By Phil Jacobs
Stefania Lavinia Sanda, a Romanian student working in Ocean City this summer, has dreamed of visiting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as long as she can remember.
The 21-year-old server at Tony’s Pizza shared a wonderful story with several other foreign students, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robin Lerner, who oversees the Department of State’s J-1 visa Exchange Visitor Program.
Stefania said she was serving “a young family” who asked her where she was from and why she was here. She said she explained a little about the visitor’s program, and she told them of her Golden Gate Bridge Dream.
When the family finished their meal and left, Stefania went to go clear their table only to find a $100 tip and a note wishing her success in her goal.
These were the types of discussions or stories I was privileged to hear Tuesday around City Hall.
Another story told was about a young Turkish exchange student who became obsessed with miniature golf. He ended up returning to Istanbul and opening up “Ocean City’s Best Fun Time.”
“Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robin Lerner’s visit to Ocean city this week, and her attendance at the Seasonal Workforce Committee’s cultural events, have been a great honor,” said Carrie Linch, Chairperson of the Ocean City Seasonal Workforce Committee. “As a community we have truly embraced the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program and have worked diligently for a number of years to improve the quality of the program in our town. We could not be more pleased that DAS Lerner had the opportunity to see this first-hand by meeting Mayor Meehan and hearing the amazing stories from the participants and people in the community.”
There are about 5,000 J-1 students working here this summer from countries all over the globe. In the U.S., this summer, there are about 80,000 foreign students working through the Summer Work Travel program.
Ocean City was part of a tour Lerner was taking around the nation. She was effusive in her praise for the town’s long-time participation in the program.
“Ocean City,” she said is the model for the country. She also complimented Linch saying, “Carrie is a big part of why Ocean City is so strong a community and offers a successful placement for the students. She has been on the forefront.”
Prior to Monday’s City Council work session, the group had an opportunity to meet with Mayor Meehan. He and the students spoke to one another as if they’d been friends for years. The mayor told them that the town would be in “dire straits without you,” because of their filling of so many summer jobs. He also told them that they make a positive difference for the town.
“I want to thank you for choosing Ocean City,” he said.
The students, numbering about 15, went around the mayor’s office, telling a little bit about themselves and where they were from. Places such as Poland, Belgium, Italy, Slovakia, Jamaica and other nations were represented.
One young woman told the mayor that she felt “safer” in Ocean City than she did in her homeland.
The mayor told them about how town government works.
“It’s about working with one another,” said the mayor. “And it’s about listening to the public.” He said that he was most proud that Ocean City is a clean, safe place for people to visit and to live.
One of the students talked about how she thought it fascinating that her boss encouraged her and the other employees to share ideas they might have to make the business better.
Rodane Gordon, 20, from Jamaica is working at the Jolly Roger Amusement Park. He one day wants to work in the field of print design. He talked about how he loves his job, and how he loves talking to customers at the park.
Pheona Martin, 20, also from Jamaica and working at Jolly Roger as well perhaps summed up working here best. She called it a “life changing experience.”
On Wednesday evening, the group attended J-1 Safety Night on the Beach, which included demonstrations from the Ocean City Beach Patrol, Police and Fire Departments about beach and bike safety.
But on Monday they were able to sit in the City Council chambers and even pose for photographs sitting behind the Mayor and City Council’s podium.
It is for many an opportunity to experience almost an easy going freedom.
The group I met, just a small part of the total working here, seemed like they could get very used to being here. Yet, they also expressed appreciation for their individual opportunities.
Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday in town.
Now when a young adult with a foreign sounding name or accent serves me, I better understand who they are.
I’m glad they’re here.