Editor’s note: The is the first in a series of articles about J-1 visa student workers on the central Kenai Peninsula. Next week’s story will explore the program from employers’ perspective.
By Jenny Neyman
International university students working on the central Kenai Peninsula this summer paid a high price to be here — thousands of dollars to an agency to arrange their visas, plane tickets to and from their home countries, housing, local transportation, food and other living expenses.
What they expected to get in return would far outweigh the costs — adventure, travel, seeing the sights of the United States, improving their English, experiencing the American way of life. The hope is to earn enough during their three- or four-month stay to cover their expenses, fund a little travel and tourist time, and maybe even bring some money home, wherever home may be — China, Germany, Kazakhstan or Turkey, for example.
Even if they don’t come out ahead monetarily, students and their families coming up with the money see the trip as a life investment, with the value of the cultural experiences they are sure to have being a lifelong benefit to them.
For some international youth visiting the U.S. with J-1 student visas, the program works as intended. Most of their stay is spent working minimum-wage, entry-level jobs, and they take back home all the cultural experiences they’re able to squeeze in during their off-work hours.
On the central Kenai Peninsula, however, where costs are higher, infrastructure is lacking and international culture and support services are sparse, the hardships-to-benefits ratio is more easily skewed. Students have had experiences, all right, and return home with impressions of American society, but not the sorts of experiences local families stepping in to assist these students would want them to have — being stranded at the airport, walking the streets looking for a place to stay, struggling to find enough work to make ends meet, adrift in a society seemingly indifferent to their plight.
“These are the future leaders of these countries, and what are we doing to them? What are they going to think of us with the way they’ve been treated? It’s not right,” said Connie Goltz, of Soldotna. Continue reading