November Regulation Highlights and Updates

30 Oct

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In lieu of our usual regulations update, we would like to share important information regarding our industry association in Washington, D.C., which serves as our public policy voice in important conversations with both Congress and the State Department.  Alliance Abroad has been a member for many years and have found it to be essential for strengthening the sponsor community, providing opportunities for advocacy, and impacting regulations through one collective voice.

Two important announcements were made last week:

  • The current Executive Director, Michael McCarry, is retiring after a distinguished career at the end of the year and Ilir Zherka has accepted the position.   From an announcement made by The Alliance yesterday, “Zherka has 18 years of non-profit membership experience at the National Conference on Citizenship, DC Vote, and the National Albanian-American Council. With strong relationships on Capitol Hill, he has developed a solid track record in advocacy, and is experienced at fundraising and media relations.” 
  • The name of the organization has officially changed from The Alliance for International, Educational and Cultural Exchange to The Alliance for International Exchange


Please visit their website for relevant and timely information and policy updates:

Virtual Tour: Mexico – 8 Traditions and Customs

30 Oct

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Mexico’s culture and history is so diverse and rich, we couldn’t possibly condense it into one, brief article. Instead, we’ve decided to highlight 8 of Mexico’s traditions and customs. Viva Mexico!

1.       Traditional Music

The Aztecs, Mayas and Iberian cultures have all had an influence on the culture of Mexico. Music has played an important part and with Mexico having been colonized by Spain for about 300 years, their influence is a part of the musical tradition of the country. Traditional music is not only one of the customs of Mexico, but also an identity for each region of the country, which makes for a diverse and fascinating part of its history. One of the most popular and easily recognizable sounds is that of the Mariachi that originated in the state of Jalisco.

2. Wedding Traditions 

One of the traditions associated with a wedding in Mexico is that of the priest giving thirteen gold coins to the groom, who then offers them to his bride. This Mexican custom represents Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles and symbolizes the willingness of the groom and his capability to care for his future wife during their marriage. It is also one of the traditions of Mexico that Godparents are part of a marriage ceremony and give the couple a Bible and a rosary. They are the sponsors of the #wedding and the benefactors of the bride and groom.

3. Day of the Dead – Día De Los Muertos 

One of most well-known Mexican customs is the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). Celebrated between 31, October and 2, November, it is when the deceased are honored with a festive and colorful occasion. Families visit the decorated graves of their relatives and friends to say prayers and offer gifts for their souls, and in their homes, they erect decorated altars (ofrendas) as a welcome to the spirits.

0422aacc62bf3f5d85b9f87810256ec74. Cinco De Mayo 

One of the most important dates in Mexican culture celebrates the victory by Mexico over France in 1862 at the battle of Puebla. The celebrations help the youth understand the importance of this day and its significance for Mexico. Exhibitions are organized on a huge extent across the country and feature crafts and artwork.

5. Christmas in Mexico

The Christmas customs of Mexico remain strong to the catholic roots. The La Posada begins on the 16th and happens every day up to Christmas Eve. A procession carries a baby Jesus to the nativity scene in the local church or to elaborate #scenes in people’s home in a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. Traditionally, lullabies are sung for the newborn Jesus at the midnight mass during this period known as the ‘La Misa Del Gallo and is the time the baby Jesus is added to the crib in the nativity scene. Gifts are presented to the children on the 6th January – Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes).

6. The Siesta

Among the diverse and ancient traditions of Mexico are those that have either been forgotten or phased out. Among the latter is the popular custom of Mexico known as the “Siesta”. Shops are closed for a few hours during the afternoon to allow their owners and employees a period of rest. Although, because of the increasing pace of life in the urban areas this custom is declining, in the villages and rural locations the Siesta is one of the old customs of Mexico that still prevails.

7. The Bull Fight

Although classified as an illegal sport in many other countries, there is still bullfighting in Mexico. Inherited from Spain, it is one of the popular traditions of Mexico and attracts varied and large audiences to the arenas.

5b2f43c3dd33e371088ce003fc1231b38. The Pinata

These days, piñatas are a familiar sight at many a party. This most delightful aspect of Mexican culture has been adopted around the #world. The piñata can be a pot made of clay, which is filled with fruit, sweets, and confetti, or it can be an elaborately fashioned paper creation – often in the shape of a donkey. They have colorful decorations of tinsel, ribbons, and paper, with a rope attached. The piñata is hung up, and blindfolded children then try to break it open to reap the rewards from inside. You won’t find many adults turning down the #chanceof a swing at it either!

For a virtual tour in photo, visit:

The Culture of Halloween Around the World – October 31st

29 Sep

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In Ireland, where Halloween originated, the day is still celebrated much as it is in the United States. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts, and all over the country, children get dressed up in costumes and spend the evening “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods. After trick-or-treating, most people attend parties with neighbors and friends. At the parties, many games are played, including “snap-apple,” a game in which an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree and players attempt to bite the hanging apple. In addition to bobbing for apples, parents often arrange treasure hunts, with candy or pastries as the “treasure.” The Irish also play a card game where cards are laid face down on a table with candy or coins underneath them. When a child chooses a card, he receives whatever prize is found below it.

A traditional food eaten on Halloween is barmbrack, a kind of fruitcake that can be bought in stores or baked at home. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake that, it is said, can foretell the eater’s future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a prosperous year is on its way. Children are also known to play tricks on their neighbors, such as “knock-a-dolly,” a prank in which children knock on the doors of their neighbors but run away before the door is opened. “Trick or Treat!”

For more on the history of Halloween; check out this short video to see how countries around the world put their own spooky spin on Halloween, as well as honor spirits from beyond the grave.

A Culture of Controversy - October 12th – Columbus Day or Native American’s Day?

29 Sep

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The second Monday in October is designated in the United States as Columbus Day, commemorating Christopher Columbus’ first voyage and sighting of the Americas on October 12, 1492. Columbus Day became an official federal holiday in 1937. So, how did its official recognition come about? Italian-Americans were key in the creation of Columbus Day. Beginning on October 12, 1866, New York City‘s Italian population organized a celebration of the ‘discovery’ of America. This yearly celebration spread to other cities and became known as Columbus Day in San Francisco in 1869. Colorado became the first state to observe an official Columbus Day in 1905. Over time, other states followed until 1937 when President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed every October 12 as Columbus Day. In 1971, the federal holiday was officially changed by Congress to be observed on the second Monday in October.

Leading up to the 500th anniversary of Columbus sighting of the America’s which occurred in 1992, many groups came out against celebrations. Today, it is a common understanding that Columbus did not ‘discover’ America, but had rather arrived at a land already inhabited or ‘discovered’ by the indigenous people called the Taino.  In a later voyage, he captured and sent over 1,200 of the Taino to Europe as slaves. Further, the Spanish who remained on the islands used the Taino people as forced labor, punishing them with torture and/or death if they resisted. Adding these terrible acts to the unwitting passing of diseases from the Europeans to the Taino would mean that the entire population of Hispaniola was wiped out in forty-three years. Many people cite this as the reason why Americans should not be celebrating Columbus’ accomplishments. The Columbus Day controversy has individuals and groups speaking out against and in many cases protesting Columbus Day celebrations and in some states such as South Dakota and California, this day has been replaced with Native American’s Day.

The innovations of the Native American culture have made significant contributions to our culture today. From chewing gum to parkas, the Native American Indian contributions have shaped modern day life and are worthy of celebration. To learn more, here are 10 things you may not know about American Indian civilization and 16 American Indian innovations that we use today.

A Colorful Culture - United Nation’s Day – October 24th

29 Sep

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The term “United Nations” was first coined in 1941 by United States President Franklin Roosevelt to describe the Allied countries of World War II that included the US, Russia, China and the United Kingdom. It has now become an iconic international organization which originally consisted of 26 governments who all signed the “Declaration by United Nations.”

The UN is the central information and action center for global efforts to solve problems that challenge people of all countries around the world. Currently there are 193 Members; with South Sudan being the last country to join in 2011. Click here for the full list: United Nations Members

As defined by the Charter of the United Nations the 4 primary purposes of the Union are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

In 1948, during the UN General Assembly, there was a declaration that October 24th would be the day to observe the anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations. This day was fondly coined as United Nations Day. It’s a day for all to reflect on what more we can do to help achieve the vision of a better world. Below are some suggested activities for your domestic and international staff to take part in:

  • “Attend a Cultural Performance” – Dine at a local ethnic restaurant where they have nightly performers, set up a cultural movie viewing party, or attend a museum exposing your staff to the arts of another culture.
  • “Host an International Potluck” – Pick the time and location and invite your staff to bring their traditional or favorite food dishes and have other staff members experience new flavors and most of all, new foods!

10 United Nations Facts to Share:



To learn more about the United Nation structure, check out this UN system chart.

Featured Destination of the Month: Serbia

29 Sep

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serbiaPicture everything you want from a classic European country, then add a level of quirk that you won’t find anywhere but the Balkans. Serbia is one of Europe’s more sizeable countries, yet it remains largely overlooked by travelers who tend to look westward rather than venturing east. Serbia is a It is a landlocked nation in southeast Europe, bordered by Hungary on the north, Romania and Bulgaria to the East, Kosovo and Macedonia to the south, and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro to the west. Serbia as it exists now, is a very young nation, with the most recent major change being the independence of Kosovo, dating from 17 February 2008. Part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes from 1918, it became part of Yugoslavia, when that entity came into existence in 1929.

In 1989, during Slobodan Milosevic’s presidency of the Serbian Republic, Yugoslavia split along ethnic divisions, with Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia declaring independence in 1991, and Bosnia in 1992. A new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed by Serbia and Montenegro in 1992, and Milosevic’s attempts to unite Serbs into “Greater Serbia” resulted in expulsion from the United Nations. Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo eventually provoked NATO bombing Serbia in 1999 and the stationing of a NATO security force in Kosovo. Following Milosevic’s ousting and arrest for crimes against humanity in 2001, the country was readmitted to the United Nations. In 2003, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia became Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro seceded in 2006 and became independent on the third of June of that year, and Serbia declared itself the successor to the joint state. Violence stemming from 2004 led to the eventual declaration of independence by Kosovo.

The estimated population of Serbia was 10,159,046 in July, 2008, including the population of Kosovo. According to the 2002 census, this includes 82.9% Serbs, 3.9% Hungarians, and smaller numbers of Gypsies, Yugoslavs, Bosniaks, and Montenegrins, among others. Most of the population (85%) are Serbian Orthodox, with 5.5% being Catholic, 3.2% being Muslim, and 1.1% Protestant. While 88.3% of the population speak the official language, which is Serbian, 3.8% speak Hungarian, with fewer numbers speaking Bosniak, Romany, and other languages. The population has a 96.4% literacy rating, but this figure from 2003 includes Montenegro.

The capital of the Republic of Serbia is Belgrade, and it is divided into 161 municipalities. Serbia has a high unemployment rate, and most workers are employed in industry (46%) followed by agriculture (30%) and the service sector (24%). Agricultural products include beef and pork, milk, wheat and maize, sugar beets, raspberries, and sunflowers. Industries include sugar, machinery, and equipment. The cuisine of Serbia includes a baked dish called musaka made with ground meat, eggs, and potatoes; stuffed cabbage, called sarma; stuffed peppers; various mixtures wrapped in pastry; and meatballs. Plum and grape brandy and beer are produced locally.

For a quick visual tour of what makes Serbia special, check out these compelling Instagram pictures.

If you’d like to take a basic traveler’s tour through Serbia, visit this Lonely Planet review.  

J Day 2015

17 Jul

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Jday_SQ_2While the purpose of the J1 program is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, the heart of the program is cultural exchange.

As sponsors and hosting employers of the programs, it is our privilege and responsibility to ensure that all our participants have opportunities to engage in cultural activities outside of the work place, while sharing their own cultures with Americans they meet.  On August 3rd 2015, AAG will be collaborating with other sponsors on the second annual “J Day,” one day dedicated to providing J1 participants with the opportunity to “Eat. Play. Give.” in communities across the U.S. 

Successfully piloted last summer, J Day is a celebration of international exchange participants coming together to raise awareness of the Exchange Visitor Programs in their communities while sharing their cultural diversity and American customs.  The day will feature a fun, classic American activity, an American picnic, and a volunteer service component that will directly benefit J1 host communities.

We believe J Day is a great opportunity to highlight the value of these cultural exchanges, and hope many of you will participate in this unique event.

Please register by sunday the 19th to participate


 Register Here

Jamaica - Encounter Culture

26 Jun

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Nowhere else on earth will you find a culture as dynamic as that of Jamaica. Its people are a mixture of the many ethnicities that have landed on the island’s shores over the past several centuries. Weathering enslavement and oppression, the Jamaicans are survivors, and their past is full of fascinating stories just waiting to be told. Their national motto is: “Out of Many, One People.”

Cultural Heritage

Whether they are the descendants of the colonists or recent immigrants from the Middle East, people of all nationalities live and work together in Jamaica. Cultures have been mingling on Jamaica’s shores for hundreds of years. And while this mixture inspires pride, it is also the source of Jamaica’s characteristically brassy banter that, to an outsider, might seem inappropriate at times. The Taíno, who inhabited the island long before European discovery, also left behind a cultural history.

Most Jamaicans are always willing to talk about subjects most find uncomfortable, peppering their speech with terms such as ‘browning,’ ‘redman,’ ‘coolie,’ ‘whitey,’ ‘blacka’ or ‘Miss Chin.’ It is not uncommon to find people of all ethnic backgrounds on Jamaica, and the islanders are comfortable with their outward racial differences because they know this is part of what makes their culture unique.

Dig into the island’s past and learn more about its present by reading our guide to Jamaica’s History.


Language is another way in which Jamaica demonstrates its melded culture. Although Jamaica’s official language is English, many of its residents speak with their own linguistic style. There are even differences from village to village. The main ingredients of Jamaica’s language stew are Spanish, African, English (including Irish, British and American idioms), and even Rastafarian. On Jamaica you might hear your shoes referred to with the Spanish word, “zapatos,” and you might talk about where to “nyam,” an African word meaning “eat.” However, you may also hear terms you’re more familiar with, like “cool.” The language also has roots in slavery, as the slaves found ways to combine the language of their owners with their own African tongues.

Click here to get more information about the spoken word in Jamaica.

Traditional Clothing

Traditional wear includes colorful and usually handmade dresses from calico cloth. Calico is generally striped, similar to a plaid. These dresses include tiered skirts, but another important aspect is the head scarf. This scarf is carefully wrapped around the head to keep hair in place. Rastafarian-influenced clothes are of particular interest to tourists and generally include red, green, and gold, which are the colors of the Ethiopian flag. One of the most important aspects of Rastafarian clothing is that it is made from natural fibers. Also important in this attire is the “tam,” a hat that covers the dreadlocks.

You can learn more not only about the island’s traditional clothing style, but also how locals dress today and tips on what you should wear as a visitor by reading our guide to Jamaican Clothing.  

Traditional Foods

Jamaican culture is also richly flavored by its cuisine. The aromatic spices of the Caribbean have allowed the island’s kitchens to create one of the most unusual fusions of flavors in the world. Most popular on the menu is jerk, a marinade that can be added to almost anything, but usually meat. The spicy sauce includes many of the island’s native ingredients. Seafood is also prevalent on the island, but most truly Jamaican dishes, which intimidate most visitors, include cow foot stew and goat’s head soups.

Everything you need to know about the cultural culinary offerings of Jamaica can be learned here


…not every member believes in all of these things…

Spirituality takes many forms in Jamaica, but all are reflected in the local culture. The Guinness Book of World Records determined Jamaica to have the most churches per square mile of any place on the planet. The island hosts many different Christian denominations, including Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Presbyterians. But the religious are not only Christians: Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Bahai’s, and Rastafarians all call Jamaica home.

Read more about religions in Jamaica, especially including details about Rastafarianism by clicking here


Although equally artistic, local crafts fall out of the visual arts category and into one of their own.  After all, the indigenous name of the island Xaymaca, means “land of water and wood.” On the island, there are many artisans who create goods of local, natural materials and they do so by hand.  You can get your own hands on any number of these goods by visiting a local crafts fair where you will find such items as glazed pottery animals, straw hats made of palm leaves, embroidered linens and batik clothing, and shell jewelry.  If the Rastafarian culture is of particular interest to you, you’ll also be able to find wood carvings that are typically made of red hard woods.  


Of course, Jamaicans are also known for their willingness to dance. Dances found on Jamaica fuse the styles of Europeans and Africans into a unique form. Some of the local dances are the “jonkonnu,” a dance practiced by slaves at Christmas time, “bruckins,” from the period after emancipation, and the newer “ska.” European dances like the maypole and quadrille are performed with “mento” music, while African dances like the “gerreh,” “dinki-mini,” and “ettu” were turned into commentaries on plantation living. New dances crop up constantly, but these older styles are the basis for new moves. Dance halls are the best places to find new styles, but the traditional dances of Jamaican culture are kept alive by organizations such as the National Dance Theater Company.


Where would dancers be if it weren’t for music, the most popular form of Jamaican music is reggae, which has a sound is so easy to enjoy that it has gained popularity throughout the world. Many reggae musicians have grown to international fame, most notably Bob Marley, who worked with and influenced many other local musicians before his death in 1981. The popularity of this genre has continued to this day. Dancehall, a variation of reggae, is also growing in popularity.


The literary world of Jamaica got its start with folk tales told as a form of oral history that was passed down from generation to generation, often as cautionary tales for youths to hear and heed.  What we find in the literary world of Jamaica today, however, is that the local dialect is interwoven with elevated prose to create pieces of written work that is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in the world.  Like many things that become important to the arts and culture scene of the island, it is discussion of social issues that catapults local literature to the top.

Learn more about the rich culture in Jamaica by reading the detailed articles listed below:

Visit Jamaica is a great resource to learn more about Jamaican culture directly from Jamaicans themselves. 

Jamaica has long been a jewel in the Caribbean tourism industry crown, but there’s far more to discover than just beaches and all-inclusive resorts.

A brief history of the island lays the foundation for its rich culture.

While little is known about the early history of the island,  it is understood that the indigenous people were Taino, a subgroup of the Arawak Indians.  Arawaks were agriculturists who made good-quality textiles and pottery and had named the island Xaymaca, meaning “land of wood and water.”

On 14 May 1494, Christopher Columbus landed on his second American voyage of exploration. He named the island Santiago (Saint-James). However, the name was never adopted and it kept its Arawak name Xaymaca, which later became “Jamaica.”

The Spanish Empire ruled for 152 years, enslaving many of the native people, overworking and harming them to the point that many had perished within fifty years of European arrival. The decimated indigenous were replaced by enslaved Africans.

In 1645 the British took control, and former Spanish slaves refused to surrender, retreating into the blue mountains. The escaped slaves and their descendants, known as the Jamaican Maroons, were the source of much disruption in the colony, raiding plantations and occupying parts of the island’s interior. Imported African slaves would frequently escape to the established Maroon territory, known as Cockpit Country. Over the seventy-six years of British governance, fights between Maroon warriors and the British Army grew increasingly common, along with rebellions by enslaved Blacks.

As World War II came to a close, a sweeping movement of decolonization overtook the world. At this time, the British Government and local politicians began a long transition of converting the Caribbean island from a crown colony into an independent state. Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom. In 1958, it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation among the British West Indies. Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federation in 1962. Independence, however widely celebrated in Jamaica, has in more recent years been a topic for discussion. In 2011, a survey done showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans would push to once again become a British territory; citing years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country.

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