Exchange Visitor Close Up: Maria Grazia Spinelli

Maria Grazia Spinelli, a 25-year old Italian native, is one of the many exceptional trainees sponsored by the IACC through the J-1 visa program. Currently, Maria is in the midst of an 18-month long training program with Colavita USA, located in Edison, New Jersey.

Under the supervision of Mr. Giovanni Colavita, Maria is diligently following her training program and moving through various company departments, including marketing, sales, and accounting, in order to gain a better understanding of how the company works and how U.S. food distribution markets operate compared to those in Italy.

However, since the global outbreak of COVID-19, Maria’s training experience has seen dramatic changes. As a company, Colavita USA continues to receive and fill many orders on a daily basis. In order to continue to supply their customers, Colavita USA has limited the portion of their workforce on-site each day to promote social distancing in accordance with CDC safety guidelines. Maria feels very fortunate to be able to continue her training on-site as part of this smaller staff, training alongside Mr. Colavita, who is the company’s President and CEO.

While Colavita USA has always worked to create a supportive and respectful work environment, Maria says that since regular operations have shifted due to COVID-19, the atmosphere has become closer to that of a family. “Everyone is looking out for each other,” making concerted efforts to show one other respect by wearing face-coverings and waiting for others to get their coffee before themselves. Although Maria’s training is currently focused on marketing and sales, she has stepped up alongside her colleagues to help other divisions as the majority of employees continue their work remotely. Much of this supportive work environment can be attributed to Mr. Colavita himself, who checks in with his employees and trainees on a daily basis to ensure their wellbeing.

Although it is very difficult for essential workers across industries and state lines right now, Maria feels that she is a part of a cause much larger than herself—she is helping the community around her through her training program. In fact, just the other day Maria was doing her grocery shopping when she noticed other customers in the store purchasing Colavita products. She was able to see firsthand how her host company was improving the lives of Americans in crisis.

On a personal level, before the COVID-19 outbreak seriously entered America’s consciousness, Maria experienced a difficult period psychologically as she grappled with the effects of the virus on her home country and on her family still living there. Her continued training with Colavita USA has shown her how we must all step up and work together in these difficult times in order to succeed.

When asked what she has learned during this period with Colavita USA, Maria instantly remarked that “when the times change, you need to change as well.” Adaptability is a huge component of the J-1 visa experience that many Exchange Visitors work to achieve in their new country, environment, training program, and culture within the United States. Through her contributions to Colavita USA’s essential work during this pandemic, Maria feels that she has rededicated herself to her training and colleagues as the Colavita team works to support one another both onsite, and at home.

Maria would like to share with the IACC’s members and J-1 visa community that the program has proven to be an unparalleled opportunity for growth as both an individual and young professional. She noted that among the many differences between the United States and other countries, from a professional standpoint, training in the United States requires one to be extremely active. “You cannot be lazy,” she said, “if you’re going to take advantage of this opportunity.” Hard work is a quintessential aspect of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, as exchange visitors enter into a professional culture and lifestyle that can be quite different from what they are accustomed to in their own home country.

Maria is proud of the work her host company continues to do within the United States market, and of what she has accomplished during her time training here thus far.

The IACC would like to thank Maria for her time and willingness to share her experience, as well as her host company Colavita USA, for their continued membership and dedication to the J-1 visa program.

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