During this past summer, J.J. and I met college students from Russia, Moldova, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries. They are in the United States with a J-1 work visa. This State Department issued visa is, "to provide program participants hands-on-experience to learn about U.S. society and culture while sharing their own culture and perspective with Americans."
That is a lofty goal, but most students come to earn money which they use towards their college tuition, purchase a computer or even help out their families. The program to attract Eastern European students started about 15 years ago. Most learn about it through word of mouth. The J-1 visa allows them to work 3 months and travel 1 month. In 2015, 105,000 foreign students were given J-1 visas and a similar number is expected this year.
The students have to pay upfront costs of travel. Once in the United States, they fill in the temporary summer jobs rejected by American students. Few land in "glamour jobs." However, most work in low-end jobs in restaurants and hotels. Money is one of the biggest motivations. One can save from $3,000 to $10,000 during their stay. They often work long hours taking 2 to 3 jobs and tolerate crammed living conditions with students from their own country.
Youth is when one can spread wings and have an adventure of a lifetime. Many of the students we spoke to were enthusiastic about their experiences. Common reactions were, "Everything is BIG! Houses, cars, streets, food portions -- everything!" "American are friendly!"
They go back to study law, medicine, engineering, business, etc. We hope their mostly positive experiences would leave them with a better understanding of the United States and enhance their own lives.
Aloha -- Cathi