending on many people and systems (often foreign) to assist in a positive experience. That experience inspires involvement. Leaving one’s own country encourages a heightened commitment to service and participation upon return. With cultural exchange comes an exchange of ideas, a broader understanding of what are commonly seen as differences, and multicultural perspectives on issues that encourage active engagement with those in public service. It often inspires participants to run for office, lobby on behalf of other causes, or provide a voice to those who might otherwise not be heard. All from simply living in another place and understanding a different way of life.

Given your professional experience with the J-1 visa, why is it an important program for U.S. public diplomacy objectives?

Programs like the J-1 visa exchange give participants an opportunity for a deeper understanding of American culture and values while simultaneously providing us an understanding of their culture. They also gain valuable experience in the professional sector. Participants eventually return to their home countries as ambassadors and experts of ours, and hopefully more informed citizens aimed at contributing to the betterment of society. The effects of this type of soft diplomacy can be likened to planting the seed of a tree under whose shade we will likely never sit.

What is the single greatest lesson you learned from your exchange experiences?

I find we’re all more alike than different. There is much more that unites us in the human experience than divides us.

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.

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J-1 Interns & Trainees Tour the United Nations

By Leslie Corn

Cultural Component | #CENETJ1 | NYC

In late August, four CENET staff members visited New York City to meet with J-1 host employers and participants. During the visit, J-1 interns and trainees took part in a special cultural component activity that included a tour of the United Nations headquarters, followed by a networking reception.

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.

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