Branson J-Day Attracts 400 Participants

J-Day 2017 | #CelebrateJDay #EatPlayGive

On Monday, August 7, 2017, Cultural Exchange Network (CENET) hosted J-Day in Branson, Missouri. J-Day is a nationwide celebration of the power of international exchange and an opportunity to raise awareness of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program.

Under the motto “Eat, Play, Give,” cities across the U.S. held J-Day events; over 52 J-Day celebrations took place nationwide.

In the morning, CENET provided a Culture in the Community program at the Ozark Family YMCA in Hollister, MO. A group of outstanding participants were selected to share their world cultures with 50+ local children.

Mayor Tate (Hollister) opened the event and Mayor Best (Branson) concluded the Culture in the Community session by presenting Certificates of Achievement to the J-Day Ambassadors. Rick Ziegenfuss, City Administrator of Hollister, joined the session, as well as Assistant City Administrator, Denise Olmstead.

CENET also welcomed the offices of Senator Blunt and Representative Long to the special J-Day Culture in the Community session. Branson Tri-Lakes News covered the event here.

In the afternoon, CENET gathered with around 320 J-1 participants, host employers, and community members for a party at Moonshine Beach! Participants enjoyed a meal, dancing, beach games, and swimming.

The afternoon party welcomed special guests from Senator McCaskill’s office; Rick Ziegenfuss, City Administrator; the Branson Chamber of Commerce; many volunteers from the local community; and fellow sponsors and friends from CIEE and CCI Greenheart.

Attendees at the Moonshine Beach celebration also collected approximately 200 canned food items for Ozark Food Harvest.

With approximately 400 participants throughout the day, J-Day in Branson enjoyed a successful fourth year.

Thank you to our J-Day sponsors Secutive & Orange Hospitality for your generous donations, and to Grand Country and Price Chopper for food donations. Thank you to our local volunteers: Rick & Debra Chastain, Kelly Kirkpatrick, Amaradai De Pena, Felix Baez, and Jason & Katie Buchanan. Special thanks to Branson Chamber of Commerce representatives Heather Hardinger & Mercedes Botica; Branson Tri-Lakes News for covering the Culture in the Community session; host companies who donated supplies; and to Shauna Pye with CCI Greenheart & Anna O’Reardon with CIEE for assisting with the event.  Lastly, thank you to the City of Hollister, the City of Branson, Mayor Tate, Mayor Best, Senator McCaskill, Representative Long, and Senator Blunt for your support of J-Day and exchange programs that make a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world!

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 Celebrates International Day of Yoga in Cape Girardeau

Culture in the Community | #CENETJ1 #CITC

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO– On June 21, Kelley Downes and CENET staff member Danielle Henry co-taught a yoga class along the banks of the Mississippi River in honor of International Day of Yoga (IDY). Several CENET staff members attended the class, which attracted approximately 60 participants.

Per the IDY website:

Yoga is a 5,000-year-old physical, mental and spiritual practice. On December 11 in 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 21st as the International Day of Yoga. The declaration came after the call for the adoption of June 21st as International Day of Yoga by Hon’ble Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi during his address to UN General Assembly on September 27, 2014 wherein he stated: “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition . It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. ” In Suggesting June 21, which is the Summer Solstice, as the International Day of Yoga, Mr. Narendra Modi had said that, “the date is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and has special significance in many parts of the world. 175 nations, including USA, Canada and China co-sponsored the resolution. It had the highest number of co-sponsors ever for any UNGA Resolution of such nature.

CENET looks forward to continued cooperation and participation in IDY in the future.

Special thanks to the City Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation department and Christine Jaegers for coordinating IYD in Cape Girardeau.

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 Provides 2nd Annual Fun Day for Area Grade School

Culture in the Community | #CITC #CENETJ1

JACKSON, MO— CENET’s local program, Culture in the Community (CITC), recently finished a 12-day international education series at St. Paul Lutheran School; the culminating event was a Fun Day celebrating world cultures. This is the second year CITC has provided an educational series and Fun Day for St. Paul Lutheran School.

The event reached approximately 250 students, with the support of 25 parents and community volunteers. The students ranged from Pre-K to 8th grade, with 19 classes represented in total.

The international presenters for Fun Day included:

  • Jose Andrés Miño, Ecuador: Jose performed songs & played guitar for the students. He also read a story to the younger students, which he accompanied with his guitar.
  • Shvetha Gohn, India: Shvetha created henna art for the students.
  • Ricardo Ashimi, Hugo Machida, and Enzo Kuba, Brazil: Ricardo, Hugo, and Enzo played soccer with the students and gave a presentation on their culture. They also shared samples of popular Brazilian soda and dessert: Guaraná & brigadeiro.

To celebrate an earlier CITC session on Myanmar, the students enjoyed a tribute to Water Festival, with the older students having a water balloon fight and the younger students playing a duck pond game. In Myanmar, the festival lasts several days– it marks the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. Playing with water is a feature of the festival—one that was enjoyed by the students at St. Paul.

A cooking exhibit was also available for the students to sample and help prepare world cuisines, as well as a craft area where students created Mexican yarn art called Huichol.

Students also won various prizes at Fun Day, which included gift cards to Wehrenberg Cape West 14 Cine, Chick-Fil-A, and passes to Lazy L Safari.

CENET looks forward to continuing the partnership between Culture in the Community and St. Paul Lutheran School. A gallery of photos from Fun Day may be viewed below:

Special thanks to area sponsors for donating supplies and prizes for Fun Day: MidAmerica Corporation, Lazy L Safari, Chick-Fil-A, Rental Land, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Country Mart, and Popeyes Chicken. The support and generous donations helped make Fun Day a success. 

Additional support and funding for the educational series at St. Paul Lutheran School came from the following local businesses and individual donors: Baer & Edington, Abe & Emily Funk, David & Tara McMullin, John & Taffy McMullin (John’s Pharmacy), Todd & Donna Ward, and Jackson Medical Center. 

Thank you to all of our sponsors for supporting international education at St. Paul Lutheran School! 

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.

Outbound: Diane Langenfeld Shares Exchange Experience

Outbound Exchange | #GlobalCitizen #CENETJ1

Cape Girardeau native Diane Langenfeld completed an internship at CENET from 2014-2015. Currently, Diane is pursuing her MBA at Southeast Missouri State University. Through her graduate program, Diane had the opportunity to spend the spring semester abroad. Diane returned to the U.S. in early June and agreed to share her experiences with CENET. Check out CENET’s interview with Diane below:

Why did you participate in an exchange program?

My mind goes all over the place when I think about my answer to this question.  However, there is one resounding reason that seems to always creep to mind first: I felt suffocated by the mid-west American culture I had spent my whole life in.  I had gone on a few short-term trips, all less than a month, but I never felt like it gave me any solid feel for a culture other than my own because I never left vacation mode.  I simply wanted to experience something different.

What surprised you the most during your experience?

What surprised me most during my experience was the developing sense that the U.S. is where I “belong.”  I thought my time abroad would result in such great memories and friendships that I would want to live overseas by the end of it all.  However, only part of this came true.  I DID make incredible memories with even more incredible people.  But I did not gain a desire to live overseas.  My understanding of other cultures grew immensely, the main goal of exchange programs, as did my realization that I am most comfortable in the md-west American culture.  I no longer feel suffocated by the culture, because it turned out that being away from it allowed me to appreciate it.

Do you see the value of cultural exchange? If so, in what ways? 

Can I get a “YES” times 100?  If so, that is my answer.  Spending an extended amount of time immersed in a culture other than your own teaches you many things. First and foremost, the art of adaptation.  Things will be different.  They will seem weird and wrong and make you uncomfortable.  But once you figure out the differences and overcome them, it produces a great sense of accomplishment and independence.  It also increases tolerance for other cultures and really people in general.

Has your exchange program changed your world view?

I don’t feel my world view has drastically changed.  I was lucky to be raised by parents who taught me not only tolerance of others, but acceptance as well.  What I have realized is that the United States lives in somewhat of a bubble.  Other countries are far more concerned about what is happening here than we are concerned about what’s happening in other countries.  I feel this is somewhat understandable as our country alone is comparable in size to the world’s smallest continent of Australia.  However, Americans need to be aware of this and actively seek information on what is happening in other countries.  After all, a decision made in a country that is only a small portion of our country’s size can have a profound effect on our country.

Do you think the world would be a more peaceful place if everyone experienced a new culture?

Without a doubt!  I believe people can become so wrapped up in their own culture that they begin to think that anything done differently in another culture is wrong.  This mindset can lead to feelings of superiority and, as a result, acceptance of others can easily diminish.  Even experiencing just one other culture can show a person that these differences are not wrong, just different.  If a person comes to that realization about just even one culture other than their own, there is potential they will realize this is true for all other cultures.

Did you encounter any perceptions/misconceptions about Americans?

I know that people I met had a certain perception of Americans.  How?  Because some of these people ended up becoming great friends of mine and directly shared their previous perceptions with me.  Being brutally honest, the most common perceptions of Americans is that we are loud, materialistic and ignorant.  I even had one friend tell me, “I never thought I could be friends with an American before I met you.”  Though I can’t fully deny being loud at times (I’m a social butterfly, what can I say!?), I don’t like to think of myself as materialistic or ignorant.  Unfortunately, some Americans do fit these characteristics which is why the perception is there, but I like to think that the people who encountered me during my time abroad now realize we are not all like this.

Culture shock is common. What advice would you give others about culture shock? 

First, I feel I should stress that I studied overseas in a country that speaks my first language of English which I feel decreased the intensity of which I felt culture shock.  But, nonetheless, I do have two main pieces of advice in coping.

  • Realize it is normal and it will pass. Cliché, I know.  But it is so true and if you’ve heard it time and time again, there is a reason for that.  Just know it is temporary and be patient with yourself when facing struggles you encounter.
  • Be prepared for people to look at you weird or even seem annoyed with you when you are trying to figure out cultural differences. I didn’t realize groceries stores there don’t provide bags for you.  I didn’t know that bus tickets could only be purchased with coins.  Both of these experiences resulted in some weird looks and annoyed workers.  Looking back, I wish I had just brushed it off.  Those people didn’t know my story and their opinions of me didn’t matter one bit at the end of the day.  So always keep your head high in instances you feel unsure of yourself.  You should feel proud of yourself for leaving your comfort zone and pity for them for not realizing a chance they could have made a foreigner feel welcome in their culture.

If you could do it again, would you?

100% YES!  There is really no other way to answer this question other than without a doubt in my mind I would participate in my exchange program all over again.

CENET is non-profit organization located in the Marquette Tech District in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. CENET facilitates both inbound and outbound exchange programs, as well as local programs with an emphasis on international education and cultural exploration. If you are a student in the Cape Girardeau area and interested in studying abroad and/or learning a new language, contact CENET to explore your options.

Special thanks to Diane Langenfeld for sharing her experiences and serving as an advocate for international exchange 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.


Alumni Spotlight: Utku Feruz

Alumni Network | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

Utku Feruz, J-1 Alumnus, participated in a trainee program between June 2010 and December 2011. During his program, Utku was able to improve his English, experience U.S. culture, and enhance his skills and expertise in Information Technology. In recent years, Utku has worked for one of the biggest consulting firms in the world, then moved on to work with one of the top mobile operators in Ukraine. Utku credits much of his success to the invaluable experience he gained during his J-1 cultural exchange program. Utku shares his impressions on his program and cross-cultural exchange below.

 I definitely see the value in cultural exchange. First of all, this experience introduced me a new vision in the IT area. I also had a chance to extend my professional network. I made friends from all around the world by joining this program. I would say that this program helped me to become a citizen of the world.

My exchange program improved my opinion of the U.S. and its people. I met one of my best friends while I was in U.S. and he is American. It was a nice opportunity to get to know the American culture and people.

I was also able to share my culture while on my program. There were a lot of people in my host company from all over the world. This is very unique and important experience in today’s world.

After my program in California, I moved to Ukraine and worked there for 3 years as a software developer. I believe training & living in U.S. brought this opportunity since the company was looking for a software developer with a high English level and experience working abroad.

After three years in Ukraine, I decided to experience something new and found a chance to work for Accenture which is one of the biggest consulting companies in the world. Again, it was really important to have strong English and business skills to be part of Accenture, and I believe my U.S. experience played a major role in my Accenture experience. I worked for Accenture 2 years in Izmir, Turkey as a Software Engineering Team Leader.

I moved back to Ukraine recently and I am working for one of the biggest mobile operators in Ukraine as a Software Engineer.

My primary expectation from my exchange program was to gain American business life experience which would be a huge plus for my career. It was also a good opportunity to meet with people from different cultures.

Through my program, I found out that I can work abroad, make contributions to the host community, and create a new life in a country where I did not live before.

Cultural exchange is one of the most effective ways for people to integrate with foreign communities. I believe cultural exchange will be a necessity in the future rather than an option because the world we are living in is going to be an entirely different place in terms of technology, art and humanity due to the effects of the globalization on our daily lives.

As the borders between countries are get thinner day by day in today’s globalized world, It is necessary to get rid of the borders in our minds in order to understand the future of the humanity. Being a world citizen plays the major role in this manner because we are the ones who would influence the people around us by sharing our cultural exchange experiences. We represent the idea that cultural differences actually enhance a community instead of destroying it. Diversity is what we need to understand each other.

Utku Feruz

Software Engineer | J-1 Alumnus | Global Citizen 


Utku Feruz

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.

Cultural Exchange Network Awards Scholarships to Area Students

Culture in the Community | #CENETJ1 #CITC

By Leslie Corn

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO – Cultural Exchange Network (CENET) is once again partnering with Concordia Language Villages (CLV) to provide summer camp scholarships for local students to attend award-winning language immersion programs in Bemidji, Minnesota.

CENET’s local program, Culture in the Community, provides authentic, international education to area schools and groups. After learning about Culture in the Community, CLV sought CENET’s partnership to provide scholarships to deserving, bright students from Southeast Missouri. Scholarships are joint-funded by CLV and CENET; this is the 2nd year of partnership between the two organizations.

The local students attending CLV will “explore a new world which is intentionally constructed to evoke the look, feel, sounds and tastes of communities where the target language is spoken. Village life is designed to spark curiosity, encourage discovery, and promote empathy. Because language education alone does not lead to the formation of world citizens, we teach language and culture in global contexts. The lifelong benefits are endless.” (source)

The following scholarship winners will attend the premier language programs at CLV in 2017:

  • Anthony DiStefano of Cape Girardeau, age 9, studying Korean
  • Bailie DiStefano of Cape Girardeau, age 11, studying Korean
  • Mia Willis of Jackson, age 11, studying French
  • Jake Shelton of Jackson, age 13, studying Portuguese
  • Kyle Crites of Jackson, age 16 studying German
  • Kevin Crites of Jackson, age 16 studying Spanish
  • Maggie Shelton of Jackson, age 18, studying Arabic

Returning participant, Maggie Shelton, will once again study Arabic at CLV; Shelton shares, “I want to learn more. This program is such an amazing experience, I wish everyone could enjoy this program. My desire is to learn about different cultures all around the world. I believe by attending the language villages, doors to my future will be opened. My options will be endless!”

First-time CLV scholarship winner Kevin Crites adds, “I have always been fascinated with the Spanish culture. Not only do I enjoy the food and music, I also enjoy learning about the many events, places, and people that make up the history of Spanish speaking countries.”

Since 1961, CLV has been preparing young people for responsible global citizenship through their world-language and cultural education programs. The villages have been featured in the New York Times and Washington Post, and received visits from prominent world leaders, including ambassadors, consuls, United Nations officials, and U.S. elected officials.

CENET is a non-profit organization located in the Marquette Tech District in Cape Girardeau. In addition to Culture in the Community, CENET serves as a U.S. State Department authorized visa sponsor. CENET also facilitates The Magellan Exchange, a study abroad program for faculty and staff from universities worldwide, including Southeast Missouri State University.

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. To learn more about CENET’s programs or how to get involved, please contact or 573-335-7111.

Helpful Links:


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.

J-1 Success Story: Sarah Sampaio

Alumni Profile | #CENETJ1 #ExchangesImpact

In September 2012, Sarah Sampaio traveled from Brazil to participate in a 1-year cultural exchange program in the United States. Due to a chance encounter during her J-1 trainee program, Sarah was inspired to pursue a career in academia. Today, Sarah is a PhD student in London; her research revolves around women’s entrepreneurship in Brazil and changing gender roles. Sarah was recently awarded a grant that will enable her to return to South America to conduct research and collect data. In her contribution below, Sarah Sampaio shares the meaningful impact cross-cultural exchange has had on her life.

I decided to participate in the J-1 program to obtain more professional experience and learn about practices and culture in the United States. To me, the idea that I could have cultural and life knowledge along with professional experience in one program really attracted me to the J-1 status.

The program showed me that I was a lot stronger than I had given myself credit for. It also made me more independent and proactive in my learning and professional experiences. It gave me the opportunity to build rapport with people from different cultural, socio-economic and professional backgrounds and it inspired me to learn from my colleagues and build a solid work relationship and even friendships. Since my J-1 program completed in 2013, I am still in contact with the friends I made in Salt Lake City, UT while living there, even though I’ve been living, pursuing my PhD and working in London for the past 2 years. I made friends for life and learned so much.

There is absolute value in cultural exchange. It’s not just about improving one’s professional or language skills – it’s about growing as a person and broadening one’s horizons. Meeting other cultures, different traditions and customs transforms your life as you start seeing things from a different angle, by other people’s perspectives. You return home a better, more complete person because a cultural exchange makes you realize that the world is big and you can explore it, change your life and maybe change someone else’s life in return. And a hopefully, when your cultural exchange is over, your experience can motivate others to get to know other cultures, travel and leave their comfort zones.

My program improved my views of the U.S. and its people. I made so many great friends during my program in Salt Lake City. They treated me like family and made me feel less homesick, more welcomed and like I belonged there. They always listened to what I had to say and made me feel valued, made me feel like my culture and experience mattered.

I was also able to share my culture during my program. From Brazilian food to teaching them Portuguese, my friends and colleagues were very eager to learn about my country, my family, our customs and traditions. We had great fun!

Since January 2016 I have been pursuing my PhD in Business at the CEEDR – Centre for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Research at Middlesex University London. After a long and thorough application process with interviews and PhD proposals submissions, I was awarded a scholarship and a stipend to pursue my PhD at Middlesex University in London. I am also a member of the Royal Geographical Institute and the Regional Studies Association here in the UK and also teach modules on Business and Entrepreneurship here at the university.

My research revolves around women’s entrepreneurship in Brazil, the business/household nexus and how the business-venture is changing gender roles in the household. I’m in my second year and have presented my work at several academic conferences and institutions across the UK. This year I have also been awarded a grant by the University of Barcelona (INCASI program) to go to South America for 2 months to do my research data collection in August 2017.

I truly believe that the only reason I am now pursuing my dream and building a solid career in academia was due to my international experiences. Without my first summer camp in Canada when I was 15 and years later my J-1 program in Salt Lake City, UT through CENET, I probably wouldn’t have achieved everything I have so far, simply because my horizons would be so limited without those opportunities. I’ve met people, friends and professionals that taught me so much, not only work-related matters, but life lessons. I improved my language skills, my professional skills and grew as a person, with more independence and strength to face the world and its many challenges. The friends and my boss from SLC are still in contact, we talk quite often. I know their families and was I part of many barbecues and dinners and those memories will stay with me forever.

I have an interesting story from my J-1 time, a story that defined a moment, when I finally realized that I wanted a career in academia. One evening, during my J-1 program time, I went to have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants downtown SLC. I got a table by myself and was looking at the menu when a North-American lady approached me and asked if the restaurant was worth the wait in the line. We started talking and I offered her to sit at my table. During our conversation and dinner, I learned that she is a famous children’s book author and was in SLC to promote her newest book. During our talk she said, “I don’t know, but it seems like you should be a professor. It seems like your heart is in it. You should go for it.” Our talk opened my eyes about what I wanted to do as a career… and that’s when I decided what my next step would be.

And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been talking to someone from a different culture, different background in a different country. Those experiences only happen if you are given the opportunity. And CENET and the U.S gave me that opportunity, hopefully they’ll continue to do so for many other across the world.

I would like to thank CENET for all the support and services they provide to students and professionals all over the world. The opportunity I received through my J-1 program was truly remarkable. I am rooting for CENET and other companies that continue their efforts to keep the US a multi-cultural, diverse country. Diversity is vital for a just society and hopefully CENET can continue to provide that to students and companies.

– Sarah Sampaio

PhD candidate at CEEDR/Middlesex University London, Member of the Royal Geographical Society UK, Member of the Regional Studies Association UK

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.