Formerly known as “J Day,” the annual celebration of international education and exchanges known as Exchange Day brings together participants of the Exchange Visitor Program to #EatPlayGive as they participate in organized community service projects.
Since its launch in 2014, the celebration has grown significantly. In 2018, there were 47 J Day events held across 24 states and Washington, D.C.
But though the newly-renamed Exchange Day is a large-scale annual celebration taking place throughout the U.S., the concept behind it is very simple.
At its core, Exchange Day consists of the “eat, play, and give” slogan and some branding/style guidelines. Exchange organizations are responsible for planning local community service events and raising awareness. This local component is what gives every Exchange Day event its own distinct character.
At last year’s Cultural Vistas event in Washington, D.C., volunteers assembled 720 children hygiene kits consisting of toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby shampoo, and other essentials. These kits were later donated to the Greater DC Diaper Bank along with 700-plus diapers and other donations which had been collected at Cultural Vistas’ DC office.
The choice of charity was well-received and participants of the event appreciated learning about the organization prior to beginning the community service activity.
“The Greater DC Diaper Bank is a fabulous charity. I think it’s great all the work they do to support kids and their families,” said special guest volunteer Lynette Evans-Tiernan, Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State. “It was wonderful to know that all the work that we’ve put in today is going to help a family take better care of their child who will have a more wholesome and meaningful childhood because of it.”
Many volunteers were international exchange students just beginning their local DC-area internships, who also appreciated the opportunity to meet other young professionals during the event.
“It was a good experience for us as we met and made other friends who are foreigners,” said Junki Min, an intern with the Korea WEST program.
Celebrating diversity and multiculturalism is, of course, a main driving factor of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. But by celebrating another American pastime—community service—Exchange Day strives to go one step further.
“I felt like I was part of American society by doing an American volunteer activity,” said Junki’s colleague Hyeonyeong Jeong. “I really think it is good for us to contribute to society.”
A EurekaFacts report on Intern and Trainee Exchanges published last year shows that nearly 90% of intern and trainee exchange participants would agree with Hyeonyeong about the importance of learning about U.S. culture and society. Nearly three quarters (73.1%) also said that they developed a generally more positive opinion of the U.S. during their stay. Initiatives such as Exchange Day likely contribute to this positive outlook.
Indeed, uniting a diverse group of people to celebrate their differences and work towards a common goal is not just a tenet of Exchange Day or the Exchange Visitor Program—it reflects what being an American is all about.
Hopefully, that is something that will never change.
Stay tuned to #EatPlayGive for more updates on Exchange Day 2019.