I stepped out of the car and breathed deep. The salty air is different from back home. The sun warms me but the breeze is just enough to cool me down as I walk around and learn these new streets. As a New Yorker it is a different site than the place where I started my day. I am sure the international J1 Summer Work and Travel students visiting from around the world will have this same strange and wonderful feeling. I have never been to the Outer Banks in North Carolina-this long island packed with beach, restaurants and wild nature. It is peaceful now. The locals tell me that the visitors and tourists will start arriving in a few weeks and the towns will come alive like firecrackers for the next 12 weeks. I am not here for vacation-that will be my next trip. Today I am here to welcome the students that my company, LifExchange LLC and the International YMCA have assisted with their visa, job placement and housing so they may have a successful summer season and visit to the US. My first stop, Pathways House, an amazing not-for-profit that has partnered with LifExchange to provide our students with support in terms of housing, transportation and 24-hour on-call local assistance. When I arrive at Pathways a little after mile marker 8 (I am learning that mile markers are very important in the Outer Banks) I walk up to the building and immediately see a sign that says “Enter.” I walk upstairs and find Nancy behind her desk ready to welcome the next student, arrange transport to social security and for the lone student at the group of free computer banks, assist with SEVIS registration. I know right away the students and community are lucky to have her and Pathways International House.
After I settle in I begin my time by visiting the students. Most of the LifExchange/YMCA students from Ukraine and Tajikistan are here, while a few more from China and Jamaica will arrive over the next few weeks-all to work for Dunkin Donuts. The first two students I run into are Alina and Marina. They welcome me into their home. I immediately notice the rumble of the washer going and Marina offers me a cup of black tea she has brought from home, a city outside Odessa, Ukraine. After tea we make plans for a community welcome dinner for tomorrow night. The invite list we create will really bring these students together in a new community. They decide to invite the owners and managers from Dunkin Donuts, Nancy and Becky from Pathways, all the LifExchange students from Ukraine and Tajikistan and myself. We split up duties and I am in charge of cooking and they are in charge of inviting guests. After an afternoon at the local Food Lion, Dollar Store and donation from Kill Devil Custard we start cooking dinner. Anna peels the cucumbers, Melina cooks the pasta and Julia helps with the sauce. Alina, Nataliia and Max serve dinner a few hours later as the group discusses expectations, excitement and the weeks to come.
On the last night of my visit we all work together to move the students into their new apartment. With a washer-dryer, dishwasher, 5 minute walk to the grocery store and 10 minute walk to the beach everyone is smiling. The Grand Opening for Dunkin Donuts Corolla is only a few days away and everyone is excited. I am always sad when I leave the students for the season. I know what lay ahead – playful days on the beach, challenging new experiences as they wrestle with cash registers, homesickness and new roommates. I also know it is the start of a lifetime experience and I am blessed to have witnessed the first steps.
Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Corolla – Student Dinner, housing move in, Pathways House