`Over in Latvia, the word is out'

September 01, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY - People are talking about Ocean City, on the streets of Moscow, at the university in Prague and in college circles in Riga, Latvia.

Maryland's 10-mile-long barrier island has earned a reputation as a great place to meet people from other lands, make money and practice English.

With a tight labor market and nearly 4 million visitors expected this season, many of the seaside resort's hotels and restaurants have turned to thousands of enthusiastic, hard-working, foreign students for jobs that otherwise might go begging.

"If it wasn't for the foreign exchange students coming into Ocean City, we wouldn't have enough help," said Curtis C. McCoy, dining room manager at the Dunes Manor Hotel, where about 15 foreign students have jobs in the restaurant alone. "Their loyalty to the job and work ethic is very strong."

About 2,500 students from 60 countries have worked in Ocean City this summer, according to Nick Campagnoli, a partner with Ocean City International Student Services LLC, which helps students with such things as housing, jobs and taxes.

The students arrange the jobs via the Internet or for a small fee hire professionals to do it. School schedules enable them to work longer than their American counterparts and they are granted four-month work visas.

"We think Ocean City has the largest concentration of international students of any single spot in the United States," Campagnoli said. "Their friends were here last year, they had a good time, and they made a lot of money."

For years, the resort has struggled to find good employees in an industry not typically viewed as high-paying.

Now, at bellhop stands, in kitchens and at hotel desks, snippets of conversations among employees are clearly foreign.

"It's been a godsend for Ocean City," said Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for the town's department of tourism. "They're able to stay past Labor Day and into September."

Vladimir Pozilenko, a 21-year-old Russian student from Riga, Latvia, is back in Ocean City for his second summer. Last year he bused tables at Phillips Seafood House. This year, he added a second job - serving tables at the Dunes Manor Hotel, where a good server can make as much as $200 in tips during a dinner shift.

"I'm making some money, and I travel," said Pozilenko, a civil engineering student. "It's good for students."

It is blond, blue-eyed Olga Savelyeva, who greets customers at the front desk of the Americana Hotel. A Moscow native, the 20-year-old foreign language student speaks, Russian, Belarusian, English, Polish, German, Spanish and is starting to learn Italian.

"Ocean City is a place where you can make money, have fun and meet people from different countries," she said.

Last summer, she worked as a waitress in Belmar, N.J. But, she said, she heard good things about Ocean City at school.

She is among the 75 foreign students hired by Ocean City hotel owner Mario Rinaldi.

"We hire them, because we do not have enough Americans," said Rinaldi, who owns the Americana Hotel, the Americana Motor Inn and the newly opened Grand Hotel, with 251 rooms at 21st Street on the Boardwalk. "They are very responsible."

More than 100 foreign students took jobs working for Granville Trimper, president of Trimper Rides & Amusements Inc. - a tradition that he started about 20 years ago with a dozen English students, he said.

"They're available, and they're good workers," Trimper said. "Language is the only problem. Some are fluent in English, others aren't."

In a case where a student has a language problem, Trimper finds him a job where that won't be an obstacle.

He and other business operators have found that providing affordable housing and other perks to summer employees can be an edge in a flush job market.

"People can walk right across the street and get another job," said McCoy, the dining room manager at the Dunes Manor. "We feed all our employees two meals a day, so our turnover is nil."

The good treatment and high salaries by foreign standards has helped earn the hotel a hefty stack of surplus resumes.

"Over in Latvia, the word is out about the Dunes and Ocean City," McCoy said.

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