MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're talking about migrations. August, of course, is a month when you see a huge migration, an exodus really, as Washingtonians flee to the beach. The beach communities like Ocean City, Md. or Rehoboth in Delaware are also the temporary home of thousands of foreign workers. And that's the topic of today's "On The Coast," our segment where coastal reporter, Bryan Russo, gets us up to speed on what's happening on Maryland's eastern shore and in coastal Delaware. Hey, Bryan, thanks so much for joining us.
MR. BRYAN RUSSO
Hey, Rebecca. It's good to be here.
So, Bryan, you joined us back in March to talk about the role foreign students play in Ocean City during the summer. At the time, the federal government was making some changes to the visa system to try to control, I don't know, the chaos young people often experience when they arrive in Ocean City. You mentioned how many of them don't have a job lined up or a place to stay.
So the government was basically saying, you have to have your housing and employment lined up before we'll give you a visa. So I'm wondering, did it work?
Well, last year, 3,500 foreign students worked in Ocean City, most of them from Eastern Europe. But this summer we definitely have fewer foreign students waiting tables, flipping burgers and even running the amusement rides. Annemarie Conostabli is with the Council for Educational Travel in the United States or CETUSA, as it's commonly known. It's a travel company that works with the foreign students right here in Ocean City.
MS. ANNEMARIE CONOSTABLI
Students who come here now have a job. They are reporting to their employer. Not as many students walking the streets, looking for work other than second jobs. So now, when I receive phone calls from people saying, Annemarie, I need four housekeepers, can you please send them, I have to advise them that's only for second jobs and their hours may be curtailed.
Wow, so it seems these students now have the upper hand over employers in a way, but does that mean they're having a better experience?
Well, I've been periodically checking in with several students this summer to hear how things are going. And I've found that just because you've got a job lined up doesn't mean that you're actually going to be treated well. Case in point, 21-year-old Mila Orozova. She arrived in Ocean City from Bulgaria in late May.
She got to the restaurant where she was supposed to work and was told that she wasn't going to be a waitress like she signed up to be. She was actually going to be busing tables. Guess how much she got paid?
MS. MILA OROZOVA
We started working, but he didn't pay us, like, nothing for two days and 16 hours work we got $9 and four or five of them we spend on bus fares so it was like $4 for two days.
Wow. Well, that's incredible. So then, what kind of recourse do these foreign students have in a situation like this? I mean, is there anyone who can help out with a situation like Mila's?
Well, that's what organizations like CETUSA are there for, to try and match skilled students with reputable employers, kind of serving as like a conduit between the business community and the foreign students. But honestly, Annemarie Conostabli is pretty candid that the whole process, well, is less than perfect.
They're so grateful to be here that they will accept lesser conditions. It does happen. It shouldn't happen, but, again, if everybody's in agreement, the story stays positive.
Okay. So what about Mila's story? How positive is that right about now?
Well, I checked in with Mila like a week or two ago. We met up at a party that CETUSA threw for the foreign students in Ocean City. It was Christmas in July. There were more 600 students at this party and while we were waiting in line for food, I asked her how things were going.
Everything gets better with time. Like within the next day that we talked, we went with Annemarie Conostabli so I started working there as a beach server. I love it there. Everybody's really very friendly. So I really love it.
But then she also mentioned something that really makes you realize how challenging it can be to work in a different country, even if it's in a beach community like this, where things are supposed to be, you know, a little more laid back.
There are many ignorant and many disrespectful people here. As for example, the other day I was working and one customer asked me for coffee and I told her that we are not actually selling coffee. And she was really mad at me and she told me, okay, you're a foreigner so you must go in McDonald's and buy me coffee.
That actually happened?
So in other words, this whole idea of beach community as model UN, we could say it's still a work in progress.
Absolutely. Some students come here and have a less than ideal experience and others have a great time. But there are still issues with the visa system. Annemarie Conostabli told me some employers are still hiring foreigners who lack the proper visas. It's really a case of some students have a work visa and other students have a visa that just allows them to study in this country. But, you know, when I was at this party, I talked with probably more than a dozen students and the main message I took home with me was how excited they are to be in this country.
At the end of the day, they're just like everybody else working in Ocean City. They want to be treated with respect, they want to make a couple of bucks and enjoy a sort of quintessential American experience right here at the beach.
Well, Bryan, thank you so much for that update and for sharing Mila's story with us.
It's my pleasure.
Bryan Russo is the coastal reporter here at WAMU and the host of "Coastal Connection," on 88.3 in Ocean City. And if you'd like to hear more about the experiences of Mila and other foreign students, you can listen to Bryan's in-depth reporting by going to our website, metroconnection.org.
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