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December: month of multi-cultural Celebration!

23 Nov

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December is a month rich in cultural holidays, with many opportunities to learn and share our world’s diversity, present right here in the United States. Here are a few highlights from our global cultures:

Hanukkah For eight days each November or December, Jewish people light a special candleholder called a menorah, to remember an ancient miracle in which one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days in their temple. On Hanukkah, many Jewish people also eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs, and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts, or raisins. This year, Hanukkah is celebrated December 6 – 14.

St. Lucia Day is on December 13, in Advent. Her feast once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feast day has become a festival of light. St. Lucy’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia, with their long dark winters, where it is a major feast day, and in Italy, with each emphasizing a different aspect of the story. Many girls in Sweden dress up as “Lucia brides” in long white gowns with red sashes, and a wreath of burning candles on their heads. They wake up their families by singing songs and bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called “Lucia cats.”

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 25th as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. People celebrate this Christian holiday by going to church, giving gifts, and sharing the day with their families. In some parts of Europe, “star singers” go caroling — singing special Christmas songs — as they walk behind a huge star on a pole.

Prophet Muhammed’d Birthday Eid Milad ul-Nabi (Mawlid, Milad-un-Nabi) celebrates the Prophet Muhammad’s life. It falls on the 12th or 17th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal. Some Muslims in the United States mark this occasion by fasting or holding communal meals, special prayers or outdoor celebrations.

Kwanzaa which means “First Fruits,” is based on ancient African harvest festivals and celebrates ideals such as family life and unity. During this spiritual holiday, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, millions of African Americans dress in special clothes, decorate their homes with fruits and vegetables, and light a candleholder called a kinara.

WYSTC 2015 – Cape Town, South Africa

31 Oct

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IMG_5232Entering into its 25th year, the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) is the leading trade event for the global youth, student and educational travel industry. Since its inception in 1992 as the annual event of WYSE Travel Confederation youth and student travel professionals have been gathering annually to trade, network and take part in seminars and workshops.

This year, in Cape Town, South Africa, Alliance Abroad Group was named one of the best work experience providers in the industry! While at the conference, we also initiated an incentive to youth volunteers working the event, offering a free internship program to support their future career development.

We are honored to have selected Thato as the award receipient! Thato will begin his internship with the Omni Mt. Washington in December of 2015.

Dia de los Muertos

31 Oct

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Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—is a holiday celebrated on November 1. Although marked throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated.

DiadeLosMuertosDia de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. (Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, minor holidays in the Catholic calendar.)

Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

The most familiar symbol of Dia de los Muertos may be the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), which appear everywhere during the holiday: in candied sweets, as parade masks, as dolls. Calacas and calaveras are almost always portrayed as enjoying life, often in fancy clothes and entertaining situations.

If you’ve never experienced a  Dia de lost Muertos event or exhibit, we encourage you to find one and enjoy this cultural celebration in the circle of life.

AAGives Back – Operation Turkey

30 Oct

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AAGgives backAAGives Back is an initiative launched by Alliance Abroad Group in 2015 which encourages J-1 participants to become engaged in the American culture of volunteering. We’ve hosted several give back events this year and will host a Thanksgiving Day event in Austin, TX through Operation Turkey. We will help to feed hundreds of homeless on this special day of thanks and participants will earn an AAGives Back certificate in addition to the good sensation of giving back to the community.

There are several Operation Turkey events happening across the country. If you are a current employer, hosting J-1 participants in one of these cities, please encourage them to volunteer. They can contact Heather MacLaren: with any questions they may have.

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.

Recruitment is Open; Now Hiring J-1 Program Participants!

29 Sep

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Now that the J-1 Summer season has come to a complete end, AAG is in full swing, recruiting participants for our Summer Work and Travel, Intern and Trainee programs.

If you are planning to participate in the upcoming  J-1 program seasons, we encourage you to begin your recruitment now. Many of our Host Company placements are currently filling for the Summer Work and Travel winter/spring seasons and believe it or not, we’re already recruiting for summer 2016. The fall is also an ideal time to recruit qualified interns and trainees for a longer term, 6, 12 and 18-month programs. Don’t miss your opportunity to hire the best candidates for your J-1 positions.

For J-1 Summer Work/Travel recruitment please contact – Mike Martorella:

For J-1 Internship and Trainee recruitment please contact – Christy Davidovich:

Important J-1 Regulations Update – Unskilled Occupations

29 Sep

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The Intern and Trainee programs are amazing opportunities for participants to obtain knowledge, skills and competencies that will have direct and lasting benefits for their career.  The key emphasis on these programs in terms of what that looks like on a daily basis is that the training they received is skills-based.  The State Department has provided all sponsors within the regulations a list of “Unskilled Occupations” that are not appropriate for Interns and Trainees to be asked to do or incorporated into their Training/Internship Placement Plans.  We are including the list below, and have highlighted ones that apply to the hospitality field.  If you ever have a question about what is or is not appropriate for your Interns and Trainees to do, please contact us.  We are happy to provide guidance and examples of successful TIPPs for various roles within the hospitality industry.

Appendix E to Part 62—Unskilled Occupations

For purposes of 22 CFR 514.22(c)(1), the following are considered to be “unskilled occupations”:

(1) Assemblers

(2) Attendants, Parking Lot

(3) Attendants (Service Workers such as Personal Services Attendants, Amusement and Recreation Service Attendants)

(4) Automobile Service Station Attendants

(5) Bartenders

(6) Bookkeepers

(7) Caretakers

(8) Cashiers

(9) Charworkers and Cleaners

(10) Chauffeurs and Taxicab Drivers

(11) Cleaners, Hotel and Motel

(12) Clerks, General

(13) Clerks, Hotel

(14) Clerks and Checkers, Grocery Stores

(15) Clerk Typist

(16) Cooks, Short Order

(17) Counter and Fountain Workers

(18) Dining Room Attendants

(19) Electric Truck Operators

(20) Elevator Operators

(21) Floorworkers

(22) Groundskeepers

(23) Guards

(24) Helpers, any industry

(25) Hotel Cleaners

(26) Household Domestic Service Workers

(27) Housekeepers

(28) Janitors

(29) Key Punch Operators

(30) Kitchen Workers

(31) Laborers, Common

(32) Laborers, Farm

(33) Laborers, Mine

(34) Loopers and Toppers

(35) Material Handlers

(36) Nurses’ Aides and Orderlies

(37) Packers, Markers, Bottlers and Related

(38) Porters

(39) Receptionists

(40) Sailors and Deck Hands

(41) Sales Clerks, General

(42) Sewing Machine Operators and Handstitchers

(43) Stock Room and Warehouse Workers

(44) Streetcar and Bus Conductors

(45) Telephone Operators

(46) Truck Drivers and Tractor Drivers

(47) Typist, Lesser Skilled

(48) Ushers, Recreation and Amusement

(49) Yard Workers


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.

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