The Presidential election in the United States has raised questions and concern about the future of international exchange programs. We want to assure you that there will be no immediate or dramatic decisions that will affect the existing program.
President-elect Donald Trump will need to first appoint key staff members including a Secretary of State, White House advisors and a leader of The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It will take some time before Trump’s team comes together and any implications to the program begin to emerge.
International Exchange has been supported by both parties and many previous administrations. As a united industry we have worked hard to educate and enlist support of our program, preparing for this possible outcome by making congressional and government allies and establishing strong federal, state and local engagement. Our belief in the positive and far-reaching benefits of cultural exchange is echoed by many other organizations, interest groups, politicians and government agencies. At the Department of State, supporters of the program will likely remain in their current roles as program advocates and administrators.
We commit to all of you that we will continue to work hard on your behalf and for the program in which we firmly believe. All of us are passionate about cultural exchange as a way to promote greater understanding between global citizens. Ours is a program that tears down walls of separation, prejudice, ignorance and division; we do not believe in or support walls of separation. All of us must unite in this higher purpose of the program and do our part to ensure the principles of education and enlightenment are our legacy outcomes. Our best chance at preserving and growing this program will be by our success achieving these important goals.
We promise to keep you informed of any developments, but do not anticipate any program changes for quite some time.
Alliance Abroad Group
Thato Khasuli has become a symbol of hope and inspiration to literally thousands. Since we first published his story about his journey from South Africa to the U.S., it has spread around the internet, touching people all over the globe. Thato has put new energy and passion into our work as cultural exchange sponsors and has fueled our commitment to do more on behalf of global youths with similar dreams. Thato reminds us why Alliance Abroad was created in the first place. We were founded on the belief that access to education and incredible experiences should be available to anyone, anywhere.
In the whirlwind love affair with Thato, we took a step back to reflect how all this came to be. James Bell, our beloved Scottish president and leader, cooked up the idea over a beer with an industry buddy. They wanted to find a way to get people who volunteered for the annual World Youth Travel and Student Conference (WYSTC) fired up and motivated. James decided an incentive would work, and since the passion for many of the South African volunteers was exposure to the industry, education and travel, he came up with the idea of a paid internship in the U.S.
Through his extensive network of industry associates, The Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire enthusiastically agreed to be a host employer and Emirate Airlines, a big WYSTC supporter and sponsor, was pleased to donate the air travel. Now the hard part…who would be the lucky winner?
Thato said that the moment he heard about the internship, he was determined to win (although he respectfully acknowledged his fellow volunteers as equally worthy). When asked what it was about Thato that made him the winner, James smiles pensively. “Thato had this air of confidence and determination, but was also amazingly humble,” he reflects. “I had this strong feeling that if Thato won, something big would happen for him; something life-changing.” James thought his destiny would be changed. We think maybe it has.
Thato came to visit us at our Austin headquarters and thanked us. He reminded us of the importance of what we do -even the sometimes laborious work of pushing paper and processing visas. He told our team how much the experience has changed his life and that of his family and friends. He acknowledged the teams that enrolled him and prepared his paperwork, the account managers who assisted with his training plan, the compliance team who issued his DS forms and the support team and outreach coordinator who ensured he was prepared for his journey and internship opportunity. We were touched as he shared how much the opportunity has meant to him. There were very few dry eyes when he told us about how he was able to send financial support back home to his mother and younger sister.
All of us at Alliance Abroad are thrilled about Thato’s experience and that his story resulted in winning the “Extraordinary Experience” award! But the truth is, it’s not about awards for us; it’s about the reward we get when we see our work making a difference in the lives of others. We’re grateful to Thato for that reminder.
Please stay with our Thato story; we think there are many more chapters yet to be written.
“I’m without words,” is what Thato said when he learned that his story received the coveted Global Youth Travel Extraordinary Experience award. He literally was soaking it all in and then wanted to call his mother to share the news. Thato said she, too, was speechless after she learned that her son, living half way around the world, was being recognized in such a public and personal way. “She thought I was just coming to the United States to work,” Thato explains. “She can’t believe the encouragement and support I’ve gotten since coming here.” It’s been the most incredible experience and one that I hope becomes an inspiration for others, he told me later.
Thato’s video chronicling his journey from a South African township to an internship in the United States is making its way around the internet with over 7,000 views so far. Thato is both humbled and honored and feels hopeful that his story will inspire more students to travel. Thato describes his experience as a new beginning, not just for him, but for others he hopes will follow in his determined footsteps. “Not everyone can afford an opportunity like this,” Thato muses. “Without AAG, this would not have been possible for me.” He wants to implore more employers to give foreign students with similar aspirations a similar opportunity to work, travel, learn and contribute.
This experience has not just opened doors for me, it has the potential to impact others. “Maybe someone will see my story and believe that there is always something better out there. My mother is proud of my achievements and about how my story is helping to inspire others.”
He feels that he has grown personally, professionally and profoundly through this experience. It was a dream that for Thato has surpassed any of his most hopeful expectations. Thato’s advice to anyone with a dream or a purpose is sage. “If you are given an opportunity, grab it with both hands!”
Intrigued about cultural exchange or dreaming about living and working in a foreign country? There is no better endorsement than the real life stories of those who have had similar interests. A year ago Thato Khasuli was a local volunteer at the World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC), in Cape Town, South Africa. Today, Thato is a concierge at a luxury resort in a breathtaking mountain area in New Hampshire, USA. His journey half way around the world was recounted and submitted for the most coveted award in the youth and student travel industry and won. Why? Because Thato’s story reminds all of us in the business of cultural exchange and youth travel why we love what we do. And it encourages every young person who has ever dreamed of venturing beyond their own backyard or borders to take the same leap of faith, following in Thato’s amazing footsteps.
Travel and exposure to a different culture has opened Thato’s eyes and mind to a world of possibilities. Through his “Extraordinary Experience,” he has been both teacher and student, learning about the hospitality industry and a different way of life and teaching his friends, peers and business associates about his own country and customs. He has grown personally and professionally and has discovered that his greatest lessons have generally come from his most daunting challenges. Thato’s lasting legacy will be a reminder to all of us to be undaunted in the pursuit of our dreams and resolute in our commitment to achieve them.
Alliance Abroad is pleased and proud to be the winner of the WYSE Most Extraordinary Experience Award. We may have gotten the award and recognition for providing the experience, but Thato is the real winner. The honor for us is witnessing the fruits of our work and knowing that this experience has been a game changer for Thato and his family. That’s all the reward we need.
It’s been our life’s work to bring extraordinary experiences to thousands of global youths. It’s what motivates us and is still the passion behind our work.
We invite and encourage you to watch the video of Thato’s story and to stay tuned as we continue to follow his journey.
Keri Lowry on the State and Fate of J-1 Exchange Program
The newly appointed U.S. Department of State’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, Keri Lowry, will be attending The World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) later this month in Belgrade, Serbia. Keri oversees the U.S. Department of State’s Visitor Exchange program, which facilitates over 300,000 foreign visitors coming into the United States each year to teach, study and intern. The ultimate goal of the program is to create greater understanding and lasting connections among global youths. Keri is expected to provide important information and updates on the J-1 programs and the impact of current affairs on participants and providers.
“International education and cross-cultural exchanges are important elements of U.S. foreign relations. The people-to-people ties and transfer of knowledge achieved through international exchanges builds and sustains a more democratic, secure and prosperous world that benefits the entire global community. International exchanges are vital to our diplomacy efforts and establish lasting ties and relationships between individuals and nations,” said Ms. Lowry.
Current political and social unrest have shaken tourism and travel industries but youth travel remains strong maintains industry experts. The J-1 visa program is an important element in diplomacy and education and support continues as the program grows and evolves.
“I look forward to engaging with the global youth and stakeholders in the student and educational travel industry. Events like WYSTC help build people-to-people diplomacy by preparing young leaders and students globally to be engaged citizens, critical thinkers with broader perspectives of world, and an appreciation for cultural diversity and foreign languages. This ultimately helps break down stereotypes, transforming nations into peoples and translating ideologies into human aspirations.”
As cultural exchange enthusiasts, Alliance Abroad is passionate about the intangible and far-reaching benefits of visitor exchange programs. Because we believe that access to travel, education and amazing experiences shouldn’t be a privilege; it should be available to everyone, everywhere.
Thato Khasuli’s story reminds us why we do what we do and why we believe in the higher purpose of our work. Though Thato’s tale is his own, in many ways he represents hundreds of thousands of young people around the globe – people with high hopes and taller obstacles. His is a story of perseverance and a testament to the power of the human spirit. His journey from a small township in South Africa to a resort town in New Hampshire gives us all reasons to believe that dreams can and do come true. One leap of faith and years of hard work set Thato on an incredible journey half way around the world that has been marked by lessons, friendships, insights and self-discovery.
In his own words, Thato tells his tale in this video about wanting, working, believing, praying and ultimately achieving.
Follow Thato on our blog as we continue to follow his journey that he hopes will serve as an inspiration for countless youths and businesses around the world.
Thato’s story will be shared at the World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) in Belgrade Serbia, September 20-23. We think his tale is remarkable enough to be recognized by the WYSE as Most Extraordinary Experience and it’s made the short list of contenders.
Watch the video and let us know what you think.
Nearly 800 J-1 exchange visitors gathered to celebrate what has become an annual tradition for the exchange programs, called J Day. Under the slogan of Eat.Play.Give, we gathered together across the U.S. to volunteer in our local host communities and share our cultures over good food and games. Alliance Abroad Group was proud to celebrate J Day with nearly 50 participants from our J1 Summer Work and Travel, Internship and Trainee programs. Together we served the community of New Braunfels, Texas by cleaning and preserving the nature of Landa Park. Our service hours together were valued at over $2000 by the Parks and Recreation department, making an immediate and positive impact on the hosting community. We then joined together with a picnic lunch by the river and enjoyed a riveting round of trivia about American and Texas culture. Here are a few things our participants had to say about J Day: “I learned that American culture is to volunteer for the sake of everyone and has a helping hand for others. I love AMERICA! <3” “I like to be able to volunteering and most important is gather with all other interns and have fun together.” “Tubing!!! A Daredevil attraction for non-swimmers, but keep track of your shoes!” “I like getting to meet AAG people and bonding with other j1s.” “I’m so happy on J Day! We learn about texas, the landmarks around the states and getting acquainted with new people” “Helping each other’s and giving as much as we can.” “Americans likes to chill out and enjoy nature.” “Awesome. Let’s do it again!” This unique event has truly proven to be a meaningful opportunity for our participants and host companies to participate in something bigger than all of us, giving back while having fun. “J Day”, has become a tradition, and is a part of the broader emphasis on cultural activities within the J-1 visa programs. Read more on the AAG Facebook page and the Department of State page Route J-1.
We recently had the chance to catch up with J1 Intern participant Elvis. He shared with us his storied past, his goals, and dreams and offered great advice to future participants coming to the US.
I am a proud graduate from the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College located in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where I study the culinary arts. It has long been my dream to become a chef!
That’s great, what is it you love about cooking, and when did you start?
My culinary obsession began at a very young age. As a child, I’d mix along food items such as apples and ketchup, or bananas with grenadine syrup. They were quite the childish, whimsical concoctions, however, it was those simple items and their interesting flavors that helped build my interest in the culinary arts later on in life. (more…)
It’s a common fact that Labor Day in the United States is a holiday recognized on the first Monday in September. It’s a national celebration of the American labor movement, and it marks the official end of summer, complete with pool parties and cookouts. A Labor Day fact, not commonly recognized across the United States is that in most of the rest of the world, Labor Day is celebrated in May, not September.
In more than 80 countries around the world, labor unions and working people take to the streets on May 1st, the holiday most often referred to as International Workers’ Day. The day marks the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where police shot and killed several demonstrators who were fighting for the eight-hour workday. Over the next several years, people across the globe began demonstrating on May 1, and in many countries the day became an official holiday.
So why don’t we, in the United States, celebrate Labor Day in May?
Government officials feared instigating anger over the event at Haymarket Square by recognizing the date of May 1st, but politicians and others realized that a holiday honoring workers was absolutely necessary. Following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve rush legislation that made Labor Day a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date originally chosen by the CLU of New York and observed by many of the nation’s trade unions for the past several years was selected rather than the more widespread International Workers’ Day because Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would be associated with the nascent socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in International Workers’ Day.
All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made Labor Day a statutory holiday.
In today’s world, we have many options for communication. We can use Facebook, and Twitter, we can text and share photos on Instagram, but perhaps the most revolutionary advance in communication has come at the hands of Skype. A technology that allows you to video chat with friends and family from all over the world essentially for free. Technology, that not long ago was the stuff of science fiction is now readily available for the masses and is the first feature of AAG’s #HowToTuesday series.
AAG created a video tutorial with step-by-step instructions on how to create a Skype account and how to add your first contact. After watching this video you should be able to create a Skype account and start sharing your smile with friends and family all over the world!