International employees working for Kalahari Resorts and Great Wolf Lodge have a group of people in the Sandusky area who are there to make their stay in America meaningful.
Alliance Abroad Group is the visa sponsor for international students on a summer work travel program employed at these two Sandusky area tourist meccas. Zhanna Saparova, head of support services for the international recruiting firm, wanted to make their time in America more than about work and earning a paycheck.
“I had this group at Christmas and New Year’s. I thought when do you miss family most? At the holidays,” Saparova said.
Saparova started the Friendship Family program two years ago in Kansas City, Mo., by utilizing her friends and people she knew and trusted as Friendship Families. The premise of the request was simple: invite international employees into their lives. There was no need to create anything out of the ordinary.
“I had such a great response I asked how can I target this for other locations. There is a safety factor over all,” she said.
Looking at Sandusky, a city she visits often, she decided to partner with Rotary, Adventures in Friendship and with The Chapel, a church on Galloway Road.
Anyone applying as a Friendship Family has to be known to and recommended to Saparova by someone she already knows involved in the program from one of those organizations.
Instrumental in helping to bring the program to Sandusky was Maris Brenner of Kalahari Resorts and a member of the Rotary.
Kalahari wanted to be involved and, at the request of the resort’s human resources director, Brenner meet with Saparova. Brenner then brought it to the Sandusky Rotary Board of Directors.
The board agreed and by the summer the first set of Alliance Abroad Group employees, coming from Thailand, Singapore, Portugal, Peru and Russia, were matched with local families, made up of mostly Rotarians.
From a personal standpoint Brenner said it has been so much fun to meet the students and hear about their countries and families.
Her first match was with a young man. Their first contact was a hello greeting by email.
The man sent Brenner a picture of his entire family and their pets.
“Being a dog owner, I immediately sent back my pet’s picture and so the connection began,” Brenner said.
“The world seems to get so much smaller when you have that personal contact with a face and a friend from abroad. The students work hard when they are here and to be a part of making their non-work hours more enjoyable, just seems the right thing to do.”
The international employees want to participate. Last spring there were 17 participants in the Friendship program. Saparova has already received applications from 53 international participants and applications are continuing to arrive.
Joan Van Offeren, executive director of Lake Erie Shores Islands East, mentored a couple of international employees working at Kalahari Resorts who were from Thailand.
“I had a fantastic experience,” Van Offeren said. “The international employees know nothing about us. They may have visited California but other than that they have little contact with Americans.”
Alliance Abroad encourages anyone spending time with international employees to keep the time together simple and normal activities.
That meant time on Kelleys Island and eating sweet potato fries at Berardis for Van Offeren and her charges.
“Anywhere we went after that they wanted sweet potato fries,” Van Offeren said, laughing.
“We had such a good relationship I still get emails from them.”
For further information:
Zhanna Saparova, Head of Support Services for Alliance Abroad Group.
Phone: 1-512-904-1171 or 1-866-622-7623
Learning about America