Summer 2015, Work and Travel Program, Southampton, New York, 75 Main
– “Can I talk with you?”
– “I want to leave.”
– “Wait until the other girl comes back and you can go for your break.”
– “No. I mean I want to leave this job. I do not want to work here anymore.”
– “Ok. You know that I will cancel your sponsorship immediately, right? And then you should go back to your country.”
– “Yes. I know. That is why I have a new job and a new sponsor already. Do not worry.” – I smile.
– “And where are you going to work?”
– “Sant Ambroeus.”
– “Oh, great. It is perfect for you – you should dress like a virgin there. And the atmosphere is much more different – mostly old people. The owners probably treat their employees much better as well. Actually everywhere they do. I am the worst boss ever so I am sure you will be fine everywhere else. Ok. I need you for the next two days until I find another girl.”
Slow motion. Songs are playing in my head and my whole being is smiling:
Look at me .It really was not easy. But I can breathe.And I am free to do exactly what I please. And yes, it does feel so good. (I know this is kind of dramatic, but you should admit that in some situations in your life you can imagine the right song playing as a background.)
But then here comes the next song and my smile becomes more humble.
-What about my pay check?
– We will see. I will probably give it to you the next week.
I came in America on the 11th of June. I moved in the house in Southampton on the 12th. On the 13th of June was my first work day in the restaurant as a hostess. On the 14th of June was my second day in the restaurant and I moved in a room with 7 more boys. On the 15th of June I was sitting in Citarella on my lunch break talking to my friend. I told her that I am staying here only until I have the money, that I spent to come here ,back and I am going back to Bulgaria. I live in an awful place and I am fighting against myself and my values working in this restaurant. She said that I have experienced enough to know that every beginning is always hard and stressful and I should be patient – it is all going to be fine by the end of the month.
A little bit about myself: I came here not to earn as much money as I can, neither to stay and live in America. I came here to see new places, meet new people, get to know myself better, make enough money to go for an excursion at the end of the program and have a lot of fun. I am a person who loves being challenged, loves hard situations that make me think and act. I do not judge people – I just ignore them if we are not on the same page. I adapt easily, always try to find something good in every situation and if I really don’t like the situation I either change it, or if I can’t – I keep quiet and try to adapt and enjoy.
Obviously I didn’t enjoy both my housing and working situations. I have already found out that changing your job or place in the Hamptons in the middle of the seasons is really hard. Simply there are too many students trying to do the same. Still, I decided that my friend is right and I should give it a try. So on the 16th of June I wrote down a plan in my journal:
Communicating over the phone and Facebook with my soon to be employer I already had some expectations and not very nice ones actually. But I should say that he definitely exceeded them!
On my second or third work day his friend – the protective guy that I mentioned came in the restaurant. He turned out to be not only a DJ, but a photographer as well. So he and my employer suggested to take some pictures of me. What is more naked ones. Do not I worry, other girls that have worked there had done this as well. He brings some old menus with pictures of naked girls on the covers. These were all his employees, he says. And my head and face will not be seen, so it will be all fine. Then we can put some of them framed on the walls in the restaurant and maybe sell them. I am pretty sure this is a test or a joke. But they are all looking at me very seriously. The other hostess as well. I say: “No, thank you. I am not ready for this kind of career yet. And can I go home now since my shift is over?” Ok. If I change my mind I can let him know. (Un)fortunately I live far enough so I have 20minutes to walk and analyse. Actually 15, because from the 15th to the 20th minute I should start thinking about my safety since the area I live in is the area where all the drug dealers live as well and it is already after midnight.
Two days later I am told I should wear shorter dresses, more make-up, high heels and change my outfit in the break. Actually it sounded something like this: “I want more boobs and ass out!” Now – I do not wear high heels since I am already high enough (1.80 cm tall), I do not like certain parts of my body being uncovered and I do not enjoy looking like a porn star at 10am. I share this with the other hostess and she shares it with the boss. He comes and says if I don’t like it, the door is open. Yes, the door is really open and since the hostess is supposed to stay in front of that door most of the time it is freezing because of the wind blowing. So I put my blazer on and here he comes: “Take off this stupid blazer! You look like a student!” Interesting! – I actually am a student and what is more I am here with a student’s program.
On my 12th day in the restaurant the Bulgarian boy that works as a busser is fired simply by not being put on the schedule and called “stupid Bulgarian mother f*cker!” Another girl is called “stupid trash” and “a bitch”. But most of the girls there were called like that so it may be considered a compliment.
On the next day I am sitting at the bar after my shift is over drinking a glass of wine. The guy sitting next to me is asking me the same old questions: “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been here?”, “Can I buy you another drink?”. No, thank you. I am tired and I am going home. My boss is watching us from behind the bar. He comes and whispers in my ear: “Are you crazy? Let him buy you a drink! This puts money in my pocket!”
I should say that the employer was not an American and all the employees were internationals except the other hostess. She was an American, but she had more than a working relationship with our employer as far as we all knew. This is because most of the international students that come here are scared, dependent and do not know their rights or think they do not have a choice. In addition they are payed less and if you hire them you would have less taxes to pay to the government as a business owner. When my employer said that all the internationals are stupid and he is tired of them, I asked him why does not he hire Americans then so he will not spend so much nerves and energy shouting and being pissed off. He said maybe I should. But maybe there is no American who would cope with that attitude and these working conditions.
There are some more stories but I would stop here. I did not feel in the right place at all and there was such a bad energy in this restaurant. I may say that I am proud of myself being able to move on.Meanwhile all the people working there were saying they are miserable as well and that this is not normal. Still none of them quit, as far as I know, but some were fired.
I sent a letter to my sponsor – CHI explaining the situations that bothered me in my work place. I told them I have already found another job and the employer is willing to be my sponsor. There were not any problems and it was all done in a week.
I quit the job on 28.06.2015 and started working in the best restaurant in the area – being paid almost twice more, treated with respect and asked to look stylish and be a professional. I had the opportunity to move in the employee’s house there sharing two-bedrooms apartment with only 3 great girls. As a hostess there I met and communicated with great and successful people from all over the world as well as celebrities ( J Lo, Hugh Grant, Serena Williams, Robin Thicke, Billy Joel, Grigor Dimitrov and many others).
So in conclusion: At the end this was the best summer for me and I do recommend this program. It gives you the opportunity to grow up significantly, broaden your horizons and have a lot of fun. What I do not like is that intelligent, skilful and bright international students, that save money in order to participate, end up being disrespected and working in really bad conditions. This is not right and yes – you are far from home, this is a totally different world, you are on your own, probably you do not have enough money, you do not know anyone and you do not trust anyone. You think you do not have any other options and maybe this is how it should be, but this is not true. You always have options, you always should stay true to yourself and you should always respect yourself and the people around you. Most of the students are scared to contact their sponsors and explain their situation. There are surveys about your working and housing conditions that you are obligated to complete regularly and send to your sponsor. Still most of the students make everything look right when completing them (I did too when rating my housing experience). They are scared they may lose their job, their visa, their place to live. But the only thing you should be scared to lose is yourself – who you are and who you want to be.