Austin, TX – June 24, 2009 – Travel and tourism remains one of the most significant growth industries in the world, despite the shaky economy. If the recession, swine flu, rising fuel prices, and the TSA haven’t killed the travel industry by now, this suggests that it’s a pretty darn robust business. What is changing is the way we travel and why we travel. “Staycations” are plentiful. “Second cities”, those cities that are smaller and less traveled such as Charleston, Tucson, and Portland are stealing the limelight from more traditional tourist destinations. And we are seeing another new trend; travelers want their time away from home to be more meaningful. International visitors are traveling to the US to intern, study, and volunteer, while Americans are going abroad to volunteer, intern, and learn as well. Alliance Abroad Group (AAG), an international staffing and cultural exchange company, and its sister nonprofit AIDE , a program that facilitates volunteer experiences abroad, have experienced a rise in demand for these more meaningful travel opportunities.
Each year, companies like Alliance Abroad Group receive thousands of applications from overseas participants who want to experience the United States and America’s major brands by interning at American host companies. With the granting of J-1 visa sponsorship designation by the U.S. Department of State, AAG can now facilitate the matching of these qualified interns with the host companies in need of their skills. “We’ve had a lot of great candidates from AAG,” said Susan Forster, Hiring Manager at Crown Plaza Resort South Carolina. “Although we try to utilize American participants as much as possible for our intern and trainee programs, our company always needs international assistance because international participants are usually available during times when American students are still in school. Utilizing AAG helps us to keep our company staffed with trainees during those times when a US intern staff is not available. They also bring language and cultural skills that we can’t find anywhere else.”
The interns are motivated to come to the United States to get to know American business culture and also to continue to hone the skills that they have learned at university or in their home country workplace. Interns are able to contribute to their host companies for six to 18 months and then return home to share their experiences. In many cases, the connections formed during the internship persevere into the future. Kim Duschinski, a German participant, was offered full time employment after her internship in Human Resources with an AAG American Host Company., “I consider the internship opportunity I had in the United States a very desirable experience,” shared Duschinski. It helped me to improve my language skills and gain valuable cultural insights.” This type of insider’s view of the United States helps counteract the negative press about the U.S. often seen in foreign media.
Companies who utilize these internship programs want to provide excellent customer service and an outstanding experience to tourists and guests who visit their hotels, resorts, and restaurants. Besides bringing a couple of suitcases to the states, interns pack educational training and a high level of motivation, specific language skills and cultural knowledge that help make these goals a reality.
Christina Miebach, an international student from Germany who just completed her two month internship with New York based Deutsche Telekom Inc., shares that she “learned about creativity, flexibility, how to compromise and to use good judgment. These are all qualities which cannot be learned from academic textbooks. My expectations were completely fulfilled, even outmatched. I expected nothing special from my internship, but those assumptions were so wrong.”
AIDE, a nonprofit that was recently featured on CNN and in Peter Greenberg’s 10 Great Summer Volunteer Vacations, is an example of an organization offering such humanitarian trips. AIDE sends American volunteers abroad to foster positive change in local communities and schools. Erica Zelenak, a recent University of Texas graduate who created her own nonprofit called Social Thinker (www.socialthinker.org) joined an AIDE trip to learn fluent Spanish and teach English in Chile this summer. She feels that her experience with AIDE will make her more socially aware and a better global citizen. “I want to learn about different people, different ways of life, different ways of doing things and a different philosophy,” said Zelenak. “I’d like to become a force for advocacy and awareness.”
After a decade where America’s image in the world took a beating, there has been a groundswell of effort, both from the government and private citizens, to show the better side of the United States. These global awareness trips are one of the most long-lasting and cost-effective ways to improve that image. We expect to see a continued growth in demand for these programs from volunteers, intern participants and companies in the U.S. and overseas.
What is the J-1 Trainee & Intern Program?
The J-1 Trainee & Intern Program is regulated by the U.S. State Department and is designed for university students and young professionals to train in the USA within their major field of study as a guided work-based learning program for up to 18 months. The program reinforces a student's or recent graduate's academic studies, recognizes the need for work-based experience, provides on-the-job exposure to American techniques, methodologies, and expertise, and enhances the participant's knowledge of American culture and society. Its intention is to promote goodwill for the United States around the world.
The J-1 Internship Program Internships include opportunities in hospitality, finance/accounting, information technology, general business, sales/marketing, human resources, engineering, architecture, and graphic design.