Yelena Kretova of Russia (left) and Ciprian Gherghescu of Romania were drawn to the United State by the promise of the American dream.
Photographs by Keith Mosher www.kamproductions.com
With no job and no place to stay, Yelena Kretova stepped off a bus in the middle of the night in Rehoboth Beach. An only child who describes herself as a homebody, Kretova was on her first trip away from Russia.
“I called my mom and told her everything was just great. I tried not to cry. I hung up and cried the rest of the night,” Kretova says. “Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.”
Five years later, Kretova is happily married, living near Lewes and working at the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach. She speaks with excitement about remodeling her house and her mother’s first vacation, a visit to the United States to see her, a year ago.
Ciprian Gherghescu’s course from Romania to Rehoboth Beach was less direct. “I came here at 19 having hope, faith and confidence,” he says. “I came here with myself and that’s it.”
He landed in Arlington, Virginia, four years ago to work as an au pair. When the family let him go shortly after his arrival, he was left with no place to go and little money. Still, he ended up at Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown.
Any visitor to Delaware’s beaches in recent years will notice young people like them. Carol Everhart, executive director of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, estimates there are 2,500 foreign young people working at the Delaware beaches during the peak of summer. Most come from Eastern European countries, primarily
“Any destination that I talk to is telling me the same thing,” Everhart says. “You no longer have the number of American students to fill the seasonal needs. The foreign student is filling that void.”
Steve and Barbara Crane have owned Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Avenue since 1975. As employers, they have witnessed the shift firsthand. They’ve hired young people from all over the world. The Cranes have been touched personally by the students and are still in contact with their first foreign student. “It’s such a joy. It enriches your life,” says Barbara. “It makes you remember things you should appreciate, things you already have.”
Though the paths that led Gherghescu and Kretova to Delaware are different, they share important similarities. Among them are courage and optimism.
Kretova grew up comfortably in Slavyansk, Russia, near the Black Sea. She enjoyed her studies, especially English. “In high school especially, I was always outgoing,” she says. “I was the first one in the school and the last one out.” At a state university, she completed a degree in public relations. At college, she’d heard about other students working abroad for the summer.
Working through an agency, Kretova obtained a job offer—in Daytona Beach, Florida—necessary to get her visa. “It all seemed like fun at the time when I was thinking about it,” Kretova says. She boarded a plane for New York filled with other Russian students headed for various destinations across the United States.
Then she ended up in Rehoboth Beach in the middle of the night.
“I met two girls on the plane, and we decided to go together,” Kretova says. “No one else on the plane was going to Florida. One girl had a contract in Dewey Beach at the Atlantic Ocean Motel. All the way down on the bus, we didn’t know if we were going in the right direction. I studied English, but it was different hearing it,” she says.
They disembarked at the Valero station on
The next day Kretova found a job at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel in housekeeping. Her housing was taken care of. She worked there all summer, then returned the following year with the same group of girls.
In 2003 she took a job at the Baycenter in Dewey Beach as a waitress. She returned the following summer, then stayed. She had met a man, a chef at the Baycenter. She obtained an extended visa, then married Michael that June.
When Kretova decided to remain in the United States, she worried about the effect on her mother. “I was afraid to tell my mom. I didn’t know how she would react,” she says, “When me and Michael were dating, she didn’t say much. Then my mom realized it was serious.”
Despite the distance, Kretova remains close with her family. “If I don’t call them more than once a week, they call me and ask what’s wrong.”
So Kretova’s mother’s visit was a big deal in many ways. “My mom has never taken a vacation,” says Kretova. “It’s work, work, work.” More important, she needed to see her only daughter’s life so far from Russia. “Mom said, â€˜All I want is to see for myself that you’re OK.’”
“She turned out to be a real beach babe,” Kretova says. “She was doing a lot of cooking. She spoiled my husband.” But most signific, “She said, â€˜Now I am absolutely calm. I’m not going to have any worries.’”
Gherghescu grew up in Bacau, Romania. After studying culinary arts at an economic high school, Gherghescu majored in food chemistry at Bacau University and worked as a waiter.
While waiting tables, “I met this individual from
The man ran an au pair agency and inspired Gherghescu to get a visa and explore the United States for himself.
Gherghescu’s first au pair job ended quickly. “I didn’t have money to go home. My parents sent me a few dollars, as much as they could afford, about $200,” he says. When he met some Romanians in Arlington, he moved in with them temporarily. “Having to solve a challenge like that was a big step in my life,” he says.
Gherghescu was later matched with a family in Wilmington. He grew attached to the child, and his employers sponsored his student visa so he could resume studies at Delaware Tech. “They offered me the privilege and experience of the American lifestyle they were living, and I am thankful for that,” Gherghescu says.
In May 2005 he moved to Rehoboth and worked at the Terrace Restaurant. He also has worked at La Rosa Negra in Lewes and the Rehoboth Beach Country Club.
“All the people have been wonderful,” he says. The owner of the Terrace sponsored his student visa status and members of his church, Epworth United Methodist, have also been very supportive. “I was in a financial crisis earlier this year,” he says. “Ten people offered to give $100 toward my education.”
In addition to membership in the scholastic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, he also is a member of Alpha Beta Gamma, an international business honor society.
Many Americans can’t imagine arriving in a new country without knowing the language, culture, law or geography. Both Gherghescu and Kretova were lucky to have encountered many kind and generous people, but that is not a universal experience. “There are sharks and angelfish in every pond of water,” Everhart says.
Chris Berg once worked in the hospitality industry at the beach. He now works for the Council on International Educational Exchange, which matches foreign students with area employers.
“One of the reasons I got involved, I saw a lot of impropriety,” Berg says. “I’ve seen things that haven’t gone right. It made me sad to see these kids crying in the streets.”
Berg is also involved in a fledgling organization in Sussex County, The International Student Committee, which formed to help students, businesses and the community. Committee members and sponsors are diverse. They include the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, the Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches, Wilmington Trust and the Delaware Community Foundation.
The group hopes to eliminate some of the pitfalls students have encountered in the past. It has hosted an international seasonal student orientation in four languages, and it has offered an educational seminar for employers.
CIEE has furthermore identified immediate needs such as meeting new arrivals at the bus stop. Volunteers from the church go to the Valero on Rehoboth Avenue to greet and help young people who find their way to Rehoboth Beach—like Kretova. The churches also host weekly meal programs for students. They have succeeded because they provide another opportunity for contact, allowing the group to get information about things such as local transportation and laws to the new arrivals.
When Kretova heard about the volunteers at the bus stop, she expressed an interest in serving as a volunteer. In the meantime, she’s enjoying her life and pondering her future. Going back to school is one possibility. “My mom brought me my diploma, and all my credits transferred,” she says.
Gherghescu hopes to pursue scholarships for a four-year college. More important, he wants to give back to the community that has supported him.
“I want to continue to be happy through service and reaching out to people in need with the use of the strength I’ve acquired,” he says.