OCEAN CITY — Those of you who read my first article two weeks ago could be forgiven for thinking that compared to most students who have come to work in the U.S., I’ve had it fairly easy.
Writing the article certainly brought this to my attention and prompted me to ask students I met in Ocean City about their experiences here. Living with relatives and working in their store lifted a considerable burden from my shoulders that the majority of students here must deal with on a daily basis. The cost of accommodation, food, transport and daily necessities must be considered alongside regular student activities like socializing and travelling.
Students from all over the world travel to Ocean City every summer attracted by the combination of work, great weather and the opportunity to experience America. While these expectations are often lived up to, the conditions in which some students live in the area are sometimes less appealing.
One student I spoke to explained how he and more than 10 others share a house with a local family, with four to a room. This is not uncommon, as others described small rooms hosting up to five students at a time.
Some students based in the U.S. also come here for work, and those I met suggested that renting apartments/rooms was more expensive than it should be, considering the quality of accommodation. While the rooms are generally clean and comfortable, they are considered too small and basic for the price. In addition, many students pay a flat rate for the season; in some cases this means that a student who stays from June 1 to Sept 30 will pay the same as one who arrived on the same date but leaves a month earlier.
It is understandable that landlords must make the most of a limited season in order to cover costs for a quiet winter, but surely a fairer system could be introduced and adhered to by all landlords.
My trip to Ocean City was planned on the basis that I would be able to find work in one of the family stores or elsewhere if they did not have any positions. However, many students come without guaranteed work and may struggle to find employment.
There is a steady turnover of employees in many Boardwalk stores with students leaving early or arriving late, but some may find themselves without work for other reasons. In many cases, the level of English a student has can be a determining factor in finding work. Those who are less able will naturally struggle in an interactive environment such as a shop or restaurant and could be let go by management and be forced to find a new job. Anywhere else this could be a problem, but the abundance of stores on the Boardwalk and surrounding areas means that new work is relatively easy to come by.
Those who arrive with prearranged employment aren’t always as lucky and may not find alternative employment as easily. In some cases, their visa dictates that they remain in the arranged position.
One student I spoke to was contracted to 38 hours per week but is yet to work more than 30 and has had to find a second job in order to pay the rent. As he understands the situation, if he were to leave the prearranged job, this could affect his visa status, potentially forcing him to return home.
According to another student, this is an unlikely series of events. She mentions friends who have left prearranged jobs with no repercussions.
Aside from working and linguistic challenges, the majority of students I spoke to thoroughly enjoy spending time in the area.
One Eastern European student commented on the cleanliness of the streets, Boardwalk and public restrooms. He also said that the patience and hospitality of Americans he encountered made him feel more comfortable in his job as he had previously been worried that his accent might cause problems for customers.
The nightlife in Ocean City is varied and exciting with many students frequenting bars like Seacrets and Pickles. The nightlife allows colleagues to socialize outside of the workplace, Friendships can grow and, with the aid of social networking, last for years to come.
The day trips offered by student centers and other tour operators are also hugely popular among visiting students. Trips to Niagara Falls, New York, Washington D.C and even to the west coast are available for reasonable prices.
Despite many of the challenges encountered by students I have met in my time here, the overall impression of Ocean City is overwhelmingly positive. Although accommodations may be cramped or expensive, students are well aware that they are not going to be staying at the Hilton and appreciate the lengths hosts and landlords go to in ensuring their comfort. For some, linguistic differences can be a problem, but exposure to the language can only improve understanding.
For many, a trip to America might be a once in a lifetime opportunity and so to be able to spend that time in such a welcoming and exciting environment can only result in a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
I, for one, will be back in Ireland at the time of publication, but my time in Ocean City has been unforgettable and one day, I hope sooner rather than later, I’ll return.