If You Attended the New York City Marathon, Chances Are You Saw An International Exchange Visitor

It was chilly autumn morning in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park as hundreds of international exchange visitors gathered at mile marker six of the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon. Dressed in their bright lime green water proof ponchos, faces decorated with welcoming smiles and hands armed with cups of water and Gatorade, they excitedly prepared to hand out drinks to the sea of 50,000 runners from over 135 countries who would soon run past. For hours, the words “water” and “Gatorade” echoed through the air followed by appreciative “thank yous” as the runners quickly dashed past, grabbing drinks to replenish their energy levels and help them continue the remaining 20 miles of their journey.

The more than 1,000 exchange visitors – all in the United States on J-1 visas – including students, interns, research scholars, and more than 500 au pairs manned the fluid stations along the route of the TCS New York City Marathon. These volunteers comprised more than 10 percent of the total volunteers at the marathon, making them the largest single group of volunteers at the race, onsite to ensure the marathon ran smoothly.

Here are the thoughts of some of the many J-1s who volunteered at the New York City Marathon this year: 

J-1 volunteer support at the NYC marathon. From Top Left: Maribel Kloubert, Victor Sanchez, Tom Heinze, Elicia Grobbelaar, and Amalie Nordaas. [State Department photos]

“It is an amazing feeling to see the runners, and see how much it means to them, to see them and their emotions; it is so touching and great.”

Victor Sanchez, J-1 Intern from Spain

“This is my first volunteering experience. I feel that my participation counts and I’m helping others.”

Tom Heinze, J-1 au pair from Germany

“This is a once in a lifetime experience. I saw [the New York City Marathon] on TV when I was in Germany and now I’m part of it! Volunteering gives you access to special events, venues, and people that you wouldn’t normally have access to.”

Elicia Grobbelaar, J-1 au pair from South Africa

“The marathon has been a learning opportunity to see all the work and effort that goes behind the scenes and the people that make it all happen.”

Amalie Nordaas, J-1 au pair from Sweden

“I decided to volunteer because it is such a big event in the U.S., and it is so much fun. I learned that volunteering is a great experience and also a great responsibility. It is a wonderful way to meet new people while helping others.”

Pablo Marino, J-1 from Spain

“I was excited to participate in the New York City Marathon because I volunteered for the Dublin Marathon last year and had a great time. This race was different because there were so many people from all over the world. I like volunteering because it makes you feel good. What we are doing might now seem important, but we are making it possible for this event to happen. The most exciting part of this experience is I came out to support my cousin and was actually able to hand him a cup of water to help him continue the race.”

Maike Wellman, J-1 intern from Germany

“It was the perfect day with lots of impressions and insight! To put a smile on people’s faces and to wish them good luck is a small gesture with a great impact. The smiles we put on the faces of strangers during the marathon should also be given to any person you meet on the street. This has inspired me very much, and I will now try to integrate it into my everyday life.”

Visa NYC Marathon Volunteers. Moira Cacia and Angela Mininni (J-1 au pairs from Italy) said they were very excited to see so many Italians running the race and happy to cheer them on.

Throughout the year, the U.S. Department of State works with sponsor organizations to encourage and provide cultural opportunities for international visitors to experience firsthand American values like volunteerism, and its role in strengthening our communities and civic institutions. The New York City Marathon volunteer activity was coordinated by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' Office of Private Sector Exchange and New York Program Branch in collaboration with New York Road Runners and 50 U.S.-designated sponsor organizations that administer the Exchange Visitor Program. Additional opportunities, like JDay in the summer or beach clean-ups along the coasts, allow exchange visitors in other cities to come together as well.

A majority of the exchange visitors that came out to support the race did not have prior volunteer experience. However, when they left, those I talked with said they would definitely volunteer again in the future and would seek these types of opportunities when they return to their home countries.

About the Author: Lynette Evans-Tiernan is Communications Manager in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural AffairsOffice of Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information: 

J-1 volunteers hand water to runners during the NYC Marathon. [State Department photo]
November 20, 2016

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