Gas Light Co. owner hosts student workers
PORTSMOUTH — Artem Ziganshin of Chelyabinsk, Russia is a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin. Vitaliy Furda believes unequivocally that his home country of Ukraine should not be under Russian rule.
That cross-cultural bond, said Paul Sorli of the Portsmouth Gas Light Co. restaurant, is an important part of the J1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program, which each summer brings international students to the Seacoast.
Sorli is a member of the Seacoast J1 Hospitality Coalition, formed in Kittery, Maine, last summer. The group of volunteers has started a bike rental program, provides a ride from the C&J bus terminal when they arrive in the area, has started a Facebook page and will be holding a summer get-together for all J1 Visa students on June 24.
“This should be the most international event the city has seen since the Russo-Japanese Peace Treaty,” said Sorli.
Sorli joined Ziganshin, Furda and Vito Daniyelyan of Kazakhstan Monday afternoon at the Gas Light to talk about the college students’ decision to come to the United States this summer and their appreciation of the J1 program.
Furda works for Sorli at the Gas Light; Ziganshin works at Surf and Daniyelyan at Martingale Wharf.
“People in my country believe that 80 percent of Americans are fat and stupid,” said Furda with a smile, the only one of the three who had a firm command of English and who often interpreted for the other two. “The J1 program is very good, because I can say to anybody this is a great place. You are all polite and don’t want to do anything bad to us.”
Ziganshin said he comes from an industrial city “famous for its steel,” so for him, “Portsmouth is a beautiful city. And green. I like the green.”
He was hoping for California — “beaches, beautiful girls” — but is content with New England.
Chelyabinsk was the city where a meteor streaked to earth in February 2013. Ziganshin said, “It look like a bright lit ball. It fly very fast. Zoom. Then big bang. It was very loud. A lot of windows were broken by the explosion.”
Furda asked specifically to come to the Gas Light, having heard from friends who had worked for Sorli in the past that “it was a good place to work.” His dream, he said, is to go to London some day, and Portsmouth “looks like England. So for me, it was not difficult.”
Daniyelyan is staying with his sister, a former exchange student who fell in love with a local man and married him. So for him, coming to Portsmouth is a homecoming of sorts.
The money the three earn this summer will go toward college expenses, they all said. Furda, who pays $1,200 a year for tuition, may earn enough this summer to pay for all five years of college. Daniyelyan, who pays $2,500 a year, and Ziganshin, who pays $2,000 a year for college, were envious.
And Ziganshin said he has to send part of his salary home, too.
“That’s not all,” said Sorli. “To get here, there are agency fees, visa fees, the cost of airfare. It can average $3,000.” All three students worked during the school year to earn the fees to come to Portsmouth this summer.
Sorli, who went on a student exchange when he was in college and said it “changed my life,” said he wants people to know that many of the students coming here are happy and have a place to live.
“That’s why the coalition is so important,” he said. “In the future, with more community awareness, perhaps Seacoast residents will take in a student and develop lasting relationships with these young adults that will last forever.”
The June 24 event, specifically for all Seacoast area J1 students, will take place at the Gas Light at 4 p.m.
• The Seacoast J1 Hospitality Coalition will host a “J1 Welcome Bash” for all foreign students working in the Seacoast area at the Portsmouth Gas Light on Tuesday, June 24, at 4 p.m.
• Foreign students wanting to learn more about the activities of the coalition are asked to visit the Facebook page J1Seacoast ME/NH for information about the bike rental program, housing and events, and to connect with other students.