Editor’s note: This is part four in a series of stories examining J-1 student visa workers on the Kenai Peninsula.
By Jenny Neyman
Once parental protectiveness tendencies kick in, it’s hard to hold them back. That’s what several central Kenai Peninsula families have found as they stepped in to help international exchange youth in the U.S. for the summer on J-1 cultural exchange visas.
The college students pay thousands of dollars to exchange sponsor programs to spend three months working, traveling and experiencing American culture in the U.S. Instead of the life-enriching, educational and enjoyable experience they seek, they often find themselves adrift in the areas to which they are sent, challenged by language and cultural barriers, unused to the climate and way of life in communities much different than their homes, unprepared for the difficulties of living on minimum wages, and without much assistance from the exchange sponsor agencies that are paid to arrange the trips.
On the central Kenai Peninsula, students come from Turkey, Kazakhstan, China and elsewhere. They work at fish-processing plants and fast-food restaurants. And they have been taken in by local families who worry about the students’ well-being and the impression of the U.S. that the students may form.
“We’re Alaskans. We love people. We care about people. We want to reach out to them and want to help where we can. We want them to know American people are giving, loving people, and they open their homes and their hearts to people they don’t even know. We want them to see that,” said Tom Bearup, of Soldotna. Continue reading