Foreign exchange students combine work, education and fun

Tsoglogmaa Tsogtsaikhan, aka Jenny, 20, Mongolia — File photo by Jenna Bernstein

If you take a moment to listen closely at the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop, you’ll hear several accents and dialects, interwoven with the roaring air conditioning and the electronic beeps of the checkout machines. Many of the young workers at Stop & Shop are foreign students who have come from all over the world to spend the summer on the island.

Some of them are here for the entire summer, others for a few weeks, the Island just one destination on their summer travel itineraries. When they had a free moment, we asked several of them to describe how they came to be Martha’s Vineyard working visitors.

Tsoglogmaa Tsogtsaikhan is 20 years old, from Mongolia. She attends the National University of Mongolia, majoring in accounting. Her Stop & Shop employee nametag does not say Tsoglogmaa, just Jenny. How come. “Yeah, here people call me Jenny.”

Jenny said it’s because people have trouble pronouncing her name. No doubt. Jenny, like many of the other foreign students, heard about the Vineyard from a friend who summered on the Island previously. “Last year my friend used to live here and she suggested to me to come here because she said the Island is a beautiful place, ‘you must see’. So I came here and it’s really nice here.” She came to the Vineyard through an exchange program called Work & Travel USA.

Work & Travel USA helps high school students and college students, as well as young workers who are no longer in school, experience America and American culture by working with locals. A few other students came through this same program, but not everyone did. There are similar programs, all focusing on acquiring knowledge of the country through work and travel.

Masha Zharkova, a 19-year-old law student from Ukraine, also came through Work & Travel USA. A nice perk to the program is that it allows you to personalize your experience in America. “We can pick destinations. When I was using this program, I said I wanted to be near the ocean, so that’s how I picked the area of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Masha says she is enjoying the experience so far. “I don’t know, it’s like so cool, beaches, good weather, good people in Stop & Shop,” she said affectionately, looking in the direction of one of her American coworkers. She told us she likes going to the beach when she can and thinks the Island is gorgeous. It sounded as if Masha is enjoying herself, both the fun front and the work front.

Jenny said the Island is “really beautiful. People are really nice, and nature is so beautiful and beach, lighthouses, I love everything.” Jenny and Masha both arrived in May and will stay until September.

Sebastian Narvaez, a 21-year-old from Ecuador, attends Universidad Tecnologica Equinoccial (UTE). He is studying automotive engineering. He came to the Island purely for the travel experience, and he came through another foreign exchange program called Explorer. For fun, Sebastian likes to go to the beach. We asked him if it was very different from Ecuador. “It’s the same as here. The weather is the same.” He said. Sebastian will work at Stop & Shop until September 21.

Tamara Richards, a 25-year-old from Jamaica, came to the Vineyard through an exchange program called Global Insight. She attends the University of Technology Jamaica, studying business and administration. She told us that, although she has traveled island to Island, it is very different from her home. “Right now it’s really hot in Jamaica but we have a lot of wind. But here it’s hot with no wind.” Not such a pleasant combination. She also noticed the temperature difference between the tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea and the slightly colder water of the Atlantic. Although Tamara has been to New York and Florida before, this is her first time here. She said she’s liked her time here so far.

When the students aren’t out having a good time or enjoying the natural beauty of the Island, they’re working on their English at their workplace. Sasha Gridyalva, a Russian 19-year-old linguistics major who attends South Ural State University said, “It’s good opportunity maybe to improve the language and to chat with American people.” Masha also said that work is a great environment to learn English in. “I like to have American people here, they can correct us. We don’t have any teachers here to correct our language, so yes, they help us. I was taking English in my school. But Americans, they help us every day.”

The students aren’t just strengthening their English; they’re also gaining knowledge of other languages and cultures from their foreign coworkers from across the globe. “There are so many students from all over the world to work and spend summer here,” Jenny said.

We asked Masha if she profited from working with other foreign students.

“Of course its interesting,” she said. “It’s like we are communicating on different languages. We sign each other every day some words so we can teach each other. It’s good, it’s great.”

Masha told us that so far she has had only good experiences. She said that everyone who comes into the store is very open and curious about the foreign employees. “It’s good that they are interested in us. They always ask us about how we are doing, where we are from, it’s cool.” Masha said life back in Kharkiv, her hometown, is very different from life on the Vineyard. Temperature and humidity are similar, but activities vary. “Back in Ukraine, I’ll go back to my education. I have to finish fourth and fifth year of my education. It’ll be pretty boring compared to Martha’s Vineyard.” Masha told us she hung out with friends for fun at home, but studying and her classes took up most of her time. Here, the experience is educational, but then there are the beaches, the weather, and the fun.

It’s the experience they came for, after all.