WILDWOOD — The beach and the boardwalk here don’t only draw waves of tourists, the summer season has also appealed to hundreds of international students working and traveling abroad.
For three months out of the year signs of the international invasion is everywhere, from the fleets of hand-me-down bicycles that travel the island to the lines at the cyber cafés.
But how much do we learn about the international visitors as they work two, sometimes three and four jobs, during the busy season here?
Herald reporter Lauren Suit is chronicling the experience of two young Russian women as they live and work in Wildwood, a popular destination at the Jersey shore for International student workers.
Part One: From Vladivostok to Wildwood
By LAUREN SUIT
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
WILDWOOD — It was a dark and stormy night when two strangers to this country arrived at the Atlantic City bus stop.
It may sound like the introduction to a horror novel, but that was the unwelcoming scene that greeted Jane Ratkinzheniya and Sveta Alekseenko as they exited the bus terminal and searched for their ride to Wildwood.
However, the drenching rain did little to dampen their spirits and they were all smiles as they lifted their heavy bags into the trunk of this reporter’s car.
“We’ve just spent over 20 hours on a plane and almost four on a bus,” said Jane. “We’re just happy that the trip is almost over.”
The two friends explained that the plane ride from Vladivostok, their hometown in Russia, to Moscow took nine hours. From Moscow they took a three-hour flight to Zurich, Switzerland and spent some time in the airport terminal watching the snowfall outside. Then they spent ten hours on a flight bound for New York City.
“When we landed, it was all a blur,” said Jane. “Get the bags, stand in lines, find the bus terminal, change money, rush for the bus and stand in line some more.”
Traffic slowed the bus ride down to Atlantic City to a crawl and took almost six hours, she said. They were going to continue on the bus to Wildwood, but due to a schedule change they were happy to be have a friendly face meet them in Atlantic City, get something to eat and drive the rest of the way down the parkway.
Jane and Sveta, both 20, are no strangers to travel. They’ve made frequent trips into Moscow and its surrounding cities. Sveta spent last summer living and working in China.
“My Chinese is improving, but it’s not quite good enough yet,” she said.
This is their first trip to the United States.
“All we’ve seen has been in the movies and what we’ve heard from friends who’ve come here,” Jane said. “We want to see what it is really like.”
They first got interested in the trip after talking with two friends who spent the summer of 2007 working in Wildwood. Through that contact they were able to secure jobs, before arriving, at Bobby T’s shirt shop on the boardwalk.
They’ll work from 2 p.m. till closing time seven days a week at the boardwalk store and typically earn the same hourly wage as their U.S. colleagues –– around $7 or $8 an hour for most of the jobs.
In order to work in the country for a maximum of four months, both women had signed up with an international student worker program, also called a sponsor, that helped coordinate flights and arrange their J-1 Visa.
A J-1 visa is issued for an exchange visitor who is participating in an established J exchange sponsorship program pre-approved by the State Department. Exchange visitors under J-1 visas include secondary school and college students, business trainees, trainees in flight aviation programs, primary and secondary school teachers, college professors, research scholars, medical residents or interns receiving medical training in the U.S., certain specialists, international visitors, and government visitors. Like any other worker, the student will need a Social Security card, which has to be applied for 10-14 days after arrival in the country.
Most J-1 students seek second jobs to cover international student worker program fees, travel and housing costs. Jane and Sveta, who said they probably wouldn’t ever look for second jobs as housekeepers in their own country, were planning to spend every morning before work asking hotels and condominium complexes if they were hiring maids.
“Any job is a good one,” Sveta said and added that she and Jane had plans to vacation in Miami with friends in late September, if they make enough money throughout the summer.
Extending workdays to almost 14 hours can come at a price. Both women want to have some free time to relax on the beach, sample a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, shop for electronics and spend a few days in Washington D.C. or New York City.
Before Jane or Sveta even ventured down to the beach here, they were focused on checking in with the manager of Bobby T’s and finding a place to live.
Some visitors aren’t quite prepared when they end up in the Wildwoods with nowhere to live immediately available. Often times their solution is to drop their bags at hotels and wander up and down streets searching for “For Rent” signs.
Housing can be a problem for J-1 workers, particularly in resort areas with affordable rentals. Jane and Sveta were able to stay with this reporter their first night in the country, another benefit of having friends who made friendships the previous year.
“Can you imagine if we didn’t know anyone,” Jane commented to Sveta. “We would have arrived at the bus stop in the rain and in the dark with no knowledge of where to go.”
After a night of stormy weather, both young women were eager to start their first full day in the United States on a better foot. The sun was shining through the morning clouds as Jane and Sveta got on their second-hand bicycles and looked over a map of the island, which will be their summertime home.
We might get a suntan already, they exclaimed as they pedaled off in the direction of the boardwalk.
(Next: “Part Two: Getting Settled, Feeling at Home”)
Contact Suit at: (609) 886-8600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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