A unique volunteering experience

The STEP PrograM

STEP is a great way for international participants, local communities, and host families to have a cross-cultural exchange experience.
CHI’s Short Term Enrichment Program (STEP) is a cultural immersion, and volunteering program that has been expanding all over the world, welcoming participants from China, Thailand, Japan, Germany, France, Netherlands, and more.

Our participants spend 4, 8, or 12 weeks exploring and learning about American life. By living in a home-stay, they get to experience a typical American household. And during the day, participants volunteer and observe local non-profit organizations where they will experience the American spirit of donating their time to help a community in need. A B1/B2 or ESTA visa is required for this program, allowing students the chance to travel around America and visit our beautiful and historic sites, and to participate in events hosted by non-profit service organizations.

The Benefits

The opportunities for STEP are endless. With our large team of Community and Local Coordinators spread all over the country, ready to handle any problem, STEP is a safe and secure program for all young people who are excited to see the world.
  • Participants get to practice their English skills
  • Participants learn new business methods and structures
  • Participants have the opportunity to travel in their free time
  • Host organizations will broaden their employees understanding of the world and other cultures
  • Having foreign participants will enrich the workplace for local communities
  • Host families will learn new cultural skills like cooking or folk songs
  • Host families will explore their own neighborhood and local community with their participant
  • Everyone gets to broaden their understanding of what it means to be an American

How the Program Works

1.

Partner

Our overseas partners recruit participants and send their applications to CHI
2.

CHI Main Office

CHI reviews and accepts the applications, and assigns a Coordinator to each participant
3.

CHI Coordinator

The Coordinator recruits host businesses and host families
4.

Participant

Participants obtain visas and purchase airline tickets. They are picked up at the airport and taken to their host families, and the assigned Coordinator provides an orientation session to each participant.

The difference between STEP, Work & Travel, and Internship & Training Programs

STEPWork & TravelInternship & Training
VisaB1/B2 visitor visa or ESTA for visa waiver countriesJ-1 Exchange Visitor Visa
What does this visa mean?Unlimited quota for partners;
More flexible eligibility of participation;
Limited DS form quota each year;
Restricted by  all the regulations of Department of State
Is it easy to get a visa?Simple documents and application process;
Average visa interview time: 0-5 minutes
Complicated documents and application process;
Average visa interview time: 5-15 minutes
Program Length1, 2 or 3 months3 or 4 monthsIntern: Up to 12 months;
Trainee: Up to 18 months
Program TimeAll-year roundSpring, summer and winterAll-year round
Fields of PlacementGeneral administration and social service; Education; Arts and cultureEntry level, seasonal positions in the service industryRelated to the participant’s occupational field
Type of Host BusinessNot for profit organizations: Senior center; Early education center; Museum; Library; Community CenterFast food restaurants; Hotel and resorts; Amusement parks; Retail storesRegular Businesses
Weekday ActivitiesTraditional volunteer work; Shadowing local employees; Observing and learning; Sharing culture and knowledge; Contributing to the local communityWorking at seasonal or temporary jobs such as lifeguards, amusement park workers, housekeepers, waiters or waitresses, dishwashers, hotel or resorts staffInternship or Traineeship in the participant’s occupational field
SalaryNoYes; Minimum wageUsually yes for Interns; Yes for all Trainees
Work / Volunteer HoursMostly 25-35 hours per weekMostly 30-50 hours per weekMostly 30-40 hours per week
AccommodationHost families' homeMostly shared rental apartments
Degree and Work Experience RequirementNo degree or professional experience requiredThe participant needs to be enrolled in a post-secondary instituteCertain degree or job experience in the requested Training or Internship field is required.
English RequirementsLower intermediate or aboveLow intermediate or aboveAdvanced or above
Average Age19-3019-2424-30

Become a Host Family

Being a host family is an enriching experience. Your participant depends on you to be patient and caring. It is so much fun to meet a person from another culture, and it is particularly enjoyable to share your home and country with them.

Your participant is encouraged to participate in family activities like cooking, sharing a movie, going on errands, and chatting about American life. Given the opportunity, an exchange participant will bring new life and culture to any home.

  • Almost any home is right for hosting, our participants want to see a typical American household
  • Host families are responsible for providing meals for the participant
  • Host families must have a spare bedroom with a door for privacy
  • Host families must be interested in sharing American culture and learning about a new culture
  • Host families must have a clean criminal record

Testimonials

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Become a Host Organization

CHI is always looking for inspiring non-profits who would like to share their company mission by accepting foreign volunteers. Our STEP participants are very interested in how organizations in America function on a day-to-day basis. It is often quite different from any company they may know from home. So the chance to volunteer in America is something which could change their lives. Volunteers are fun and enthusiastic, and they are always willing to share their culture with coworkers and friends. Having a foreign volunteer benefits your company as well as communities around the world.

Testimonials

Are you interested in learning more about the benefits of becoming a STEP host business?

Send us a message and we will contact you promptly.

Would you like to be contacted by a CHI business care specialist?

Become a STEP Participant

Maybe you have been to the U.S. before, and you loved the experience. STEP is a great way to come back during your school breaks. You can visit your favorite people and places from before, and you can meet new people and have new experiences.

Do you think that focusing on your career is the only way to make yourself stand out of the crowd as a candidate? There are many “life skills” that will make you attractive to a future employer. Most companies are looking for someone who is flexible, organized, creative thinking, able to multitask and be a great team member.

The best way to gain these skills is to get away from your computer and challenge yourself. You have to get out of the classroom and leave your comfortable surroundings. Be ready to experience something new, something different, and something that could make you stand out in a crowd! STEP will give you the opportunity to have those experiences and gain these skills. You will meet friendly people, see innovative companies and share the lives of an American family. When you return home you will not only have the skills for a great career but to be a true leader.

Signing up for a yearlong Internship or school program could be a bit intimidating. STEP is a great program for any young person who is trying to decide if they want to spend time in America. Especially for participants who have never been to America before, or for those who have never been out of their home country. This program is safe, organized, quick, and inexpensive. It is perfect to give you a taste of life in the U.S. with little commitment.

Testimonials

Are you ready to learn more about America, its businesses, its schools and its people?

Do you have questions about the STEP Program?

Contact us today and we will refer you to a CHI partner near you.

Frequently Asked Questions

STEP is a cultural emersion and volunteer B1/B2 or visa waiver program. Participants spend 1-3 months volunteering and learning about American life. By living with a host family, they get to experience a typical American household. During the day, they volunteer at local non-profit organization where they will experience the American spirit of donating time and helping a community.
CHI has been developing the STEP Program since 1996. In the recent decade, STEP has been expanding all over the world and the number of participants has rapidly increased. From less than 10 participants in 1996 to 250 in 2015, STEP is steadily growing, adapting and constantly changing the lives of international youth, local organizations and American families.

STEP welcomes any international youth who are interested in
volunteering
and cross-cultural experience, as long as they:

  • Have a functional command of English language;
  • Are between the age of 18-30 (due to B1/B2 visa restriction);
  • Agree to abide by the STEP terms and regulations.
STEP does not require participants to be currently in school, or
hold any degree in a specific field. (For more detailed visa
eligibility questions, please refer to the visa section – 4.2.
Can a participant with an F/J visa participate in STEP?)
STEP is offered throughout the year. Participants may choose any time in a year to start their 4 week / 8 week / 12 week – program. They arrive and depart on weekends so that their airport transfer will be arranged. Summer and winter breaks are the two most popular STEP seasons as many STEP participants are still in school. And for the same reason, many of them choose a shorter program.To make sure there is enough time to find a suitable placement and visa application, CHI suggests that all applications should be submitted at least 12 weeks prior to the program start date.
CHI has been running cultural exchange programs since 1980; we have regional and local coordinators all over the country overseeing the quality of program in their territories. The international partners recruit and screen participants from their home countries, collect and submit full application packages to CHI. The coordinators then match the participants with host organizations according to their qualification and requested focus; match them with host families, supervise, implement the overall program, and assist with any problem or questions that may occur.
Participants join STEP for so many different reasons:
  • They want an enriching, memorable experience in their youth;
  • They want to experience real American adult life, travelling is just not enough;
  • They’ve been studying English in school for years and now it’s time to practice it in everyday life and work environment!
  • They’ve never been away from their family or lived alone; they want to be more independent and confident;
  • They are having hesitations about studying in the U.S.; this seems like a perfect chance to see if they will like it;
  • They are facing graduation and a competitive job market; this experience will look nice on their resume;
  • They love volunteering and helping others; STEP offers the opportunity and gives back so much more;
  • They want an internship or a job in the U.S.; but they do not have the degree, experience or sufficient English skills for that yet; as a beginner level social experience, STEP is more accessible;
The reasons go on and on.If a participant has a positive character; is willing to be exposed to different cultures and people; tries to respect and understand what’s new; is open minded and flexible; takes initiative and is prepared, he/she will find STEP is about all of this and more!
We are always looking forward to work with partners who are responsible, established, understanding and are dedicated to the student exchange industry.
As a visitor’s visa program, STEP doesn’t have a quota limitation.
We count on our international local partners to recruit and screen the right applicants for STEP, making sure applicants understand and appreciate the spirit of STEP. They must possess sufficient English skills to manage volunteer work and daily communication.The local partner is also responsible for:
  • Informing and educating the participants of the STEP terms and regulations;
  • Collecting application documents, including a signed STEP participant agreement, two photos, an application form, a CV, a letter to host family and a letter of intent;
  • Arranging Skype or phone interviews if it’s requested by the host organizations;
  • Assisting participants with obtaining a B1/B2 or ESTA visa;
  • Collecting other documents that may be required before arrival, such as flight itinerary, proof of no criminal record etc.;
  • Assisting CHI in dealing with emergencies and problems that may arise.
The following documents are mandatory for CHI to arrange placement:
  • Application Form
  • Signed Participant Agreement
  • Two Photographs
  • Curriculum Vitae/Resume
  • Letter of Introduction to the Host Family
  • Letter of Intent
A school certificate; passport or an English language certificate is not required.After a participant gets a volunteer placement, the following documents are required to be read and signed:
  • Volunteer Service Profile
  • Orientation Form
Sometimes the host organization may require additional proof of non-criminal background record; doctor’s note / Health test result; or other documents.
Volunteering is very common in the U.S. and one of the things that makes this country unique, though it is gaining popularity around the world. There are many companies in the U.S. that dedicate themselves to helping a cause, such as homelessness or preservation of the environment. They do not have large budgets to do their work and so they depend on people donating their time to assist them with many different types of tasks. It can be very gratifying as well as a wonderful learning experience.In another way, getting work skill practice in the U.S. is always difficult for foreigners. There are barriers in visa, language level, educational background, and job experiences. For those young students or graduates who are not eligible for an employment or an internship, volunteering is the perfect entry level opportunity to observe a U.S. business; practice language in English speaking environment; develop personal and career skills, such as gaining confidence, learning to take initiative, improving communication skills; last but not least, appreciating the joy of helping others.
Due to B1 / B2 visa regulation, the volunteer placements are at non-profit organizations, which benefit a local community, and traditionally host local volunteer workers. Participants can choose their preferred volunteer field in the following categories:A NPO related to Education – Such as early education center; preschool; youth center; training center; summer camp etc.;A NPO related to Art/Culture – Such as not-for-profit opera house or producing organization; dance center; youth cultural center; art festival; venue for art and culture.If the participant does not have a preference in education or arts and culture, the third option is General. It refers to assistance work and social service at a NPO we carefully select – Such as community center; NPO for health/end of poverty/culture/all kinds of purposes; museum; library; medical center; senior house; youth center and so on.CHI is constantly developing new host organizations in the above three fields. The placement will be decided based on the application and request, but in the end up to the organizations. Therefore participants can not choose which organization they want to go to.

A non-profit organization is formed for the purpose of serving a
public or mutual benefit other than the pursuit or accumulation
of profits for owners or investors.

Non-profit organizations are not prohibited from making a
profit.
However they are under the restriction of the IRS that all
money
must go back into the operation of the organization, dedicated
to its purpose or mission. Profits cannot be distributed among
owners or investors.

Non-profits receive certain tax exempt and legal privileges
according
to different state laws. They have received this status because
they relieve the government of its burden and benefit society.

An estimated ten percent of the U.S. population are employed in
non-profit
organizations.

Non-profit organization covers a very broad range, which include
the following major groups: Arts, culture, humanities;
Education;
Environment and animals; Public societal benefit; Health; Human
and social services; International affairs.
See
the complete list of categories

.

Generally, the volunteer’s work time will be distributed
partially
in an office and partially out in the field.

There will be simple assignments to assist with the daily
operation
of the organization. The participant may also be asked to
participate
and assist in an event or exhibition. Some organizations have
small projects or tasks designed for the participant, such as
translating documents from English to their first language,
setting
up a culture / language class for children, or design a feature
wall in the community. The volunteers will share their culture
and their distinct views and ideas, make use of what they are
good at and contribute as much as they could.

Here are three examples of possible volunteer responsibilities
(the
possible tasks vary in different organizations):

A. An early education center

Volunteer will shadow the department’s supervisor; observe the
tasks;
offer his/her skills, interests & talents to assist with any
simple tasks and that is important to the volunteer & host
organization.

  • Help organize functions & activities for the children and
    assist
    with activities at preschool, shadowing counselors who work
    with children from 2.9 – 5 years of age.
  • Contribute or share any knowledge garnered from past
    volunteer
    experience in your home country that can benefit the local
    community.
  • Bring special or basic skills & resources that you have to
    make
    a difference and in a volunteer project.
  • During this experience you will find a lot of ideas on
    which
    you could base your assignment.
  • Improve English.
  • Learn American culture.

B. A senior place

  • Volunteers will spend time with our senior participants and
    engage
    them in various activities such as bingo and arts and
    crafts.
    The goal is to provide a stimulating and social environment
    for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other age
    related
    issues.
  • Volunteers will always have staff supervision and will be
    required
    to follow staff rules and regulations to ensure the safety
    of our senior participants.
  • Volunteers will assist office staff, coordinators and
    residents.
  • Volunteers help with the classes, exercising, delivering
    meals
    from the kitchen, talking one-on-one with residents and
    generally
    being of help where needed.
  • Duties will revolve around helping the residents with
    exercises,
    arts and activities, conversation, sharing cultures helping
    with mealtime trays, etc.

C. A community dance center

  • Volunteer will provide general assistance in many aspects
    of
    the organization’s business, including assisting in
    handling
    the box office sales, ticket taking and accounting during
    performances, assisting with ongoing class registration,
    assisting instructors or choreographers with the set-up of
    their classes, making sure class spaces are broken down and
    set up for the next class as well as assisting with general
    office functions such as answering phones, accounting
    processes,
    etc.
  • Much of what the volunteer participant will do depends on
    their
    command of the English language.

The STEP placing process starts with participants completing the
application package.

CHI receives the application via CHI STEP database from
agencies,
and the application will be assigned to coordinators all around
America. The coordinators will then introduce the participant’s
profiles to suitable host organizations and host families.

Some organizations can decide right away from the profiles, some
might request a follow up Skype interview, or email the
participant
directly to find out more about their English level. About 10
– 15% of participants may be required for an interview or
interaction
with the host organization.

CHI does not conduct individual interviews with participants.
Partner
agencies are responsible for interviewing the applicants before
they sign up, to make sure they have good enough English for
the program.

Participants may be placed in any safe, nice neighborhood in the
contiguous United States.

Participants are not able to request locations.

We find that for most international participants, they’ve only
heard
about the very few world famous big cities before they come to
the United States. But big cities are the same all over the
world,
participants who get to experience the real American life in
a smaller community usually have the best time.

STEP is a cultural exchange program, not a professional
internship
or training. The volunteer work is only a part of the cultural
and enriching experience. Any kind of volunteer work will be
equally rewarding and appreciated. If a participant is matched
with a placement, the decision is made based on his/her
request,
language, knowledge, skills, experience, interest and the host
organization’s demand, it cannot be changed.

If a participant has any health limitations that may prevent
them
from performing certain volunteer tasks, they should be listed
in the application.

The host family provides the following:

  • A bedroom, private or shared with another participant with
    separate
    beds;
  • Access to food, the equivalent of 3 meals every day;
  • Support and friendship.

The participant is welcome to join the family in daily
activities,
share each other’s culture.

The participant is responsible to pay for all personal expense,
and
contribute some money towards family activities such as trips.

The distance from host family to host organization is within 1
hours
commute. Most participant travel by public transportation; some
families are able to give their host student a ride, in these
cases participants will share the gas cost.

Yes it’s possible. For such requests, please communicate with
CHI’s
Operations team, and provide the detailed address of where the
participant would like to stay. CHI will research if we have
a suitable organization nearby.

STEP requires a B1/B2 visitor visa or ESTA for visa waiver countries.
Yes. If a participant already possesses any kind of U.S. visa, and has one – three months available for STEP, this participant is eligible for STEP.
For countries that require B1 / B2 visa interview, the visa approval rate for STEP is general higher than the average B1 / B2 visa approval rate. Check each country’s visa approval rate details .For instance, CHI has welcomed a large number of Chinese students in the past 4 years. The general visa approval rate for STEP is 90-96%, while the regular B1/B2 approval rate is about 89%.CHI has visited and talked with several U.S. consulates in foreign countries for STEP. We have concluded a series of tips regarding how to help participants present STEP to visa officers. CHI shares all the documents and tips with our STEP partners, who are responsible for helping their participants prepare documents, complete visa application process and coach them before visa interviews.
CHI provides an embassy letter and a STEP welcome letter.Partners are able to download and print the documents by themselves. CHI will not ship any visa packages.The embassy letter is addressed to the embassy visa official, introducing CHI and explains the STEP program; the second letter contains the participant’s U.S. contact information and placement information.These two documents are all the participant needs to bring to the interview to explain the program. They should also bring documents about their school/work status, financial status, family situation, and other documents requested by the consulate.
CHI provides general accident and health insurance for a fee. Participants have the freedom to choose to purchase their own insurance.
CHI needs to receive the participants’ detailed round trip flight itinerary at least 10 days prior to the arrival date. CHI will arrange shuttle bus, taxi or host families to pick up and drop off the participant from and to the designated airport.For CHI to arrange the airport transportation service, the participant needs to follow the rules below when purchasing flight tickets:1. Arrive and depart at the designated airport closest to the host community, listed on the volunteer service profile;2. Arrive and depart between 9:00 am – 9:00 pm on weekends, not on a national holiday.
  • Contact the Coordinator, host family and the host organization after acquiring a visa;
  • Print and read these documents: volunteer service profile; orientation form; insurance card.
  • Prepare all items requested by the host organization, it’s usually listed on the volunteer service profile, and informed by the agency. For example, health proof documents, non-criminal background record, volunteer agreement, appropriate cloth for volunteer work.
  • Attend the pre-departure orientation hosted by the home country agency.
  • Study the placement community and host organization. Research the weather, community facilities, activities, and customs.
  • Think about what you want to do and how you can benefit the host organization. Prepare a presentation, videos, songs, pictures, or other interesting ways to share your home country.
  • Practice English.
The participant should always contact their Community Coordinator for any problem or question they may have, instead of their home country agencies. This is to make sure the participant gets timely help.
A host family is a typical American family. This does not mean you have to have to be a nuclear family. As long as you and your family are kind, welcoming people who would like to learn about another culture, and share your own traditions with a foreign exchange participant, you are perfect for STEP.
A STEP host family will need to provide a private room (can be shared with another STEP participant only), a comfortable home, a working bathroom and shower, and 3 meals per day. Host family members cannot have a felony conviction, or participate in any illegal activities. English must be the primary language spoken at home. You are being compensated by the participant to cover the extra food and utilities used during their stay.
STEP host families will need to provide enough food for 3 reasonable meals per day. This does not mean you need to cook all of these meals. Just prepare food as you usually would for yourself or your family. Remember that in many countries, meals are presented in different ways. Make sure you show your participant what a typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner looks like in your home. You many need to show them how to make cereal, sandwiches, or how to use the microwave and stove top. Also it is fun to take them shopping with you, so they can point out food they enjoy.If you and your participant continue to have misunderstandings in the kitchen, your Coordinator can help to communicate with them and get you all on the same page.
We do not require you to drive your participant anywhere. They are able to take public transportation, and hire taxis. However if you are feeling like you would enjoy driving them to their destination, I am sure any participant would appreciate it.
Sharing expenses is unique to each culture. We educate our participants about when it is appropriate to tip, offer some money, or when they should expect to buy something themselves, but it can still be very confusing. Our participants have paid for a room and 3 meals per day. But often host families end up driving them to their volunteer position every day, taking them on family outings to museums, or theme parks, and buying them dinner at restaurants. Make sure you talk to your participant about how much tickets, restaurants, and entertainment will cost, before you take them there. Also feel free to remind them if you find yourself paying for expenses which the participant should cover themselves.
As a host family, you have Community Coordinators who helped you to sign up and prepare for your guest. This same person is available to act as support, answer questions, and to help solve any cultural or personal disputes. If you feel that your Coordinator is not fixing the situation, CHI main office is also here to help solve the issue. Our contact information is on the Host Family Handbook, and on the VSP, and Website.
There are thousands of activities you can do with your participant. Anything A-Z that you would like to do, probably your participant would like to join you. While it is fun to have a guest, we recommend that you don’t plan expensive or extreme activities. Most of our participants are here to learn about American culture, so we actually recommend sticking to your normal routine, and then maybe planning a casual event on the weekends. Like BBQ’s, local sports events, or a hike in the hills.Sometimes participants come with their own activities planned out from day one. Do not feel bad if your participant does not seem interested in your daily or planned activities. We encourage the participants to become members of the family, but sometimes that simply does not happen.
Yes. At the end of the fiscal year, our accounting department will mail you a 1099 tax form, so you can easily add it to your return.
STEP is looking for great non-profit organizations that are dedicated to their local community, fighting for a cause, educating the public and helping the world. Our STEP participants are excited to volunteer and become part of your team. In exchange they hope to experience American culture, practice their English, and become more self-confident. If you are interested in joining in the exchange, please contact our STEP Coordinators.
STEP volunteers can do a variety of activities in their volunteer placements. They can help deliver food, play games with children, help organize an event, do data entry, design work, lead seniors in exercise routines, and take ecosystem samples. We suggest that you set up a few tasks to help in the office or headquarters, and then also let them spend some time in the field helping to actualize your mission. We will say that STEP is not a program to hire free labor, these participants expect to help and to learn, not just make beds and dig holes. We are looking for placements which can give 20-35 hours a week for at least 4 weeks.
It is always beneficial to take opportunities to see the world differently. New ideas lead to new innovations. You may be inspired by your STEP participant in ways you could never expect. STEP participants are international representatives of their cultures, systems, and way of life, and they are ready to share their experiences with you and your staff. All they ask is that you welcome them as a member of your team, and enjoy taking part in the experience.
As a host organization, you have a Community Coordinator who helped you to sign up and prepare for your volunteer. This same person is available to act as support, answer questions, and to help solve any cultural or personal disputes. If you feel that your Coordinator is not fixing the situation, CHI main office is also here to help solve the issue.

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