A summer work travel program has brought several post-secondary students from Russia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Lithuania to the Eastport‑Lubec area this summer. The students are participants in a five‑decade‑old program that brings more than 60,000 foreign university students to the United States each year to work for up to three months and then travel for a month. The program, which uses a visa known as J‑1, is designed to give students a chance to experience life in the United States.
There are a number of requirements that must be met on the part of the students, the program agencies and the host employers. Students must be sufficiently proficient in English to successfully interact in an English‑speaking environment, and host employers must provide adequate living quarters and food as well as wages. Students must be placed in jobs that are seasonal or temporary and are responsible for traveling expenses involved in reaching their job destination.
In Eastport, the Seaview Campground and the Eastport Chowder House restaurant are employing program participants. At the Seaview, Edona Deberdolani from Kosovo says she is studying English at her university and plans to participate in the program again next year. Anastasia Mikhaylova is from Moscow and is in a psychology program. She also speaks French. Mikhaylova likes Maine and says that, outside of Moscow, Russia is similar to this area, with lots of trees and green fields. She has spoken English since she was a child and has also been to England. This is her second year participating in the exchange program that limits participation to two summers. Masha, who handles the front desk registry, had the day off and was not available to participate in the program discussion.
Sue Lara and Basil Pottle of Seaview are pleased with the program and will apply for foreign students next year. Lara heard about the program from a program participant in Lubec. She says the students are enthusiastic workers and are willing to try their hands at the various tasks, including food preparation, cleaning and tending bar and the gift shop. Lara also comments on their math skills, noting, "They don't need calculators." She points out that American schools open earlier in the fall so the exchange students can stay for the full campground season. "It is a win‑win situation for everyone."
Bob Del Papa of the Eastport Chowder House is also enthusiastic about the program. He first participated in the program while he was a business owner in the Bar Harbor area. Two young women from the Ural Mountains area of Russia are employed at the Chowder House. The women are studying French and English at college. Tatiana has worked in a restaurant at home that is similar to McDonald's.
Del Papa is enthusiastic about the program and says the young women get along well with other employees and have become part of the "Chowder House family." He provides housing accommodations for them. And he notes that they Skype every day with their parents.
The Inn on the Wharf in Lubec, owned by Victor and Judy Trafford, is employing Bulgarians and Lithuanians this summer. The employees are also here under the J‑1 Visa exchange visitor program.
Victor Trafford has been employing students since 2010 when he received an e-mail from a Lithuanian woman seeking employment. He set up a Skype interview and selected two Lithuanians for that summer. This summer he has employed four Bulgarians and two Lithuanians, all university students. The four young women from Bulgaria were hired through a private Bulgarian employment agency. The two Lithuanian students obtained their jobs through an employment agency listing foreign opportunities. When asked if he plans to continue to hire foreign students, he says, "Absolutely. We put them up right here, and they are always there if we need them on the spur of the moment."
Trafford points out that probably 80% of his workforce is made up of local people. He is scrambling for workers now. In areas where there are a lot of older people, he points out that it is often difficult to find workers, and the seasonal nature of his business often makes it difficult to find someone to fill in temporarily.