International students bring curiosity, intrigue to region

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

University students from around the world will descend on the Historic Triangle this summer as part of a J-1 Summer Work Travel visa program headed by the U.S. State Department.

Amy Lee, manager at the Pineapple Inn and Housing Center, in Williamsburg, said her building will see 240 students this summer.

There are 800-1,000 students staying in hotels and motels around the area, she said.

"It could be a little less this year," she said. "One of the big employers is not hiring."

According to State Department data, 837 students signed up for the work travel program and have been assigned to the city and its surrounding areas.

Students come to the country primarily to learn English, and they'll do so by taking jobs in the area. If you see them, Lee stressed that you be patient and remember English is not their first language.

The summer work travel program allows the full-time students to stay and work for up to four months.

There is a long list from the State Department detailing the type of jobs these students cannot take, including commission-based jobs, or jobs whose hours fall overnight between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. They can't take jobs that won't allow them to work alongside citizens, or jobs that are considered hazardous to youth.

"Most of them are going to be in your hotels, your restaurants and Busch Gardens," Lee said.

"The SWT program is first and foremost an educational and cultural exchange program," said Nathan Arnold, director of media relations for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. "The primary goal of the Exchange Visitor Program is to allow participants the opportunity to engage broadly with Americans, share their culture, strengthen their English language abilities, and — if there is a work or training component — learn new skills or build skills that will help them in future careers."

Culture change

Alina Maksumova has been to America before, but this summer is her first in Williamsburg. She and Barno Ruzieva spent last summer on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

"I like your climate," she said. "Each time I've come, my hair is better, my skin is better."

Maksumova, a native of Uzbekistan, said she knows a few people in her group who live in New York or other states in the Northeast.

She's a big fan of Justin Bieber and Maroon 5.

"American culture is definitely present over there," she said referring to her home country.

Brightly colored vehicles stuck out to other students.

"I was so surprised when I saw the school buses," said Can Harmansah, who is from Turkey. "Those are cool. You don't really see stuff like that over where we are."

Cultural norms are much different in Uzbekistan, and Maksumova said the difference in how people communicate was one of the first differences she noticed.

"It's so cute to me, how people apologize," Maksumova said. "If step in front of you, or if they think they cut you off while you were speaking, the say 'sorry.'"

Learning English

The main point of the summer program is to bring students to the United States to work and practice their English in real time.

By doing so, they leave having practiced what they consider an almost-universal language.

"You become more confident," Maksumova said. "You get a better understanding of how to deal with different types of people with different beliefs."

Even a few months in America can help immensely with students who might find themselves overwhelmed with culture shock.

"When I first got it here, my English was really pretty bad," said Ufuk Adiyaman, who came from Turkey. "I wasn't able to communicate, and I was shy, too. I explored, and once I did a little bit more I got more comfortable."

For students in Williamsburg, becoming adept at speaking and understanding English especially important.

"There is only one language in the world that nearly everyone speaks," Adiyaman said.

"I have always enjoyed this program," said Jonathan Warburton, assistant manager at the Pineapple Inn. "I did something similar in Florida. It's interesting to see the kids come here and watch them grow within another culture."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
73°