The STEP PrograM
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.
How the Program Works
CHI Main Office
The difference between STEP, Work & Travel, and Internship & Training Programs
|STEP||Work & Travel||Internship & Training|
|Visa||B1/B2 visitor visa or ESTA for visa waiver countries||J-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 Length||1, 2 or 3 months||3 or 4 months||Intern: Up to 12 months;
Trainee: Up to 18 months
|Program Time||All-year round||Spring, summer and winter||All-year round|
|Fields of Placement||General administration and social service; Education; Arts and culture||Entry level, seasonal positions in the service industry||Related to the participant’s occupational field|
|Type of Host Business||Not for profit organizations: Senior center; Early education center; Museum; Library; Community Center||Fast food restaurants; Hotel and resorts; Amusement parks; Retail stores||Regular Businesses|
|Weekday Activities||Traditional volunteer work; Shadowing local employees; Observing and learning; Sharing culture and knowledge; Contributing to the local community||Working at seasonal or temporary jobs such as lifeguards, amusement park workers, housekeepers, waiters or waitresses, dishwashers, hotel or resorts staff||Internship or Traineeship in the participant’s occupational field|
|Salary||No||Yes; Minimum wage||Usually yes for Interns; Yes for all Trainees|
|Work / Volunteer Hours||Mostly 25-35 hours per week||Mostly 30-50 hours per week||Mostly 30-40 hours per week|
|Accommodation||Host families' home||Mostly shared rental apartments|
|Degree and Work Experience Requirement||No degree or professional experience required||The participant needs to be enrolled in a post-secondary institute||Certain degree or job experience in the requested Training or Internship field is required.|
|English Requirements||Lower intermediate or above||Low intermediate or above||Advanced or above|
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.
We are here to help!
Become a Host Organization
Send us a message and we will contact you promptly.
Become a STEP Participant
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.
Do you have questions about the STEP Program?
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 almost 1,000 in 2019, STEP is steadily growing, adapting and constantly changing the lives of international youth, local organizations and American families.
International individuals are welcome to participate in STEP if they are interested in volunteering, want a cross-cultural experience and fulfill this criteria:
- 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 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 organizing 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 understands 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 working 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, 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 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 may 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.
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 that 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.