From lending a hand at a nearby food pantry to spending a few hours a week at a local school, volunteerism is part of American culture. Whether you’re a J-1 Visa participant or just an international guest, here’s a guide on how to get involved and volunteer during your time in the United States.
1) Ask around
The individuals around you are often the best source of knowledge regarding where to volunteer within the community. Because volunteering has become a part of American culture, colleagues and community members can often give you recommendations for where you can donate your time. Asking those who are around you is a great way to learn about all different types of organizations that are active in your community.
2) Browse the leading websites
There are a number of websites where you are can search for volunteer opportunities by location and by activity. Here are a few websites to help you start your search:
Need more ideas? Check out local food pantries, human societies/animal rescue shelters, national parks, Habitat for Humanity, local schools, libraries, museums, political campaigns, retirement homes, or youth organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and local YMCAs.
3) Give a presentation at your local school
One way we encourage our J-1 participants to volunteer in the community is by sharing their culture with local students. There are many ways to speak with groups of students, whether in a school or at a local organization. If you’re in Washington, D.C., consider reaching out to the Embassy Adoption Program.
4) Participate in International Education Week
While there are many opportunities to give presentations at schools, International Education Week is perhaps the best time to get involved.
During this annual event, we ask our J-1 visa participants to give back by sharing their culture with local students. This year, many were surprised at what they saw.
“The most surprising thing was young students’ active participation. Korean students are quite quiet and passive, and thus, I didn’t expect a high level of voluntary curiosity about the new country they were learning. So I am really impressed.” – Dohyun Gwon, Korea West (South Korea).
Our participants were given the opportunity to visit local elementary and middle schools in Washington, D.C. and New York. When they were asked to describe their experience in one-word participants said that it was “vivid,” “inspiring,” “unforgettable,” and “amazing.”
Having these events helps increase cultural awareness and connect lives. When J-1 exchange participants visit schools it helps to make the “experience authentic and more real to students” and allow students “to be exposed to people, ideas, and events that are happening around the world,” said Kate Alwon Brenner, a teacher at Jefferson Academy.
Volunteering and sharing your culture with students is not only a great way for them to learn about you, but also for you to experience what American education is like in the United States. One of our participants, Zineb Slam from Morocco, commented that she had “always thought that children in the United States only knew about their culture, and were not that opened to the world.” “But I was wrong,” said Zineb.
Five Tips for Creating a School Presentation
- Introduce yourself in your native language and in English: Show photos of your country such as a map, pictures from the capital, or what houses look like. Share photos of your friends, family, and pets.
- Share basic information about your home country: Include some fun facts and make the presentations interactive with images, videos, and other visual aids.
- Share your experience as an exchange visitor in the United States: Tell a funny experience you had during your exchange that highlights cultural differences. How has your exchange experience impacted your life? How has it shaped your plans and goals for the future?
- Describe a holiday celebration or a unique cultural ritual in your home country and its importance: Students love to hear about cultural differences between the United States and other countries. Discuss topics such as different rituals you have for holidays, different foods that you eat, and the different types of clothing that you wear.
- Keep it interactive and age appropriate: Bring in some food from your home country or share your favorite recipe for the students to try out at home. Bring in your national flag to show the students. You can keep them engaged by playing a game or planning an activity. Remember to keep the topics lively and fun!
5) Attend a career day
Many American schools have career days or career weeks during which they invite visitors to come speak to students about their career paths and jobs. This is a great opportunity to share your experience and discuss the importance of international exchange.
6) Volunteer on J-Day
J-Day occurs every year in coordination with the Alliance for International Exchange. This day encourages J-1 exchange participants to get out in their community and give back by participating in service projects such as packing meals, cleaning parks, and other volunteer opportunities.
— Cultural Vistas (@CulturalVistas) August 3, 2015
7) Help the environment on Earth Day & Arbor Day
Both Earth Day and Arbor Day bring volunteers together to help plant trees, pull ivy, clean parks, and other activities that help give back to the environment. Check out the Arbor Day Foundation website to find out more about getting involved. Both Arbor Day and Earth Day occur during the month of April.
8) Support your community MLK Day
Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, more commonly referred to as MLK day, commemorates the birthday of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. This holiday occurs the 3rd Monday in January. Every MLK day, schools and organizations organize a day of service to volunteer in the community. Find a place to serve on MLK day this year, January 18th, on the service day’s official website.
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