Sometimes the best education is the one found in everyday life. Not a few wide-eyed foreign students in Pennsylvania got more education than they bargained for in signing up for a J-1 visa to the United States. Instead of the land of milk and honey, it looks enough like blood and tears for 200 hundred afternoon shift workers to walk off the job at a Hershey’s facility and be followed by others coming off first shift. Across language and cultural barriers they organized themselves to present a petition of grievances to management; apparently, it did not result in a satisfactory response. And that’s when they left. Such lack of gratitude for the opportunity to see America, earn some money and participate in a cultural exchange.
Except the first two turned out to be false advertising and the third is not the exchange of culture they were expecting.
These young people pay big money to arrange for that visa, and some say that by the time rent and “program fees” are deducted from their $8.35/hr pay there isn’t enough left over to live and cover visa costs as high as $6,000. Welcome to America, kids. Whatever Hollywood and the recruiter told you about this place was, as you’ve learned, a far cry from the truth. There’s a reason why we have the largest income/wealth disparity around, why 40 percent of the U.S. population owns just 0.3% of the nation’s property. The poor people here already know that. Now you know it too, because the State Department and it’s private-enterprise partners educated you on how things work here.
You’re just as much a commodity to the 20% of the U.S. population that owns 84% of the property as those chocolates you’ve been schlepping all summer. That’s why Rick Anya of the Council for Educational Travel, U.S.A feels comfortable saying things like, “We are not getting any cooperation. We are trying to work with these kids. All this negativity is hurting an excellent program. We would go out of our way to help them, but it seems like someone is stirring them up out there.” I’ve known paranoid-schizophrenics. I don’t think Anya is one, no matter how much he sounds like he is. Most likely he’s just a fucking asshole, because it’s not like you are the first participants to say these sorts of things. He just needs someone to blame. Might as well be a liberal bogeyman, because that works 9 times out of 10 here.
Rick Anya’s council is contracted by the State Department; it works with another staffing agency; which works with Exel, a company that manages the plant for Hershey’s. So you see, after all those people get their cut of the value you added, there’s not much left for your rent. Even less after a few more market participants realize that you’re basically a captive cash flow and gouge you on your rent. This is how the free market works and here we value the freedom to just barely get by. So as long as nobody rises up from below us.
A lot of Americans would accept the lousy pay and all the conditions the students describe as serious complaints, including the camera monitoring. Most of them would readily submit to drug testing and credit checks for the job. The difference between the foreign students and American workers is that Americans wouldn’t walk out like that. They certainly wouldn’t stick together in any meaningful way. Some decent percentage of them would probably believe that organized labor is what’s killing America. (Which is why Anya said what he said.) This is really a very sad place. It’s not full of hope or opportunity. It’s mostly exactly what the students describe. If they’d stay longer they could find out about our lovely credit system which, whenever possible, preys upon those least able to afford the terms in order to trap them in economic slavery.
I expect that the only lessons learned here are going to be negative reflections on “America” by groups of students with a fair shot at becoming leaders and business people in their home countries. I certainly don’t expect Americans to hear about this and think, “Shit, they’re right and what the fuck are we taking this bullshit lying down for anyhow?”
So i’ll have to be comforted by the fact that at least these foreign students seem to get it, and maybe a few of them will got home and stand up to the American Way when it gets sold to their countries as the path to prosperity. Though i fear that some of them are likely to figure that it’s a fine system as long as they’re on top of it and nobody else rises up too high. Humans are the same everywhere. Americans might just be a little more feral than most.