Regardless of whether you have seen or heard the term, know about the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, or have even participated in an actual event, you might still be a little confused about J Day.
The annual celebration of international education and exchanges, which brings Exchange Visitor Program participants and hosts together to #EatPlayGive as they participate in organized community service projects has grown significantly since its launch in 2014 to encompass 47 J Day events held across 24 states and Washington, D.C. in 2018.
But the scale of the nationwide effort today masks the simplicity behind the original concept.
At its core, J Day consists of the “eat, play, and give” slogan, a few hash tags, and some branding guidelines. Exchange organizations are responsible for planning local community service events and raising awareness. This local component is what gives each J Day event its own distinct character.
At this year’s Cultural Vistas event in downtown DC, 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—J 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 recent EurekaFacts report on Intern and Trainee Exchanges 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 J 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 J Day or the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program—it reflects what being an American is all about.
Hopefully, that is something that will never change.