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Interlochen’s J-1 visa program provides international staff members with cultural experiences, fun

The summer employees, who hail from 16 different countries, bring contagious enthusiasm to jobs all across Interlochen’s campus.

J-1 employees at Melody Freeze 2

Phraemai, far left, works in the Melody Freeze with other employees in the J-1 visa program. 

Walk over to Interlochen’s popular Melody Freeze on a sunny afternoon, and you’ll be greeted by soft-serve ice cream cones and friendly smiles. You just might learn a few words from a new language, too—many of Interlochen’s summer employees come from countries across the globe. 

The J-1 visa program allows college students to come and work in the United States over the summer. The diligence and enthusiasm of these students has a positive impact on Interlochen’s campus, and the students are able to enjoy the unique cultural experiences available to them at Interlochen. 

What is the J-1 Visa Program? 
The J-1 visa program began in 1961 as a way to allow scholars, government visitors, professionals, and college students to live and work in the United States for a set period of time. According to the J-1 website, the program’s mission is “to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries.” 

Though Interlochen has a long tradition of welcoming international students to the Arts Academy and Arts Camp, this is Interlochen’s first year as a J-1 employer. 

Starting in May of 2022 and continuing throughout the summer, Interlochen welcomed a large group of program participants to campus. These staff members work in many different areas across campus, from Environmental Services to Safety to Cabin Counseling. They come from 16 different countries: Thailand, Turkey, and more are represented. 

Over the summer, they will earn wages, take free English language classes through Interlochen, and enjoy a variety of cultural experiences. 

The J-1 Student Experience
Phraemai, who works in Dining Services and the Melody Freeze, came to Interlochen from Thailand, where she is working towards a master’s degree in economics. So far, she has enjoyed her experience very much. 

“The people are so nice here,” she says, noting that all her coworkers and the Arts Camp students are consistently kind. 

She’s also enjoyed the many cultural opportunities the area has to offer. As part of the J-1 visa program, Interlochen is required to provide several cultural experiences. This year, the J-1 students have enjoyed exploring downtown Traverse City, visiting the beach, climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and taking in the National Cherry Festival. 

“We’ve been to Traverse City almost every day off,” says Phraemai. 

She also appreciates the “cultural exchange” that comes about, saying that she loves interacting with individuals from other countries. 

Unique among many sponsoring institutions, Interlochen is offering all J-1 participants the opportunity to improve their English speaking skills. Phraemai is looking forward to starting her classes. “I want to get better and better,” she says. 

Impacting Campus Culture 
Student participants enjoy many benefits through the J-1 program, but they’re not the only ones who benefit. The partnership has a positive impact on Interlochen’s entire community. 

Drew Fitzpatrick, Human Resources Generalist at Interlochen, has been working hard to initiate the J-1 program at Interlochen since fall of 2021. She says that the international staff members enrich the experience of Arts Camp students. 

“Our Camp students get to talk with people from Thailand, from Turkey, from Uzbekistan,” she says. “It's really neat to see some of the conversations that are happening… just getting to listen to the different languages that are spoken not only by our international staff, but by staff and campers in general.”

The J-1 students bring a noticeable energy to their work at Interlochen; Fitzpatrick calls it “overwhelmingly positive.” 

“They have an excitement that's electric,” she says. 

Tifini McClyde-Blythe is the Associate Vice President of Human Resources at Interlochen. She, too, is delighted to welcome students who come on a J-1 visa. 
“They didn't have to choose Interlochen. There are other organizations that participate in this, so we're happy that they chose us and they brought a positive energy here,” McClyde-Blythe points out. “It speaks to how the arts are a universal language. What we do here really does translate everywhere.”