Land of opportunity or close to slavery?

As published in the Post & Courier on November 10, 2016

 

Dear Editor,

Your recent article “Land of opportunity or close to slavery?” (8/31/16) by Tony Bartelme identifies concerns about the Summer Work Travel program that need to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the article also provides a very unbalanced view of the program.

The Summer Work Travel (SWT) program for decades has proven to be a valuable cultural exchange program. University students from around the world are given the opportunity to experience American culture and improve their English-language skills while working in the United States during their break from school.

Data collected from SWT sponsor organizations and the U.S. Department of State demonstrates an overwhelmingly high satisfaction rate of 93% among alumni of the program across 43 states. For Myrtle Beach specifically, the 2014 and 2015 data shows that around 90% of participants were satisfied with their program experience. The article does not share any of this data.

The Myrtle Beach community has also shown strong support of exchange visitors in the area. The local International Student Outreach group hosts orientations, safety trainings, and cultural activities to engage the participants with the community and ensure a mutually-beneficial experience.

While the negative cases highlighted in this article are of serious concern, the author omits to tell the overwhelmingly positive stories and does not detail the strong regulatory regime in place to protect program participants. A participant’s health, safety, and welfare is the primary concern of each sponsor organization and the U.S. Department of State. The Department works closely with sponsors and host employers to regulate critical program components such as placements, suitable jobs, and housing, as well as to respond to complaints and incidents. Over the past five years, stricter regulations and monitoring processes were implemented by the U.S. Department of State to build in additional safeguards and ensure an educational and cultural exchange experience for all participants.

With a long track-record of success, the Summer Work Travel program continues to be a key public diplomacy tool for the United States, increasing mutual understanding between Americans and people across the globe. In times like these, with heightened global challenges, we need to celebrate cultural exchange programs like Summer Work Travel.
 

Sincerely,

Ilir Zherka
Executive Director
Alliance for International Exchange