2013-07-25 / Front Page

Summering in Maine takes on new meaning for foreign students

By Summer Dorr Contributing Writer

Gevaun Grant, who studies business in Jamaica, ate corn on the cob, and his first hamburger during a late lunch in Old Orchard Beach. (Summer Dorr photo) Gevaun Grant, who studies business in Jamaica, ate corn on the cob, and his first hamburger during a late lunch in Old Orchard Beach. (Summer Dorr photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH – They’d never had a hamburger before, the three young men from Jamaica said.

A college student from China said it was her first experience making a hamburger patty. The CCI Greenheart students were having a late lunch with Old Orchard Beach firefighters in the fire station, aside fire trucks and tables of American cuisine, including hamburgers, barbecued pork, typical accompanying condiments and salads.

This gathering was just one of numerous summertime cultural activities CCI Greenheart students participate in during their stateside sojourn, along with their seasonal jobs.

“Chicken and dumplings over a bed of wild rice is a Jamaican meal he tried,” said Pierre Bouthiller, an Old Orchard Beach firefighter, and a local CCI Greenheart liaison. He has also tried wrapped spice pork cooked by Chinese students.

Agatha Alokeli of Jordan works as a Funtown ride operator while she is in the United States. (Summer Dorr photo) Agatha Alokeli of Jordan works as a Funtown ride operator while she is in the United States. (Summer Dorr photo) Having meals together and experiencing foods for the first time, including Maine blueberry pancakes with Maine maple syrup, are examples of cultural activities the students do in their spare time, Bouthiller said. Volunteering in town is also an encouraged use of their time. Recently, CCI Greenheart sutdents interaction with Old Orchard Beach police officers through bike safety courses. Some hadn’t had such proximity to law enforcement officials before, Bouthiller said.

“Some students arrive in the states with trust issues or think Americans are fond of fighting, so they might seem as though they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Bouthiller said.

However, those dispositions melt away and an openness surfaces.

CCI Greenheart, formerly known as Center for Cultural Interchange, has 142 international students in Maine, said Vice President Daniel Ebert.

“Half of them had probably never heard of Maine,” said Ben Santos- Rogers, Funtown Park operations manager.

There are more than 80 CCI Greenheart college students employed at Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco this year, Santos-Rogers said. The students are from Jordan, China, Bosnia, Turkey, Ukraine, Columbia, Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Santos-Rogers said Funtown Splashtown strategically hires so the May-to-September season is covered. Santos- Rogers and Will Emery, international team member coordinator at Funtown Splashtown, will go abroad next year to visit the countries and recruit in person.

Area residents are given hiring preference because they can return for an indefinite period, potentially every summer, said Santos-Rogers, who has worked at Funtown Splashtown for 15 years.

The J-1 visa the CCI Greenheart students arrive on limits them to a four-month stretch in the U.S., (three months maximum of work and 30 days of travel), Bouthiller said. Holders of the cultural exchange visa must be post-secondary students, Ebert said. So it is possible for international students to reapply and return to the United States a few times with CCI Greenheart affiliation.

Ebert speculated about 20 percent of students return for a second experience abroad, sponsored again by CCI Greenheart. The program is geared more toward improving English language skills, and enhancing students’ perceptions of the U.S. rather than gaining work experience, Ebert said.

Pavel Mora of the Dominican Republic is one student who returned. He first began working at Splashtown in 2010 as a lifeguard sponsored by CCI Greenheart. He returned to the U.S. in 2012 to attend Farmingdale State College, in Long Island, N.Y., to study electrical engineering. Splashtown is again his summer occupation. Mora is now a supervisor.

When Mora first arrived he said, “I was shy ... I didn’t want to try to talk.”

He said his conversations in English were limited to numbers at a fast food restaurant. But, when he tired of cheeseburgers, he actively began to shed his timidity and spoke more often. In his job he said, “There’s no way to spend the day with your mouth shut.”

Along with becoming more talkative while stateside, Mora has made a diverse array of friends.

“You get to meet a lot of people,” he said. “I (now) have friends from Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Bosnia, Serbia, Pakistan. People from all over the world. Columbia. Americans of course.”

Shi “Tammy” Tianning, 24, who received an undergraduate degree in architecture and is now working on her master’s in urban planning, points out the differences between the urban life in China she’s used to and her Maine neighborhood: the number of floors a building has, how people constantly wave in greeting here and the need for a car to get around rather than the more common transportation modes used in China – walking, bicycling and the bus.

Gorkem Kantas, 20, of Turkey, who studies aviation in college, said, “I don’t care about differences – race, religions — I care about people.”

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