BAR HARBOR, Maine -- A sure sign that tourism season is here is the arrival of hundreds of eastern Europeans who come to Maine each summer for work.
Residents are accustomed to the mass arrival of young Bulgarians, Poles, Russians, Czechs, and Ukrainians, to name a few, in late May with their distinctive European clothing and Slavic accents.
They are college students who are in Maine to learn English and make money through the federal Summer Work-Travel program.
Last year, 2,432 foreign college students came to Maine on the US State Department program, according to Darlene Kirk, spokeswoman for the department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The students come from around the world, but no group is better represented than the eastern Europeans.
The students work at restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, summer camps, moving companies, and theme parks, helping employers during the busy summer season when it's often hard to find enough workers to fill the positions.
On Mount Desert Island, the use of Eastern Europeans to staff hospitality businesses has become more widespread in the past decade.
David Woodside, president and general manager of Acadia Corp., said that some 15 percent of the company's summer work force, which numbers about 200, come from Eastern Europe with student work visas.
Acadia Corp. owns and operates the Jordan Pond House restaurant and several gift shops in Acadia National Park and downtown Bar Harbor.
"We just can't get enough Americans to fill those positions," Woodside said. "Particularly, it is the less-skilled jobs that go begging."
Dmitry Svidunovich, a 23-year-old computer science student from Kurgan, Russia, lives with four other Eastern Europeans in a rented house while working at two restaurants, Rupununi and Miguel's.
He estimated that 150 to 200 students from the former Soviet republics will work in Bar Harbor this summer.
Svidunovich first came to Bar Harbor in 2003 after getting a job over the Internet. The pay is decent, he said, and he likes that Maine is quiet.
But the primary motivation for many of the visitors isn't money; it's to travel, meet people, and learn English. Svidunovich plans to go to Washington, D.C., and maybe Florida at the end of the work season. Other Eastern Europeans say they hope to see Disney World or visit California or Las Vegas.
"I didn't expect to earn anything," Svidunovich said. "All the [Eastern Europeans], they have two jobs here."
The first job pays for their travel and living expenses, he said, while their second job provides them with the savings they take back across the Atlantic.
The seasonal workers from Eastern Europe aren't just in Bar Harbor. They can be found around the state.
Barbara Zapora, outreach coordinator for the Northeast branch of Alliance Abroad, a Texas-based business that serves as a visa sponsor, said students pay $1,500 to $2,000, including airfare, to participate in the Summer Work-Travel program.
Zapora is responsible for roughly 100 Summer Work-Travel participants in Maine and about 200 in New Hampshire.
In a telephone interview from her office in North Conway, N.H., Zapora said she matches participants with employer clients that include Hannaford Bros. supermarkets, Dunkin' Donuts, and the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
Zapora said the students can earn more than double in Maine what they can earn in a summer job in their home country.
"Work is an opportunity. They don't have this opportunity in their country," Zapora said.