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 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

J-1 Interns & Trainees Celebrate International Education Week at Missouri State University

International Education Week | #IEW2017 #ExchangesImpact

SPRINGFIELD, MO– In honor of International Education Week, CENET partnered with Missouri State University (MSU) to provide a one-day International Leadership Conference for J-1 trainee & intern participants. This is the 3rd International Leadership Conference MSU has hosted for CENET’s J-1 participants.

CENET participants represented Mexico, Czech Republic, India, Philippines, and China. Other conference attendees included current international students enrolled at MSU and Student Council representatives from Waynesville High School.

The conference agenda included opening remarks, a campus tour, a panel discussion, and a presentation titled “Leadership in an Interdependent World” by Brad Bodenhausen, Associate Vice President of International Education and Training.

The conference luncheon was an event highlight as it offered enhanced networking opportunities; MSU faculty and staff from the English Language Institute, International Leadership and Training Center, and the Diversity and Inclusion departments were in attendance.

Special thanks to the following MSU faculty and staff for their involvement and coordination of the International Leadership Conference:

  • Kelly Cabrera, PhD., Coordinator of International Education & Training
  • Yi Winnie Wu, Marketing & Recruitment Specialist, International Leadership and Training Center
  • Brad Bodenhausen, Associate Vice President of International Education & Training
  • Pascal Hamon, Academic Director of English Language Institute
  • Support staff from the English Language Institute and the International Education and Training Center.
  • MSU Student Leaders

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 Announces Winners for Summer of CENET Contest

Cultural Component | #SummerOfCENET #CENETJ1

This past summer, CENET challenged our participants to submit photos, videos, or essays detailing their time in the United States. Entries were accepted from Intern, Trainee, Camp Counselor, and Summer Work and Travel participants.

CENET received entries depicting both big adventures and day-to-day life in host communities; whether showcasing travels, time spent working or training at the host company, or adventures with new friends, it was clear that a Summer of CENET was a summer well-spent.

Winners were selected based on content and quality; cash prizes were awarded to a grand prize winner and two honorable mention selections.

  • Grand Prize: Marvin Raymundo, Philippines
  • Honorable Mention: Matyas Eckl, Hungary & Anastasia Peycheva, Bulgaria 

Congratulations to our winners!

Summer of CENET

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 Partners with University of Tennessee Knoxville and Missouri State University to Provide J-1 Leadership Summits

Equipping Future Leaders | #ExchangesImpact #CENETJ1

This summer, CENET has had the privilege of once again partnering with the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Missouri State University to provide two separate leadership conferences for J-1 participants spending their summers in the surrounding communities. The events provided leadership training for over 50 J-1 Summer Work and Travel participants.

University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK)

Approximately 15 J-1 Summer Work Travel participants traveled from Gatlinburg, TN and Pigeon Forge, TN to visit UTK in June. The visit included a campus tour; a presentation on American Musical Roots and a tour of the NPR station on campus (WUOT); a presentation on phrasal verbs and informal English; a tour of the Howard Baker Center; and a session on graduate admissions in the U.S.

Highlights included an improvised song written about the J-1 students by Todd Steed, as well as an NPR tour that resulted in two J-1 participants getting to record an interview. Todd Steed has worked, lived, and studied in China, Lithuania, and Indonesia, and his global knowledge and sharp sense of humor helped him connect with the students. The students also enjoyed an engaging presentation on phrasal verbs from Em Chitty, author of “How We Really Talk and Sound.” Em Chitty shared: “It was a pleasure to present on phrasal verb idioms to your CENET attendees. I was happy to give them a key to understanding common idioms that are hard to figure out. They were an attentive and delightful audience.” The students also gained insight into U.S. graduate programs through an informative session given by Dr. Andy Ray; Dr. Ray is a former Peace Corps. volunteer and currently serves as International Student Recruitment Manager.

After the visit, Todd Steed shared, “We loved having the CENET visitors to WUOT.  They were totally tuned in and anything that makes the world a little smaller and warmer these days, we are all for it.”

Thank you to the University of Tennessee Knoxville for hosting CENET & our area participants!

Missouri State University (MSU)

Approximately 41 J-1 participants from 9 countries attended the CENET Leadership Conference at MSU in mid-July. The J-1 students are spending their university breaks in nearby Branson, MO.

The 1-day leadership training included: opening comments and a presentation on “Leadership in an Interdependent World” by Brad Bodenhausen, Director of International Leadership and Training Center; a themed lunch titled “Little Italy”; a panel discussion on leadership led by MUS faculty and staff; a campus tour; and lastly, a closing reception with MSU International student leaders, faculty, staff, and special guests.

Thank you MSU and the International Leadership Training Center for hosting and coordinating this special event! Additional thanks to the office of Senator Claire McCaskill for attending the CENET Leadership Conference at Missouri State 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.


Summer Jobs and the National Interest

By Michael McCarry 

Op-Ed | @CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

Two recent articles – one in Time magazine and the other on National Public Radio – demonstrate that American students are losing interest in summer jobs.

Time cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicating that only 35 per cent of American teenagers actually look for summer jobs, and notes (again BLS stats) that the number of young Americans seeking summer jobs has declined 15 per cent over the past 15 years.  So this is a trend, not an aberration.

Time argues that the decline is mostly about American students’ aspirations for higher education.  As college admission in the U.S. grows more and more competitive, American students increasingly spend their summers on academic enrichment or resume-building activities like internships, organized sports, and volunteering.  Time reports that resort operators have filled the gap with older American workers and international university students, who come to the U.S. through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel (SWT) program.

NPR agrees that declining interest in summer jobs has to do with college, but arrives at its conclusion via a different path.  The piece makes a persuasive economic case that low wages from a summer resort job no longer make a dent in sharply rising college costs.  Students thus invest their time in activities they perceive to have a higher return, i.e. enhancing their resumes, even if the return isn’t monetary.

The appearance of these articles is timely.  The White House and several federal agencies are working on plans to implement an Executive Order entitled, “Buy American, Hire American.”  A sharp reduction in the Summer Work Travel program is apparently under discussion.

This would be a very serious mistake.

First, as the BLS data show, international students who come to the U.S. on SWT are not displacing Americans.  Instead, they are filling a gap that the tourism sector of our economy desperately needs filled.  Time quotes Tommy Diehl, president of a major attraction in the Wisconsin Dells:  “If anyone says these people are taking jobs away from Americans, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Just as important, SWT is the State Department’s largest exchange program, and its only program that reaches undergraduates in significant numbers.  And because the program is funded through student fees, all these positive people-to-people connections happen at no cost to the US taxpayer.

Students come from all over the world – Ireland, Russia, Ukraine, China, Turkey, and Brazil are among the largest sending countries – and enjoy the powerful cultural exchange experience of learning to live and work in a new country.  Students cover their program and living costs through their earnings.  Surveys show that over 90 per cent of these students are motivated to visit the U.S. by their desire for cultural exchange, not because they want to work. Ninety per cent have a positive experience, make American friends, and improve their English.  And a remarkable 98 per cent recommended the program to friends, a clear sign of a successful exchange program.

Here’s where we are, in policy terms:

We have a popular, successful Summer Work Travel program that builds good will for the U.S around the world at no cost to the American taxpayer, directly connects us with students who are future leaders in their home countries, and supports our tourism sector by filling a critical seasonal gap.

And yet, policymakers are considering sharply reducing the size of the program, or perhaps even eliminating it, despite much diminished demand from Americans for such jobs.

Someone asked me recently if this circumstance really poses a serious threat to the program.  After all, she continued, SWT has faced regulatory challenges in recent years and always has emerged stronger.

My answer:  on a scale of existential threat with 10 being the most threatening, we are now facing a 10.  What’s going on in Washington is not a discussion about the best way to run the program, but whether we should have the program at all.

All American stakeholders in this program – host communities, employers, and sponsors – should make their voices heard by their Members of Congress and the White House.  Summer Work Travel is a national diplomatic asset – low cost, high value, long-term payoff – that we need to preserve.

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. 

The Summer Work Travel program is good for Americans and great for America. This cultural exchange program that supports strong economies and & U.S. national security interests is under attack. For more information and ways to get involved in protecting this valuable public diplomacy program, please visit Americans for Cultural Exchange or contact CENET.  

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.






More Funding for Exchanges: Good News for Everyone

By Michael McCarry 

Op-Ed | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

In its budget deal to keep the government open until the end of Fiscal Year 2017 (Sept. 30), Congress increased overall State Department funding by 1 per cent, and funded the Department’s exchange programs at $634 million, a 7 per cent increase and only $1 million short of all-time high water mark for exchanges in FY2010.

This is extraordinarily good news for the country, and for anyone who cares about exchanges, even if your programs do not receive federal funding.

Here’s why:

President Trump’s first budget request (for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins October 1 of this year) seeks a 29 per cent reduction in State Department funding, and deep cuts for most exchange programs.

Like any other President, Trump only gets to propose funding levels for federal agencies and programs.  Congress decides.  And it will need to make its decisions on Trump’s first budget in time for the new fiscal year that begins October 1, 2017.  If necessary (and it often is), Congress can postpone that deadline by passing Continuing Resolutions that keep the government running temporarily at the previous year’s funding levels.

During the Watergate crisis, secret source Deep Throat (FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt) famously told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that if he wanted to understand what was going on, he needed to “follow the money”.  That’s still good advice when trying to parse Washington politics.

In Washington, money serves as its own kind of language.  In its appropriations for the State Department and exchange programs, Congress sent the White House a clear, even emphatic message:  diplomacy matters.

The current Republican-controlled Congress is not alone in this view.

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, noted in a 2008 speech, “…our own national security toolbox must be well-equipped with more than just hammers.”

Current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, testifying before Congress for the Pentagon as General Mattis, made the same point in 2013: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition… I think it’s a cost-benefit ratio. The more that 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 an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

Work is just beginning on 2018 appropriations, but the strong expression of support from Congress leaves the State Department and its exchange programs in a good position as the next funding cycle begins. The 2017 numbers tell us that Congress is not prepared to consider the steep cuts proposed by the President.

And that creates a much more positive outlook for everyone in the exchange field, even those whose programs derive support from participant fees. If budget numbers are indeed a Washington dialect, a significant cut would tell you that diplomacy and exchanges are not considered important. A funding boost such as the one just enacted tells you they matter a lot.

In the political world, that message matters, because the rationale for exchange programs – whatever the funding mechanism – is identical.  Members of Congress who favor strong funding for exchanges are more likely to understand and support well-run exchanges that don’t receive federal dollars, because all exchanges promote mutual understanding and respect, and thus, as Secretaries of Defense have testified, support U.S. national security.

Moreover, every exchange program is better off with a strong Department of State.  We all need U.S. embassies with the facilities and staff to adjudicate visas in a timely way, to reach out to potential exchange participants with information and encouragement, and to direct exchange programs in ways that serve the public interest.

Recent Congressional action on exchange funding and the very clear message it sends go a long way preserving that capacity for all of us.

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. 

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