Who needs water? During last Sunday’s grueling New York City Marathon almost EVERYONE needed water, and – especially between mile markers 17 and 22 – there was a good chance the smiling person with the extended hand offering water and Gatorade was a J-1 Exchange Visitor.
Many of my U.S. State Department colleagues, including staff from our ECA New York Program Branch, had a unique opportunity to join nearly 870 J-1 Exchange Visitors, from 15 different program categories, as they volunteered at the annual New York City Marathon. The State Department J-1 team was part of more than 10,000 volunteers who supported the 50,000 runners from the moment they began their journey at the start line in Staten Island until they were reunited with their families at the finish line in Manhattan.
Volunteers especially loved cheering on their fellow countrymen and were shouting phrases of encouragement to runners. Caroline, a J-1 Au Pair from Brazil, emphatically shared her sentiment about being part of the day: “It is fascinating how the runners can keep going and do not give up. The New York City Marathon is famous everywhere, and it is great to be part of this day.” Caroline and other J-1 volunteers mentioned that they loved volunteering, and welcome more opportunities to engage with their host communities.
Sunday represented a true embodiment of “cultural exchange” and showcased the diversity of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. Not only were exchange visitor volunteers part of the world’s most famous marathon, they connected and worked alongside individuals from many countries and all walks of life. People came together to support the amazing marathon participants as they pushed themselves to the limits.
Exchange visitors also shared their personal stories from the day all over social media using the hashtags #RouteJ1 and #TCSNYCMarathon. Marie Liebschner, a J-1 Au Pair from France, shared on Instagram:
“I’m not lying to you saying it was the most beautiful experience of my life. Some will say ‘I was just giving out water.’ Yes, I just gave water to the men and women who ran for the memory of their deceased, to a mother who had lost her daughter, or to the father who pushed his son in a wheel chair over 42km. Yes I was giving water to blind runners who ran with their guides leading them, to men and women 90 years old, to a Syrian who fled his country and who ran 42km while wearing the hijab… If I had said THAT, tell me now what did you do today? I encouraged people from all four corners of the world, from the first runner to the last, they ran through some challenges and others for a cause. I have never experienced anything so beautiful and intense than today. I am grateful every day that I live here and this from the beginning of this adventure.”
Marathon organizers were so pleased with the J-1 Exchange Visitors that they’ve already offered to expand the number of volunteer spots for next year’s race. If you will be an exchange visitor in the New York area, be sure to reserve November 6, 2016 on your calendar: We will be looking for volunteers!
|About G. Kevin Saba|
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange
G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.Read More
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