Looking abroad for summer staffers

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By Susan Morse, Herald Sunday, May 25, 2003

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON BEACH - Memorial Day tomorrow kicks off the summer. Seasonal restaurants and shops are opening their doors, motels owners are sprucing up their buildings, and everyone is looking for summer help.

Those who run businesses that go into high gear when the weather gets hot often are turning overseas to find seasonal employees, according to Michael Roy, who manages the Atlantic Motel on Ocean Boulevard.

Roy actively recruits overseas help - an estimated 25 people each summer - not just for the Atlantic, but for other Hampton motels and restaurants as well.

Most of the workers are college students, age 21 and over, from the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia who arrive here on a temporary J1 Visa through a national agency.

Roy is not the only one recruiting workers.

He estimates there are upwards of 500 overseas students employed on the beach each summer, waiting tables, scrubbing dishes, cashiering, cleaning rooms and doing other work necessary to operating seasonal businesses.

Without these workers, Roy says, he would be short-staffed, an opinion echoed by a spokeswoman for the Ashworth by the Sea Hotel. There are not enough local students and others to fill the positions, Roy says, particularly when it comes to housekeeping.

"They’d rather flip burgers than clean toilets," Roy said. "But mostly it’s the timing of their schedule."

On American schedules, high school students get out of school in June and college students need to return by late August, Roy says. Ideally, he needs workers to start just before the Memorial Day weekend and finish by mid-October.

At the Ashworth on Ocean Boulevard, six students from Thailand have been working since March to help the hotel through the spring rush, according to Cathy Pepin who works in human resources. Summer in Thailand begins in March and runs through May.

The hotel also employs 12 students from the Dominican Republic and two from Lithuania. More help will be needed as the Ashworth staff doubles during the summer. An extra 80 people will be needed from Memorial Day through the Seafood Festival, which is held the weekend after Labor Day.

Orawan Khanasaianan, 22, arrived from Thailand in March and expects to leave in two weeks. Her next college semester at the University of Thailand begins in June.

Khanasaianan lives at the Atlantic Motel and works as a housekeeper at the Ashworth, making $7.25 an hour. Asked if the pay were good compared to what she could earn at home, she said, "I don’t think so."

She came here for the experience, she says. Khanasaianan is in her third year studying hotel management. She paid a national recruitment agency $2,000 to get her here. The cost includes her J1 Visa and round-trip air fare.

"Yeah, I’d recommend it to my friends," Khanasaianan said of her experience. She says she’d like to stay longer. "I’ve improved my listening skills in English."

Khanasaianan goes to the Lane Memorial Library in Hampton once a week to improve her English skills.

So many people have been using the library as a resource for English as a second language that the library recently applied for and received a $500 grant from Sam’s Club to buy tapes, compact discs and books to help Russian, Croatian and Spanish-speaking residents learn English.

Most of those wanting the material are college students who live in Hampton on 90-day work visas during the summer, according to Jeanne Gamage, head of adult services at the library who co-wrote the grant application. Gamage estimates there are 60 to 100 people who will make use of the materials. Temporary residents may pay $15 for a 90-day library card.

Recruiting overseas help for the beach is nothing new, Roy says. In the early 1980s when his parents were in the motel management business, workers came from Ireland. Students then arrived from France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. Now, most of the students Roy recruits through the Council for International Educational Exchange are from central Europe.

They arrive with a working knowledge of English that improves by the end of the summer. Most earn $7 to $10 an hour and work 25 to 40 hours a week at one job. Often they take on second jobs, saving money for a trip in the states before heading home.

They live either on the work site or rent efficiency units at the beach for the summer. The rate advertised at one motel for the May 15 through Sept. 15 season was $235 a week.

Some students come back for a second year, but security after 9/11 has made it harder for students to return, Roy says.

The program has worked out well for the Atlantic Motel. Roy gets the help he needs and customers enjoy talking to the students.

"Our people love it; they love talking to the kids," he says. "They’ll say, 'I wrote to so and so this past winter.’"

The program has also worked well for the Ashworth, which is now in its fifth or sixth year of employing overseas students.

What businesses need now is a little sun to bring out the tourists.

"Our business is very weather oriented," Pepin said during a sunny day this past week. "We keep getting days like this, we’ll be fine."

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