By Jenny Eisenberg
For the fourth consecutive year, the largest and most diverse group of volunteers along the 26.2-mile route of the 2018 New York City Marathon last November was comprised of U.S. Department of State exchange visitors. An innovative collaboration between the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Office of International Visitors’ New York Program Branch and the Office of Private Sector Exchanges allows more than 1,000 au pairs, interns and other exchange visitors from all geographic regions to work together in service to others and experience firsthand the value of volunteerism and its role in American civil society.
Participants said that the experience at the New York City Marathon showed them that no matter what country a person is from or what ethnicity a person is, people can come together and cheer and support those running, showing the hospitality of American culture. The project helps ECA meet its functional bureau strategic goal to encourage strong civil society institutions and enhance foreign exchange participants’ understanding of American values.
Volunteers also said that participating at the marathon influenced their desire to create and take part in similar events in their home countries. In fact, 93 percent of participants said they would be more likely to volunteer in their home country as a result of the experience.
First-shift volunteers at the marathon started by setting up tables and filling thousands of cups at fluid stations. Once the marathon began, volunteers shouted encouragement to the pack of 50,000 runners, cheered wheelchair athletes speeding by and distributed water. “When you volunteer, it is a truly American experience,” said Paul Baumert, an exchange visitor from Germany. Everyone was on one team and helped each other, even if they didn’t know each other. For a day there were no different races, and everyone was on the same team.
Jenny Eisenberg is an international visitor exchange specialist in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.