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!