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When two summer jobs doesn't feel like enough

What’s it like to be a seasonal worker on Martha’s Vineyard? In a word: whew!

Monica Boyadzhieva is a college student here from Bulgaria. This is her second summer on the island working on a J-1 visa. Periodically we’re hearing about her experiences. Lately she’s been thinking a lot about differences in work culture.

Here’s her conversation with CAI’s Steve Junker.


Steve Hi, Monica.

Monica Hi.

Steve We thought we'd check back in with you as we're getting along in summer. Are you about halfway through your time on the Vineyard?

Monica I am a little over halfway. I have four weeks left, actually.

Steve We wanted to hear a little bit about your work experiences. I know you've been working two jobs, and I know you've been thinking a lot about your work experiences, because it sounds like working — that's pretty much what you do all the time right now. Is that right?

Monica It is right. And it's not two, it's even three jobs at this point.

Steve Three jobs.

Monica Three jobs. Yeah. And I guess one of the reasons why it's three jobs is exactly because of that working culture that I've been experiencing, this constant pressure to fill every single minute you have in your time to work. Everyone seems to be working all the time. And when I used to have even a single night that is free, I would feel guilty.

Steve Wait — so you felt guilty because you were only working two jobs?

Monica Yeah, I felt guilty that I had free time.

Steve So can you compare it to what it would be like for you back home in Bulgaria, where you're from, and what your sense of the work culture is there?

Monica Back home, when I was working in the supermarket, you get paid the minimum wage, but it's a monthly wage and it doesn't matter how many hours you work, you get the same amount of money, whether you leave earlier today or not. At the end of the month, you're going to get like 600 lev — that's our currency, "lev." Here, since you get paid hourly, I feel like there's this little competition between me and other coworkers. I don't mean competition in a bad way, but you would want to stay more hours. You don't want to be cut if it's not busy, you know, because every hour you work, every minute you work matters, because it gets more to your paycheck. And same with the tipping culture here. Back home it doesn't really exist. So you have the incentive here to be nice and kind of like "earn" your tips. Whereas back home, even in restaurants, there is tipping culture, but it's not necessary and they wouldn't leave like 20%. It can be just one or two levs to round up the bill. So you don't have that incentive to be very, very nice because you're going to get more money. Here, I would call it the "fake nice." I sometimes hate doing it, especially when you're tired, and you cannot really smile 8 hours straight to people. But you still have to be, [sweetly] "Hi, how are you?" That "customer voice." Back home, I wouldn't even have to talk to them. I can just scan their products and let them go.

Steve So it seems like part of the job here is is not just doing the work of the job, but being nice to people and interacting with customers in a way that makes them feel good to be there. Like when you say you have to smile for 8 hours a day and it seems like nobody can really do that.

Monica Yeah, a big part of the customer experience here, I believe, is just being nice to the people and making sure the customer feels welcome and feels cared for, which is not a bad thing. It's just very exhausting on the other side. There's this rule here: the customer is always right. So you have to do whatever they want, and it's very emotionally draining.

Steve This program that you're on, the J-1 program, it's called a work and travel program, and it's supposed to not only bring people here to work in places like the Vineyard, but it's also supposed to bring young people here to have an experience of the United States. Do you think that it works that way? Are you going to see enough of the States to balance out the fact that you work so much for almost three months?

Monica I think this is one of the flaws of the program. It's called work and travel, but there's barely any travel part because most people who come on this program, they need money for education. So they would spend every single minute they have working. But everything comes at the right time and maybe next year I'll get to travel more. That's one of my plans. I'm definitely not planning to work three jobs next summer.

Steve All right, Monica, thanks for speaking with us. Let's check in a little bit later in the summer.

Monica Yeah. Thank you.


And here's Monica's first conversation, with her impressions on the abundance of American flags in a Cape Cod summer.

Steve is Managing Editor of News. He came to WCAI in 2007. He also hosts the weekly News Roundup on Friday mornings and produces The Fishing News.
Monica Boyadzhieva