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International student/workers stay at UTTC

27 August 2012

POOL SHARK: Goran Groza, an international student/worker from Serbia, takes aim during a friendly game in a UTTC dorm with fellow student/worker Oshane Welsh, Kingston Jamacia. DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

BISMARCK (UTN) – During summer the United Tribes campus, like many other college campuses around the country, is a quieter place with fewer students in the dorms. That turned out to be an opportunity.

A collection of international students, who came to Bismarck to work in the retail industry, spent the greater share of summer boarding in Sitting Bull Hall, a campus dormitory named for the renowned Hunkpapa Lakota leader of the 19th Century.

The visitors arrived on campus by signing up with United Work & Travel, a division of American Pool Enterprises, Owings Mills, MD, www.unitedworkandtravel.com. The company says it’s the only organization of its kind, bringing students and foreign workers from all over the world to the U.S. to work and live in friendly communities.

United Tribes boarded three dozen students from Serbia, Turkey, Jamaica, China, Cape Verde, Russia, Bulgaria, Taiwan, Macedonia and Columbia.

“North Dakota is a very big project,” said Ryan Becker, Baltimore, MD, who began supervising the company’s North Dakota operations in late May.

Between 500 and 800 foreign student were in the state over summer. United has been bringing them here over the past three years. They work in hotels, grocery stores, fast food business, gas stations and convenience stores, and as waiters.

“We have about 6,000 placed nationally,” said Becker. “Others are in large urban areas.”

The company says it has been “designated by the U.S. State Department to offer J-1 Summer Work/Travel Programs to foreign university students.” They call it an “experience of a lifetime.” They claim to have “revolutionized” the visa process by developing close working relationships with employers and screening participants to place them in positions that will suit them.

“The majority chose to come to North Dakota,” said Becker. “Wages are good. The hours are good. And they can work several jobs.”

The largest numbers were placed in the heart of North Dakota oil country –Williston, Minot and Dickinson – where service workers are most in need. A smaller number ended up in Bismarck.

The work they do is described by United Travel as seasonal or temporary and can be for a period of six to 18 months. All must be able to function in the English-speaking environment.

“One issue we’ve had is transportation around town,” said Goran Groza, an international student from Kikinda, Serbia. “The bus system shuts down in early evening and there’s no bus service on Sunday.”

Groza, 24, worked for United Travel & Tour as the live-in supervisor of the others in the UTTC dorm.

“Kikinda and Bismarck are approximately the same size and a lot alike,” said Groza. “Only Kikinda is more spread out.”

Although he has traveled elsewhere, this was Groza’s first trip to the United States. He said he chose North Dakota because of the low amount of crime, good security and pay, and the similarity to home.

As a first year masters’ student studying banking and finance at the University of Novi Sad, Groza became a leader and spokesperson for this assembly of international students. All have to be students in their home country, enrolled in an accredited college or university outside the U.S. or a recent high school graduate. They are between ages 18 and 30.

Checking out what America is like is clearly part of the attraction.

“But they really come here to work,” said Becker. “Some have two jobs, working 12 to 14 hours per day. In Dickinson some worked three jobs for 15 hours a day.”

With fewer UTTC staff members and students on campus over summer, mingling opportunities were few. Most of their limited personal time was spent socializing among themselves or using social media to stay connected with friends and family at home.

Oshane Welsh, 20, Kingston, Jamaica, who worked two jobs for up to 16 hours per day, noticed the teepees on campus for a cultural event in July. He managed a visit and saw a demonstration about beading.

“It was different; something I’d never seen before,” said Welsh. “I didn’t know this was an area were Indians originated in the U.S.”

Their stay ended after the second week in August when United Tribes students began returning for orientation and the start of fall semester classes. They moved into apartments and other locations elsewhere in the area.

“United Tribes was fantastic,” said Groza.

Becker agreed. There was plenty of room. Students weren’t crammed-together four or five to a room like in other places. They liked being on a college campus. The diversity is great and it was fun to meet new people. “Next year, I would think we want to do it again,” he said.

Groza found the college so much to his liking that he applied for a job and was hired as a resident assistant in the dormitories. He went through UTTC staff orientation and is now employed on campus, doing much the same kind of work he did for his international compatriots over the summer.


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