In early November, CETUSA offered me the incredible opportunity to visit New York City for the annual New York City Marathon. Every year since 1970, people come from all over the world to partake in this exciting experience. Much like the Olympics, the marathon is a wonderful way for people from all cultural backgrounds to come together and engage in a healthy competition. Over 52,000 runners pass through the five boroughs of New York City: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan, and cross the finish line.
A primary goal of the J-1 Trainee and Internship Program is for participants to experience American culture. Every year CETUSA encourages participants to volunteer at this event. All J-1 trainees and interns are given the opportunity to volunteer at fluid stations along the marathon route, handing out water, Gatorade, and snacks to runners as they pass. It’s a great way to experience not only the marathon first-hand, but also the unique culture of New York City.
One of the most amazing things about the United States is how drastically the culture can vary depending where you are in the country – whether you’re experiencing island life in Hawaii, the lush green and wet climate of the Pacific Northwest, the soul and vibrancy of the South, or the fast-paced hustle and bustle of New York. Although I did document the cultural experience of our program participants, the big city was a cultural experience for me, too. I got to navigate the tricky subway system, gaze up at the skyscraper buildings that disappeared up into the morning mist, eat delicious pizza, hail a taxi, stroll through beautiful Central Park, and cheer on each of the runners that whizzed past me in the race. The energy surrounding the race is loud, exciting, fast, inspiring, and emotional. The most impactful moment of the trip for me was at mile 23, when I watched a man with no legs roll past me on a skateboard. Things like that really put life into perspective. It was a humbling reminder to appreciate the fact that I have a healthy and normal body that helps me do the things I love to do. I took a moment to stopand appreciate the amount of preparation, training, and dedication these runners applied to be here.
I also attended a few events leading up to the actual marathon itself. The opening ceremony was held in Central Park two days before the marathon. A portion of the park was set up with stands full of spectators to watch each country participating in the race march with their flag in their country’s colors or traditional garb. This was also an emotional moment. It was so inspiring to see and hear everyone clap and cheer for every single country. It was a subtle reminder that although there might be so much disagreement and negativity in the world, we are all ultimately the same. I had full-body chills the entire time! The opening ceremony concluded with a firework show.
The day before the marathon, I was invited to attend a reception gathering at the US Mission to the United Nations office in New York. J-1 participants and sponsorship organizations were invited to attend the reception, eat, mingle, network, and get excited about volunteering in the marathon. A participant of the Au Pair Program gave a speech about her experience in the U.S. Her host father spoke as well about his experience hosting her. Many tears were shared! It was inspiring to be reminded that the work we do is special and life-altering.
On the day of the marathon, I woke up before the sun to prepare for my long day! All CETUSA participants were spread out between various fluid stations along the marathon route. They each also had different shifts at each station, so I had to plan my time wisely to be able to meet each participant, take photos, and then leave enough time to make my way to the next station. We interact so much with our participants virtually, whether it’s by email, Skype, or phone, so it was fun to meet them face to face and make a special connection.
I started at mile 18 where I met Katerina Paterova and Hiroyuki Obara. I gave them their CETUSA shirts and got to speak with them each briefly, but they were very busy setting up and then cheering on the runners! So I took pictures and videos of them cheering all the runners on. I saw all of the front runners from Kenya, which was really neat. At mile 18, they didn’t look tired or sweaty in the slightest – just focused.
At mile 23 I met Nanami Suzuki. She actually was assigned to hand out bananas to runners instead of water. We were laughing because when a runner would come by and grab one off her tray, 10 would fall on the ground with it because they were running by so quickly. The bulk of the runners came through when I was at mile 23. It was unbelievable to see so many people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities running together and being cheered on. I saw a man with dreadlocks, a man wearing a tutu, and a woman that stopped over by our station to throw up! I actually got stuck at this station a little longer than planned, because there were so many runners that I couldn’t cross the street!
I next tried to make my way to mile 7 where our CETUSA participant Anastasiia Zarichna was volunteering, but because most people had passed mile 7, Anastasiia was let go from her shift early. I really wanted to meet up with her still, so she and I met up for lunch at a sandwich shop in Brooklyn. We were both STARVING! It was so nice to sit down in a quiet place and get to know her. She is doing her training in Chicago with Marion Inc. Her training is in restoring old art and buildings around Chicago. She absolutely adores her supervisor and colleagues. She was very nervous at the beginning of her training, because although she has both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in this field, she didn’t feel confident in the amount of professional experience that she has but her team has been so kind to her to help her, and to be understanding and supportive when she makes mistakes. She couldn’t speak more highly of her program. She showed me photographs of some of the restoration projects she is working on. Recently, she worked on restoration for an old church, restoring a mural of tiles and reinforcing them on the wall. She has worked on many stain glass projects as well.
I had also scheduled pizza for everyone after the marathon at Joe’s Pizza in Time Square. Only Nanami was able to make it. At first, I was a little disappointed, because I really wanted everyone to meet in one place, but everyone’s conflicting schedules and time restraints made it difficult. However, having dinner with Nanami was my favorite part of the trip. She and I sat in the insanely crowded Joe’s Pizza in the middle of the hectic Time Square, and just talked, for maybe two hours nonstop. I got to hear about her family in Japan, her boyfriend, her friends, and her training in the U.S. She is really enjoying her training and the team that she works with. She loves watching American shows to improve her English. Her favorite show is Stranger Things. She goes to yoga with her colleagues every Wednesday and also goes on a run every Saturday in Central Park. We talked about cultural differences between Japan and The United States, her recent travels to Washington DC, and our love for animals.
This is what is so special about the J-1 program: traveling to a different country and experiencing a new culture teaches us so many new things. It teaches open-mindedness, empathy, compassion, kindness, and independence. It teaches us to cheer each other on! Cultural awareness can also affect creativity and innovation, and these are the skills that will help you succeed in any career path. Special thanks to Kevin Watson and Kimberly Carter at CETUSA, Hiroko Orihara and Takuya Yamazaki, Allen Kim, Robert Gasperetti, and Danielle O’Neill.