By BRIAN SHANE
The Daily Times of Salisbury
OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP) — A pair of Romanians who spent summers working in Ocean City on student visas have opened their own office downtown to help other foreign students get jobs at the resort.
Friends and fellow Romanians Calin Voicu and Mihai Paun came to Ocean City in 2006 to start their placement service, which they call All Friends. Their outfit has grown, and they now need an office to serve the 500 or so students who they’ll work with all season long.
The duo held the grand opening of their All Friends Community Center For Youth, on Baltimore Avenue at Talbot Street, on June 11.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Paun said.
“When we were here in 2006 … I told everybody that we are here to stay. People are like, `That’s nice of you, but you have to prove that somehow.’ It’s good that after six years, we managed to.”
The opening of the office was a celebration for Paun and his colleagues. Champagne was popped and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the entrance.
The space features upscale urban decor, with wide-plank wood floors and a wall of reclaimed bricks. A living room set takes up the middle, and a few desks line the perimeter, for Internet access. An oversized American flag hangs from one wall.
“The office is mainly working for the students, to offer them different ways to communicate with their parents,” Voicu said.
Voicu said All Friends works with many nationalities but caters specifically to Romanian and Moldovan students, which is why they also have offices in both countries. He spends about three months a year in the U.S. to oversee operations at the resort.
Foreign student workers affiliated with All Friends also will have the chance to travel this summer to several U.S. cities and states, including California.
Jason Gulshen, general manager of the 67th Street Holiday Inn, said these foreign students help fill a void when American college students head back to classes in September.
“It’s a huge help in the shoulder season,” he said. “There wouldn’t be enough U.S. workforce people to bulk up the staff to where we need. They’re doing jobs for us as housekeepers, pool attendants, doing service for our guests. But at the same time, they’re interacting with the public, and it’s giving them the experience here in the country. It’s a win-win.”
The hotel’s association with All Friends comes through Voicu’s time as a bellman at the Plim Plaza in 2005.
He developed a relationship with hotel management, and that turned into a business relationship once he started his own placement firm.
“We started by hiring two, three of his students,” Gulshen said. “He knows what we’re looking for, so he’s able to relay that to the students, what’s expected of him. He’s taken this experience he had and he’s developed a company about it.”
Gulshen also said his hotel and its parent company, The Harrison Group, have “just really had good success with the Romanians.”
“They truly are interested in what America’s about. We’ve found their service to be pretty good, so we’ve stuck with them,” he said. Paun was also once a foreign student here, getting his Ph.D. in 2001.
“Back then, my brother wanted to visit me, and he used a work and travel program. It was poorly run, and we decided we can do it better,” he said.
According to Paun, his company is now among the largest in Europe to be running education and travel programs for students going overseas.
He also said his company now has 5,000 students placed elsewhere in the U.S., working in national parks, in the beach town of Wildwood, N.J., and in California, among other spots.
“We’ve built this slowly. We got our message out to the community … and the community also welcomed us. We are not only recruiting people to give them jobs; we are also telling them about the American culture, trying to get them immersed,” Paun said.
The company next has plans to open additional offices in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, Va., and the Midwest resort area known as the Wisconsin Dells.
Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)