Foreign students fill jobs
Island employers depend on international help
Alyona Dakhova, a student from Ukraine, stands among the goods at Rags to Riches clothing store in Edgartown, where she works. Photos By Julia Spiro
A decade or two ago, if you asked your waiter, ice cream server, or sales clerk where they were from, the most exotic response you might receive was Nebraska. These days, ask again and you'll most likely hear Bulgaria, Ukraine, Scotland, or even Belarus. Every summer, the Island always depends on the seasonal work of college students. In the past decade, however, American college students have been replaced with international ones.
Most international students who come to the Vineyard for the summer are attracted to the money-making possibilities that the Island offers, as well as the chance to improve their English and see part of America. Some students hear about the Vineyard from friends; others are recruited by Island employers looking for hardworking staff willing to work into September. The trend isn't specific to one town or industry on the Vineyard, and students come from a variety of countries.
David Donald, a tourist and information specialist at the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, surmised that the number of international college students on the Vineyard has increased over recent years, although he said the Chamber doesn't keep statistics to prove it. "It seems that most people that come in for housing and job lists are international students. I know because I talk to them and ask them where they're from. This year, for instance, there was a whole bunch from Albania."
Iliya Maslev, a student from Bulgaria, mans the door at the Wharf Pub and Restaurant bar in Edgartown.
A waitress from Scotland
Jill Alexander is a waitress at the Coach House Restaurant in the Harborview Hotel in Edgartown. Ms. Alexander, a 19-year-old from Scotland, came to the Vineyard through Glasgow Caledonian University, where she is studying international travel and tourism management. As she recalled how she first came to the Vineyard, her voice resonated with cheer, enthusiasm, and a strong Scottish accent. "The hotel gets in contact with my university each year, and a few other universities around Scotland, Ireland, and England," she said. "They held interviews at my uni and then emailed me that I had got the job back here."
Ms. Alexander had never even heard of the Vineyard before her interview, and didn't know what to expect when she arrived. "I couldn't imagine what it would be like. It's more expensive than I thought it would be, though." She said that while most of the Islanders she has met have been friendly and warm, the majority of her friends are her co-workers and housemates, who are also foreign.
Ms. Alexander lives in what she describes as "lovely housing, out by South Beach," that the hotel provides to its staff. As a waitress, she gets paid $5 an hour, plus tips, and her housing costs her $220 every two weeks.
Not only did the Harborview arrange housing for Ms. Alexander, but they also sorted out her visa. Ms. Alexander, like many other young international students working on the Island, has an H2B visa. H2B working visas, which employers pay for, are non-immigrant visas that allow foreigners to come to the US to engage in seasonal employment. J1 visas, which are also common among international students working in the US, provide similar allowances to the H2B visa, but the student has to arrange and pay for them themselves.
Ms. Alexander said that making money was never the main reason for coming to the Vineyard. "I saw the opportunity to come and work in America, and I just came for the whole experience. I wanted to just enjoy the summer and gain some experience."
American college schedules don't match Vineyard's
Ms. Alexander, unlike American college students, doesn't have to go home for school until the end of September. Employers on the Island are often scrambling for help in late August and early September, when American kids have to go back to school, which is one reason why foreign students are much more appealing as possible employees. Many employers on the Island recruit international college students because they are able to work through one of the busiest part of the summer.
Dick McCauliffe, general manager at the Harbor View Hotel, is familiar with the frustration of American college students' schedules. "The biggest problem with American college students is that their dates don't work well for us. A lot of times they can't begin until mid to late May, but the biggest problem is that they go back to school and leave at the end of August, which is the high point of the season." Mr. McCauliffe recalled the days when he worked on the Cape as a youngster. "Back then, the season began with Memorial Day and ended with Labor Day, but now it's different. In order to take care of our guests' needs, we had to change."
Mr. McCauliffe said that every year, he hires the majority of seasonal employees from overseas and provides most of them with H2B visas and housing.
Workers from Ukraine
Another seasonal worker on the Island this summer is Alyona Dakhova, a 19-year-old from Kiev, Ukraine, whose warm smile and long brown hair complete her youthful charm. Ms. Dakhova is studying International relations at the National Aviation University in Kiev. At Rags to Riches, a clothing store on Dock Street in Edgartown where she works, Ms. Dakhova gets paid $10 an hour, and doesn't have to pay for housing. Unlike Ms. Alexander, who came to the Vineyard on a whim, Ms. Dakhova said that coming to the United States was "her dream." She said "I had friends who went to Cape Cod last summer, and they told me it was such a nice place. So I signed a contract with my employer, but only later I found out it wasn't on the Cape, but on the Vineyard." Fortunately, Ms. Dakhova has enjoyed her time on the Island. "I've made some American friends here, and people on the Island are really nice." Despite having made many friendships while here, Ms. Dakhova said that she doesn't have much time for going out, as she works almost every day from 9 am to 10 pm.
Marina Grinyuk, 20, is another seasonal worker here who, like Ms. Dakhova, doesn't have much time to go out. Ms. Grinyuk, a student in her hometown of Minsk, Belarus, has two different jobs here on the Island this summer. Besides being a waitress at the Oyster Bar Restaurant on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, she also serves ice cream at Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium. Ms. Grinyuk, a tall, delicate girl with a gentle demeanor, came to the Island this summer to "make some money, and make some friends." She said that she likes the ocean beaches here, as there aren't any in Belarus. Ms. Grinyuk came to the Vineyard with one of her friends from school. "We both came together to support each other," she explained. "I like the people here, and I make more money here than I would at home." Ms. Grinyuk, like many other seasonal workers, does not have a car here on the Island, but said that she doesn't mind using public transportation or walking.
A bouncer from Bulgaria
Other international students have already been coming to the Island for several years. Iliya Maslev, 24, from Bulgaria, has spent three summers on the Vineyard. Mr. Maslev spent his first summer working for the Steamship Authority and is now a bouncer at the Wharf Restaurant and Pub in Edgartown. "This is my second year at the Wharf," he explained, grinning. Mr. Maslev's tanned face and charismatic personality seemed to attract Wharf visitors and Main Street strollers alike. "It is expensive here, but I definitely make a lot more money here than at home." Mr. Maslev, who goes to school in Bulgaria to study architecture and civil engineering, loves the social aspects of the Vineyard as well as the financial ones. "I've made a lot of friends," he said. "Mostly everyone here is nice."
No matter what corner of the globe they are from, the Island seems to be welcoming international college students with open arms, and unless American college schedules change, it looks as though they're here to stay.