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

Note to Washington: Exchanges Work. Leave Them Alone.

Op-Ed | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House is considering eliminating or severely reducing 5 State Department exchange programs:  Summer Work Travel, Intern, Trainee, Camp Counselor, and Au Pair.

This misguided idea emerged in a White House working group charged with implementing the President’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order.  While the notion may suggest superficial sense – if internationals aren’t doing these jobs, then Americans could – this move in fact would have virtually no impact on U.S. employment.

And you don’t have to dig very deep to understand the harm it would do:  damage or destroy exchange programs that provide powerful support to our national security, and stifle U.S. economies in resort areas with insufficient supplies of seasonal workers. This move also would do irreparable harm to the large constellation of mission-driven, private American organizations that – with decades-long encouragement and cooperation from the U.S. government – implement exchange programs.  Some of these organizations would be forced to close their doors, others would continue in much reduced form.

Thousands of Americans who work for these organizations would lose good, public-spirited jobs, jobs that make America a better and safer place.

That’s a lot of damage for a move that brings us nothing in return.

As I noted in a recent blog post, young Americans are increasingly less interested in traditional 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.

The BLS data strongly suggest that international students who come to the U.S. are not displacing Americans.  Instead, they are filling a staffing gap that the tourism and camp sectors of our economy desperately need filled, and can’t fill with local hires.  Recent survey data show that ninety-seven per cent of such employers can’t find enough seasonal employees locally, 39 per cent would have to reduce their operations, and 25 per cent couldn’t stay open during the summer.  Time quotes a resort operator from the Wisconsin Dells:  “If anyone says these people are taking jobs away from Americans, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

And of course, If businesses reduced their hours of operation or closed altogether, there would be a significant adverse impact on their American staff.

NPR makes a persuasive economic case that relatively 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.

We’ve known since at least 2005 that the impact of these programs on the U.S. labor market is virtually non-existent.  That year, the GAO published a study on this very question.  GAO summarized its findings in a single sentence:  “(Department of) Labor officials stated that it is not likely that the exchange programs will have any effect on the U.S. labor market because of the small number of J-1 exchange visitors (about 283,000 in fiscal year 2004) relative to the U.S. workforce.”

When I met in 2005 with the GAO team and asked about their findings on labor impact, their response conveyed the same meaning, but with a bit more color:  ‘The Bureau of Labor Statistics laughed us out of the room.  They said such a small number (of students) was not worth studying”.

This White House proposal would not enhance American employment, but it would eliminate important programs that that build good relationships with other nations.  Think of it:  every year, thousands of university students from around the world come to the United States, most for a year or less, at virtually no cost to the American taxpayer.  They make American friends, improve their English, and gain a better understanding of our culture and values.  All surveys show that the overwhelming majority has a great time. They go home and share their impressions with others.  This is an extremely effective way to build good will, mutual understanding, and respect.

In the years after the Berlin Wall came down and the Warsaw Pact dissolved, large numbers of Central European university students seized this opportunity to visit the U.S. for the first time.  For most of that period, Poland was the leading sending country for Summer Work Travel, and our embassy in Warsaw summarized the impact of the program in a 2003 cable:

“Sending such a large contingent of university 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 English skills, the program will help facilitate their success in a very competitive Polish job market.”

In other words, our exchange programs help us make friends of future leaders, and help those leaders succeed when they return home – an awfully good long-term investment, especially when it costs the U.S. almost nothing.

Interestingly, the student flows to the U.S. for the Summer Work Travel program have aligned fairly closely with global trends. Central European numbers declined as those nations connected with the European Union, and were replaced by strong flows from Russia and Ukraine as former Soviet republics began to find their feet as independent nations.  In recent years, we’ve seen strong interest from emerging economies:  China, Brazil, Turkey, and Thailand.

Adopting the White House proposal will not create jobs for Americans. Adopting it would, however, weaken U.S. diplomacy, damage the economies of American towns and regions that depend on tourism, and wreck a substantial segment of our very vibrant non-governmental exchange community.  American jobs will be lost.  American businesses and nonprofits will be shuttered.

Is that a good deal for America?

*This post was updated on August 30.


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. 

Proposed changes to privately funded exchange programs would hurt many American communities, especially those that rely on seasonal business. We are working defend cultural exchange programs against impending restrictions. You can help, too. Please take a minute to inform your senators and representative about the impact of BAHA restrictions on exchange programs. You can do that by sending a letter asking them to contact the White House and urge that J-1 international exchange programs NOT be included in the BAHA implementation. Privately funded exchanges serve as a vital element of our national’s diplomacy. They support our national security and strengthen local economies across the U.S. Let us work together to ensure Congress helps preserve these programs!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Worrisome Gaps in State Department Staffing

By Michael McCarry 

Op-Ed | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

About a month ago, I wrote that Congress’s strong appropriation for the Department of State and for its exchange programs was a very encouraging sign for all of us in the exchange community.

Maybe I wrote too soon.

An NPR interview this week with Max Bergmann, who worked at State for six years during the Obama Administration, publicly reinforced what I’ve been hearing for some time from colleagues in and around the Department:  that under Secretary Rex Tillerson, State is being – to use Bergmann’s term – ‘hollowed out’.

Even with a one per cent increase in funding for the current fiscal year (not usually considered a sign of dire financial straits), the Trump administration’s State Department has instituted a hiring freeze.  That means that as people leave or retire, they mostly are not replaced.  Some senior Foreign Service Officers and civil servants – people with abiding personal commitments to U.S. national security and career-deep expertise – have been reassigned to lesser positions, and have chosen to leave the Department.  And the intake of junior Foreign Service officers appears to have slowed to a trickle.

Put these details together and here’s what you get:  State is choosing to diminish itself at its senior and junior rungs, and to not fill vacancies.  It’s hard to discern how this approach will enhance our diplomacy, or our national security.

You can hear Bergmann’s NPR interview here.

And read his longer treatment of the topic in a Politico article here.

I served in the Foreign Service for about 16 years, with overseas tours in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Beijing, plus several Washington assignments.  I can tell you that the State Department’s foreign service and civil service staff is exceptional – smart, dedicated, and passionate about serving the American public.  I was proud to be among them, every single day.

The notion that we can conduct successful diplomacy on the cheap is just wrong.  The United States remains the most important country in the world, and we need a State Department that can effectively serve our national interests, needs, and ambitions.  That requires resources, not just dollars but also human resources.

State Department staffing is not the kind of topic that will lead the nightly news, but it is critically important to our national well-being.  This issue raises serious alarm bells, and thus deserves serious attention from Congress, the media, and the public.

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.

Logo10

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. 

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.

Logo10