Cultural Exchange


Helping Participants Gain a New Understanding of the USA

InterExchange makes it a priority to give our participants and hosts resources for exploring cultural learning opportunities together or independently. We’ve created an online guide to U.S. culture called Cultural Compass, which includes recommended sites and cultural activities for participants to enjoy while in the U.S.

The InterExchange Inside the USA guide also contains many helpful recommendations and resources.

Cultural Activity Ideas for Host Employers

As an InterExchange Career Training USA host employer, you play an important role in helping our international participants learn about American culture and have a fantastic experience in the U.S. Encouraging participants to interact with Americans and experience our culture in their free time is an essential part of your role.

Hosting your own cultural events and activities is often the best way to teach them about life in the U.S! To help you facilitate fun cultural activities for your international interns or trainees, we’ve outlined some ideas below.

COVID-19 Guidance and Preparation

Many recognized features of U.S. culture and history (e.g., national parks, state parks, historic sites, landmarks, scenic areas) may have been impacted COVID-19.

It is important to prepare and develop a plan to provide participants with safe and COVID-friendly opportunities to attend cultural events and interact with U.S. citizens which take any COVID restrictions or limitations into account. While cultural exchange is an essential component of the J-1 Visa program, participants’ safety and wellbeing is our top priority.

Where possible, we recommend arranging cultural activities in smaller groups, outdoors, or even virtually to ensure your participants can experience U.S. life and culture in safe and fun ways.

Interns/Trainees Can Connect with Program Participants:

Encourage your intern or trainee to join the Career Training Participant List to connect with other InterExchange interns and trainees via social media!

NOTE: This list is available in their Digital Acceptance Packet upon approval of their Career Training application.

Beginning of Program

Making sure your international participants have a warm welcome can be the key to a successful program. Remember, they’ve just arrived in a new country and don’t know anyone! Events at the beginning of their program can be as simple as gathering employees together for introductions.

On their first day, orient participants to the workplace and allow time for them to get to know their colleagues. Consider hosting a welcome reception in the office for the participant to get to know colleagues in other departments or even just kick off the program by having a smaller team lunch.

Mid-Program Events

Throughout the participants’ program, cultural events and outings are a great way to make sure participants are experiencing American culture. Participants may feel homesick at some point during their stay, and facilitating fun activities can help remind them why they’re here. Their American colleagues will probably enjoy an office outing as well!

Sporting event: Organize an outing to a local sporting event. Help explain the rules of the game if the participant is unfamiliar.

  • Teach your participants about American football, the Super Bowl, and college football
  • Take your participants to a baseball game in the summer months
  • Watch local/minor league sporting events
  • Suggest your participants join a company sports team or a local sports league for sports such as kickball or dodgeball or Frisbee
  • Explain March Madness brackets

Food events: Host an American-style barbecue or picnic, or organize a potluck where staff and participants prepare their favorite dishes from their home countries or countries of origin.

  • Enjoy typical American foods, such as s’mores, peanut butter and Girl Scout cookies
  • Share popular American/local restaurants and food trucks
  • Tell your participants about brunch in the U.S.
  • Share your favorite recipes with your participants and see if they have any for you
  • Enjoy some fall seasonal food favorites together
  • Tell your participants where they can find organic/locally grown food in the U.S.

Explore nature: Go hiking, kayaking or take a nature walk.

  • Inform your participants about exercise classes in your area, such as yoga or aerobics, and learn the common practices for staying fit in your intern/trainee’s home country.
  • Share this list of InterExchange’s Top 10 State Parks
  • Find out if your participants know about camping and where they can go camping in your area
  • Show your participants examples of North American wildlife; ask about your participants’ countries and the wildlife there.

Government & Politics: Teach your participants how elections in the U.S. work and learn about the governing structure in your participants’ home country

  • Make sure your participants take a look at this guide to sensitive topics and respectful debate in the U.S.
  • Find out if your statehouse gives free tours to the public

Celebrate an American holiday: Celebrate holidays like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving to give participants unique insight into American culture. Office potlucks work well for holiday celebrations.

  • Pumpkin carving contest: Print out templates and have fun carving pumpkins
  • Attend a local holiday parade or festival
  • Teach your intern/trainee the story of Thanksgiving

Visit a local museum or concert hall: Encourage your participants to visit local museums.

  • Read our picks for U.S. art museums and unique museums
  • Consider attending a performance at a community theater or go to a Broadway show together

Karaoke: Organize an office karaoke outing. Encourage your participants to sing and discuss their favorite American songs.

Employee birthdays: For many participants, this may be their first birthday away from home. Help make it special by organizing a party or gathering with colleagues.

Trivia night: A great mid-program event idea is to host office trivia! Who knows? Your international participants may know more about U.S. culture than their American colleagues!

Volunteer event: Get coworkers together for a day or an hour of volunteering! Partner with a local volunteer organization for greater interaction with Americans.

Game day: Bring board games to the office like Apples-to-Apples, Monopoly, Pictionary, or Scrabble.

End-of-Program

At the end of the program, consider hosting a going-away party to show your appreciation for your participants’ hard work. Their American colleagues may appreciate saying goodbye as well!

Culture Shock

The W Curve illustrates the ups and downs of culture shock.
The W Curve illustrates the ups and downs of culture shock.

International participants are likely to encounter some difficulties adjusting to living and working in the U.S.

A participant may soon realize that the familiar signs of home and their automatic responses for meeting situations of daily life may not be applicable in the U.S. Climate, food, landscapes, people and their ways of doing things may all seem strange. English ability may not serve the participant as well as they expected. They may feel the pressures of fast-paced life in a busy city in the U.S.

Since some participants are here for a relatively short time, the degree of culture shock could be quite minimal; however, employers should at least expect a short transitional period while participants “warm up” to their new life in the U.S.

Signs of Culture Shock

InterExchange interns and trainees experience culture shock to varying degrees and it can occur suddenly; Some hardly notice it at all, while others can become overwhelmed. Many may not even attribute their problems to culture shock, but being sensitive to these issues will benefit you and your international participants. If you require assistance dealing with any cultural misunderstandings that may arise, please do not hesitate to call the InterExchange Career Training USA program staff.

Common signs of culture shock may include:

  • Feeling isolated and frustrated: Participants may become nervous and/or excessively tired. They may sleep a lot, even after they have recovered from jet lag. Normal, minor irritations may make a participant overly upset.

  • Being excessively homesick: It is normal to miss home, family and friends, but if participants can think of nothing else, call/email home all the time, or frequently seem depressed or cry, they are most likely suffering from culture shock.

  • Becoming dependent upon others from one’s home country: These friendships are important and are extremely supportive, but if participants spend time exclusively with people from their home country, they deny themselves the experience of interacting with people from the U.S..

  • Having deep doubts about the decision to come to the U.S.: There may be anxieties with work. An intern or trainee may wonder: “Why does my boss speak so loudly and quickly?” “Will I be able to repay my parents the money they lent me?” This stress can become overwhelming and cause tension.

  • Feeling reluctant to speak English or to associate with people: Communicating in a second language requires a lot of effort. A participant who is experiencing culture shock may lack the confidence and energy to practice their English and engage with their native-speaking colleagues.

Coping With Culture Shock

Almost all participants will cope with culture shock to some degree. We hope that you’ll be aware of this possibility and be able to help your participants acclimate to American culture and customs. The following suggestions may help you understand and resolve any problems that arise:

  • Maintain your perspective. Although the participants are your employee, they will occasionally need advice or encouragement. Usually international participants just need to know they have someone on their side to help boost their confidence while adapting to their new environment.

  • If a participants feel confused or disappointed, ask them what their expectations were before they came.

  • Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. People in the U.S. may do or say things that people in the participants’ home countries would not do or say. Try to understand that the participants are acting according to their own set of values, and that these values are born from a culture different from yours.

If you find that the participant’s symptoms persist or are more severe, encourage them to reach out to their doctor or healthcare professional for advice or contact one of the following organizations to find help:

Please also notify InterExchange of any concerns you have about your participants’ adjustment to life in the U.S.

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