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Member Feature: Celebrating Exchange Day with Greenheart International’s Haldis Toppen

Posted on Monday, August 7th, 2023 at 2:11 pm.

Written by: Haldis Toppen, Director of Communications, Greenheart International

In 2014, the Alliance set up a training for three sponsors in the Midwest – Cenet, Greenheart International and Spirit Cultural Exchange. It was a few years after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implemented major changes to the BridgeUSA Summer Work Travel program, and the Alliance thought it would be a beneficial to take stock of these changes and for these three organizations to share some best practices they had learned and developed. It was during this training that the idea of Exchange Day (formerly J Day) was created.

I was originally hired at Greenheart in response to those regulation changes in 2012. My title was Cultural Outreach Assistant, and my role was to ensure that the 6000+ participants we oversaw on the Summer Work Travel program were in fact having a cultural exchange program and not just a work one. From the two years between being hired and then the creation of Exchange Day, a lot of work had been put into this program. So, when we came together in the summer of 2014, we were excited for the future of exchange programs. I remember when the idea was shared, the presenter, Joe Burns (of Greenheart), emphasized that cultural exchange programs are not widely known outside the industry but there is so much good that comes out of these programs. He stated “How do we inform and excite the public? Let’s create a national day dedicated to them.”

Cenet, Greenheart and Spirit created a planning committee comprised of one staff member from each sponsor. Due to my role, I was chosen as the representative for Greenheart. We knew that we wanted to implement this event that summer, so we had a limited amount of time to make it happen. The date, first Monday in August, was chosen because it suited the Summer Work Travel program; most participants would have arrived by then, settled into their jobs and Mondays tend to be not as busy, workwise. We created the tagline “Eat. Play. Give.” If you have food, people will come. If the event is fun, people will stay. And we wanted to emphasize that these programs are important for American communities, so giving back was a way to show impact. We each worked with one SWT host to help plan an event, and a marketing toolkit was created. Et voila! Exchange Day was born!

Over the years there have been several changes. The Alliance took on the role of facilitating Exchange Day, providing all those interested in celebrating with the materials and tools to create a successful event. As the J-1 program changed its name to BridgeUSA, J Day was changed to Exchange Day as well. Finally, there has been a lot of effort to include all exchange programs in this day.

Just as everything was put on hold in 2020, Exchange Day was no different. The exchange community is still rebuilding after the global crisis. Sponsors, hosts, sending agents and exchange visitors are all slowly planning more and more cultural events. 2023 is the first year that feels closer to pre-pandemic activity and celebrations. At Greenheart, we have a few events that we are working on with other sponsors and hosts, but one that we are particularly proud of is an internal

event for our staff. Since the pandemic, Greenheart has gone fully remote. Our staff used to be focused within Chicago, but now are spread around the country and world. As a result, we don’t often get to share positive stories with each other as easily as in the past. So, on Exchange Day this year (August 7) we are spending an hour with all staff just sharing positive stories about our participants, hosts, sending agents and staff from the past year. As an organization of over 100 staff members, we are excited to share the impact that we all have on American and international communities simply by working at Greenheart.

Next year is the 10th anniversary of Exchange Day. As one of the founding creators of this day, I can say that I’m professionally and personally proud of what this day has become. Leslie Corn, formerly of Cenet, was the one who came up with the idea 10 years ago, and I’m so glad she shared this idea with her group and Joe Burns sold everyone in the room the idea. Cultural Exchange programs are vital for our country’s public diplomacy goals. Without them, the world would be more splintered, economically fractured, and likely more violent. Celebrating exchange programs reminds the public of the important work we do. Happy Exchange Day!


To learn more about how you and your organization can celebrate Exchange Day, visit

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About Rebecca Pasini

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Rebecca Pasini

Rebecca A. Pasini joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchanges in July 2023. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister - Counselor, Ms. Pasini has been an American diplomat since 1997.

Ms. Pasini previously served as the Director of Public and Congressional Affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs from 2021-2023. Other Washington assignments have included positions in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the Office of Foreign Missions, and as a liaison to the Department of Homeland Security. She has also completed multiple overseas tours, including as Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, and as the Consular Chief in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Other tours included Mexico City and Kuwait.

A Maryland native, Ms. Pasini has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University, a master’s degree in National Security and Resource Strategy from the Eisenhower School, National Defense University, and an undergraduate degree from Mary Washington College.