International Lifeguards Travel Overseas to Work F.C. Poolsides

August 18, 2010 5:13 PM0 comments

guardG1Lucia Korinkova surveys the water at the Vantage in Merrifield Town Center’s quiet pool. It’s only 11 a.m., but already a scalding 90 degrees outside. From beneath the shade of an umbrella she appears like any other local 25 year old woman, blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sporting a nice tan. In reality Korinkova’s no local. In fact, her commute to this pool has been a very long one.

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Lifeguard Lucia Korinkova. (Photo: News-Press)

Lucia Korinkova surveys the water at the Vantage in Merrifield Town Center’s quiet pool. It’s only 11 a.m., but already a scalding 90 degrees outside. From beneath the shade of an umbrella she appears like any other local 25 year old woman, blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sporting a nice tan. In reality Korinkova’s no local. In fact, her commute to this pool has been a very long one.

After a lengthy 10 hour flight, originating in the Czech Republic, Korinkova landed in Virginia at Dulles Airport. A representative from High Sierra Pools met the flight, awaiting her arrival. This summer Korinkova is working for High Sierra Pools as a lifeguard. Leaving her family in a small town named Prerov, this summer, like the last, Korinkova ventured out to work in the U.S.

“This is my second year participating in the exchange program. It allows me to come to the United States, get to know people and improve my English,” said Korinkova.

High Sierra Pools acts as Korinkova’s summer employer and caretaker, providing airport transfers, housing and bicycles or cars for transportation to and from work. They also handle any other situation that may arise during the student’s employment.

“When you have as many employees as we do, there’s always something going on. I think we average one lost passport and one appendectomy a summer,” said Adrienne Barile, human resources director at High Sierra.

This year the pool management company is supervising and providing lifeguards for 14 pools, just counting those in the Falls Church area, including Bally Total Fitness Falls Church, Comfort Inn Falls Church, Fields at Merrifield, Glen Apartments, Goodwin House, High Pointe at Jefferson Condominium, Lafayette Park, Lake Sequoia, Oaks at Falls Church, Pinewood Greens, Skyline Plaza, Tyson’s View Apartments, Vantage at Merrifield Town Center and Woodlake Towers 1.

“The program is popular right now in Russia and Ukraine, so we have a lot of guards from those countries this summer. Including both our American and international guards, we have about 1,500 lifeguards working at area pools,” said Barile.

These extraordinary journeys are made possible by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) Summer Work/Travel Exchange Visitor Program.

According to the DOS website the purpose of the program is to “provide bona fide foreign post-secondary students an opportunity to become directly involved in the daily life of the people of the United States through travel and temporary work for a period up to four months during their summer vacation.”

After fulfilling the three month work requirement, exchange participants are allowed one month of travel.

 

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HIGH SIERRA POOLS Divison Manager Petar Stamenkovic (left) and Area Supervisor Matus Zelinka. (Photo: News-Press)

 

 

“The most popular destination among the exchange students is New York,” said Korinkova.

Taking full advantage of her time in the states, she’s not only visited the sites of D.C., but also those of New York and Los Angeles.

This year Korinkova intends to visit the Caribbean islands with her travel time, possibly leaving from Fort Lauderdale and setting sail to her chosen destination.

“It’s also popular for exchange students to take cruises. You get to see three or four islands and are provided everything – travel, room and food,” said Korinkova.

Now in her final year at university, Korinkova is nearing completion of her master’s degree in geography and regional development, soon she will no longer be eligible for the program.

Having arrived at the end of May, which coincides with the beginning of her university’s summer break, Korinkova currently spends 54 hours a week working as a lifeguard. She also can be found eating Chipotle – apparently the Tex-Mex chain restaurant is a favorite among the international students – and venturing around Virginia and D.C.

“We went looking for a Wal-Mart that was ten minutes away, but it took us five hours to get there. We kept having to stop and ask people for directions,” said Korinkova.

Fortunately the people she encountered gladly offered directions, routing her and her friends around the area until they finally arrived at their destination.

“That’s a difference between the states and my country. Here everyone is friendly, smiles and talks to each other. It’s not like that at home,” said Korinkova.

In fact, through these new American friends she’s been given books to read, driven to the grocery store, brought dinner at work and even loaned furniture to make her short stay more comfortable.

Another main difference between the two countries is transportation. Korinkova explained that in the Czech Republic walking and public transportation are the primary means of transport and she wishes there was more of that in the U.S.

“You really need a car to get around here,” said Korinkova.

Her current mode of transport employs only two wheels to get around town. Living just down the road from the Vantage near Jefferson Park in Falls Church, she bicycles to work each day. Only those lifeguards who live further away from their place of employment are provided cars for their commute.

Lifeguards rely on those friends with cars to help get them around when not at work, to go shopping for example. By far, the laptop computer is the most sought purchase.

“Laptops are a lot less expensive here than they are at home,” said Korinkova.

One enterprising participant bought five computers in the United States with the intention of reselling them in his home country for a profit. Apparently he encountered a little trouble at customs.

Another prevalent purchase item is clothing, especially name brands that may not be available in the home country.

“Sometimes by the end of the summer it’s hard to pick out the exchange students from their American counterparts. They’ve used their paychecks to buy iPhones, laptops and clothes from Hollister,” said Barile.

In fact, after two summers in the U.S., Korinkova could easily pass for an American. Her English is impressive, only a slight accent is noticeable. For her, communication presents few problems, although that’s not the case with all lifeguards in the program.

“I remember we had a guard at the beginning of this season that called her supervisor because she said her whistle wasn’t working. When her supervisor arrived with a replacement, her whistle worked just fine. The guard just didn’t have the lanyard to keep it around her neck. She didn’t know the word for that,” said Barile.

Besides a slight language difference, the students are as completely trained and certified as any American lifeguard. It is due to the high lifeguard demand during the pool season, that High Sierra hires international guards, supplementing their local staff.

Employing international guards also allows the company’s other local employees flexibility in their work schedules and the opportunity to take time off for family vacations. Exchange guards also prove helpful at the beginning and end of the summer when local guards are in school.

“Given the number of guards we need to employ, I imagine international hires will always make up a portion of our staff for as long as the program continues,” said Barile.

 

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