Getting to know the ERDT Work & Travel Program

by Emily Reppun, Program Director

The most common mode of transportation!  Bike safety is a big part of our orientations....

You probably know that ERDT operates a few programs other than the SHARE! High School Exchange program... one of these is the ERDT Work & Travel Program!  Here are the top 10 questions people ask about Work & Travel...

FAQ 1: What is the purpose of Work & Travel?  Is it a foreign worker program?

Turkish students at a cookout at their coordinator's home in Jackson, WY.

A: It's more accurate to call Work & Travel an exchange student program, as participants must be full-time students at an accredited university in their home country.  They come to the U.S. on their summer break from school (or winter, in the case of Southern Hemisphere students) to work in seasonal jobs for 4 months maximum.  Because Work & Travel students earn money, the program allows students from countries with a lower average income, who might not otherwise be able to afford a summer in the U.S., to come here and learn about our culture at a pivotal point in their lives.

Sightseeing on days off!

FAQ 2: Where do they work?

A: You may have met Work & Travel students working in vacation areas, such as East Coast beach towns, national parks, hotels on popular road trip routes, as lifeguards, and at amusement parks.  In the winter, they can be found working in ski resorts and around other winter attractions.  ERDT is required to ensure that we only work with employers who need a peak number of employees only at certain, seasonal times of year.

FAQ 3: Where do they live?  With host families?

Students always work with Americans (a Department of State regulation), but may have co-workers from other countries.

A: Actually, their employer is considered the "host" of the student.  Work & Travel students usually live in apartments, houses, long-term hotel rooms, or dormitory style housing.  They tend to room with other Work & Travel students and rarely live with host families.

FAQ 4: What countries do they come from?

A: Just like the SHARE! High School exchange program, the ERDT Work & Travel program works with agents in the students' home countries, who recruit and screen the students.  ERDT currently has partner agents in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Jamaica, China, Thailand and, for the winter season, Peru.

Ukrainian students in Virginia Beach took a night off to mini-golf with ERDT Work & Travel Program director Emily Reppun (at left).

FAQ 5: How do the students find jobs?

A: Typically the same employers hire J1 Work & Travel students year after year.  The employers tend to work directly with agents in the students' home countries, who recruit the participants for specific jobs.  Often the employers travel overseas to conduct job fairs, or at least video interviews before hiring participants.  Also, some participants return to the same employer each summer.  By the time ERDT receives a participant application, it comes with a complete job offer.

Niagara Falls - a very popular weekend destination!

FAQ 6: What is ERDT's role as sponsor?

A. Just like with J1 high school exchange students, ERDT is responsible for ensuring the safety and welfare of J1 Work & Travel students.  We very carefully vet the employer to ensure they are legitimate, that their profile fits with Department of State regulations, and that the housing and transportation are safe, affordable and comfortable.  During the program, we monitor the students monthly via email and deal with any issues that may arise.  We also provide orientations and cultural activities for the students.  And, we keep records in SEVIS, the Department of Homeland Security database, informing DHS where the students are living and working.

Gotta visit New York, of course!

FAQ 7: Does ERDT use local coordinators?

A. Yes!  ERDT uses local coordinators to plan cultural activities for the participants - simple trips to mini golf or a bowling alley, pizza parties or BBQs or even trips to different cities, concerts, and amusement parks.  We have a web page where anyone who enjoys working with international students can apply for this job: http://www.erdtworkandtravel.org/cultural-activities-coordinator/

Turkish students teach their coordinator how to make a dish from home!

FAQ 8: How many Work & Travel participants does ERDT have?

We take in about 340 students from May to September, and about 25 from December to March.

FAQ 9: How much work & how much travel do they do?

Typically they work all the way from their visa start date to end date to make as much money as they can.  Then they can use the money they earned over the summer to pay for their travel around the U.S.  Following their visa end date, they have a 30 day grace period in which they cannot work, but can travel around the U.S., so this is when they do most of their travel.

FAQ 10: Do students always go home at the end of their programs?

The Work & Travel program cannot be extended, and it is difficult for participants to switch to a different type of visa (unless they hire a lawyer).  Should a student remain in the country illegally, which sometimes happens, ERDT fully cooperates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as they work to track the participants down.  But for the most part, Work & Travel students are selected because they are successful students back home, and thus they are motivated to return home, finish out their degrees, and if they wish to come back, pursue a legal route.