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Ocean City sees shift in heritage of foreign workers

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									Ocean City sees shift in heritage of foreign workers
By Brian Shane Staff Writer June 1, 2008

OCEAN CITY -- As the bus comes to a stop at the station and the brakes hiss, most of its passengers are already on their feet,
unlit cigarettes hanging from their lips. They've been traveling for hours and it's dark. Friends greet the travelers at the station
and as they gather, they speak in warbles and clips, or so it seems to American ears. They are Russian.

One passenger, 20-year-old Konstantine Osipenko, does not seem tired. He is smiling. Why has he traveled halfway around the
world from Russia to Ocean City?

"Sun, sun, all time sun," he said. "A lot of friends here. And girls, lots of girls."

And, of course, for work. Osipenko is a student, who is here under a work and travel visa authorized by the U.S. Department of
State. He is one of dozens of students arriving daily at the resort, the first busloads of which started getting here last week.

Of course, summer hires from foreign countries certainly aren't new to Ocean City. What's changing, however, is where they're
from -- and what happens when they arrive.

'It's changed every year...'

Zviad Pagava owns a small Internet cafe at 15th Street and Philadelphia Avenue. A native of the nation of Georgia, he first came
to Ocean City in 1999 before he and a partner started the business in 2001. He said since then he has seen crops of students
from Ireland and the U.K. give way to buses full of Eastern Europeans.

Many of these students grew up in the former Soviet Union -- now the Commonwealth of Independent States, which includes the
nations of Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. And even among those countries, the trends are unpredictable.

"It's changed every year since I've been here," Pagava said. "We used to have a ton of Baltic States kids from Latvia or
Lithuania, but not anymore. They can go to England and make five or six pounds an hour, which is double what they make
here."

Businesses depend on these workers.

"Obviously the state needs the summer workers to help small businesses. Without them, what would happen? American kids
don't want to work for six-fifty, seven dollars an hour. A lot of these businesses depend on foreign kids," he said.

His math is correct. The current exchange rate makes six British pounds equal to about $12. And against the Euro, the dollar is
down by nearly 25 percent since 2006.

Pagava also said what's changed is the range of services available to students.

"When I first came here, we had no help. Here, they have everything they need," he said, gesturing across his shop, with its
Internet terminals and phone banks for international calls. He also offers other services, including finding housing or work, social
events and arranging trips to nearby East Coast cities like New York or Philadelphia.

Russian native Marina Dzhavakhiya, 25, works with Pagava in his store, now one of several Internet cafes that have popped up
in town. She said students come here not just to make money, but for the opportunity to see the world.

"America was sort of a fairy tale growing up in the U.S.S.R.," she said. "Now we get a chance to see it with our own eyes. The
states is a tough country, coming from Eastern Europe. We're trying to help as much as possible to take care of them."

For those who remember summers of the 1990s dominated by Irish students manning Board-walk posts, Pagava said those
days are over. Irish students today spend their summers closer to home, making better money and avoiding the almost $3,000
price tag to get here.
'They partied -- a lot'

Handfuls of foreign workers started coming to resort beach towns in the late 1980s. As more arrived into the early 1990s, Irish
students dominated, said Margaret Pillas, an Ocean City Town Council member and Boardwalk business owner who has hired
seasonal workers for more than 20 years.

However, in time, Russians and Romanians showed up earlier in the year and stayed longer during the course of the summer,
giving the business community the help they needed into September. And, as the Russian and Eastern European students
proved to be hard workers, the Irish eventually earned a rowdy reputation.

"One of the reasons the Irish kids were not successful in our town is that they partied -- a lot," Pillas said. "Work requires energy.
Some-where in August, they would lose their focus, and it was very difficult for the business community to keep up with their
partying. As a businessperson, I have three months to pay my bills, and I can't hire someone who doesn't show up for work."

Pillas also serves as the liaison between the town and its Seasonal Workforce Committee, created in 2002 as a watchdog group
to hold sponsors accountable. It was necessary, Pillas said, because in the recent past, students would simply be dropped off by
their sponsor with little more than return airfare and a wave good-bye.

"If a student had a problem with not getting their paycheck or not having a place to live, being put out of their place, not getting
their deposit back -- they really had no way of getting it," she said.

Today, when students share their problems with the Seasonal Workforce Committee, then the town brings it up with the
sponsors. If the sponsor hasn't done what they're supposed to, they get reported to the U.S. Department of State, which closely
regulates the process.

Members of the committee also greet the students as they come off buses, handing out bags with goodies and a brochure with
helpful information like maps, phone numbers, as well as general rules and safety information.

Pillas said students also are coming from nations where the dollar is still strong, like the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and
Vietnam.

"Our money is stronger compared to theirs, and we're getting that influx this year," she said. "We've certainly become global in
people wanting to come here. It's nice to get the influx of the brightest of the bright. These kids bring us a lot of great ideas of
how to work in the global economy."

bshane@dmg.gannett.com

410-213-9442, Ext. 14

								
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