OCEAN CITY — At a time when immigration and open borders is such a divisive issue, the influx of thousands of foreign summer workers in Ocean City appears to be the opposite.
During Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan told his colleagues about an informal gathering of foreign students working in the resort on seasonal J-1 work and travel visas he hosted last week. A couple time during the summer, Meehan hosts small gatherings of foreign seasonal workers — last week’s group was around 17 — to give them a tour of City Hall and to interact.
“We just sit around and talk about Ocean City,” he said. “They ask me questions and I ask them questions. I always learn more from them then they learn from me. They are very articulate, interesting young individuals.”
Meehan said he tries to find out about the foreign seasonal workers’ experiences in Ocean City and what they enjoy and what could be made better.
“I always ask them what they like best about Ocean City and what is most beneficial to them,” he said. “They all unanimously say our public transportation system. Buses are prevalent in Europe, but they are very haphazard. They don’t know when or if they are going to come of if they are going to be full. They say our buses are timely and the fare is fair.”
For many of the thousands of seasonal summer workers, bicycles are the primary mode of transportation, just as it likely is in their own countries. Along Coastal Highway, bicycles share the far-right lane with municipal buses for the most part, and while the system isn’t perfect, it is considerably better than what many foreign seasonal workers expect.
“They are also impressed with our bike paths,” he said. “Of course, bikes are all over Europe but there really aren’t designated areas for bikes to ride. Our bike lane, even though it is shared with the buses, they think is convenient and safe and it really helps them get around Ocean City.”
Later during the public comment period of the meeting, downtown resident Scott Chismar related some of his own experiences with the foreign seasonal workforce, all of which are positive for the most part.
“Our neighbors downtown host several students each year and I agree with everything you said,” he said. “It’s really phenomenal to see these folks come over here for a short period of time and as we interact, we learn so much about each other.”
Chismar provided an example from earlier this month to illustrate his point.
“Every year, they host a Fourth of July party for the kids, who are from China, Thailand, Romania and Russia or wherever and most of them can speak many languages,” he said. “When they don’t speak a language, they get their phones out and use the translator apps. It really is an enjoyable experience.”
Council President Lloyd Martin added, “The whole world could learn from the program we have here in Ocean City. These kids come from all over the world and everybody just seems to get along.”