During my co-op, I was living in Port Clyde on the Saint George peninsula managing the general store there. This position was my first experience in a management role which was a really awesome and shocking experience for me. I’ve worked in many different jobs, and I’ve always been somewhat critical of management even joking with one of the shift supervisors about how she’s allowed to ask me do things. As it turns out, I also struggle with asking for help in completing projects. However, the experience that lived with me was the intersection of a variety of cultures.
What was really awesome about my job was that many of the employees were foreign exchange students from China, Turkey, and Romania who were in the United States practicing their English. Much of my prior experience with co-ops was related to education, and one wouldn’t expect management to be an educational experience. However, I found myself in somewhat of and educational role. While the exchange students had incredible English skills (I am always impressed by people who speak multiple languages, and many of them were learning English as a third or fourth language.), there were quite a few times when they needed American customs explained, a lesser known word defined, or on a few occasions, help with written material. I got the opportunity to help students learn English by communicating in English.
Being Maine, the fishing industry was very much alive. I’d see a lot of Lobster fishermen come through the store each day picking up their morning coffee before going out on the boat to work. These fishermen were often somewhat gruff and, to put it delicately, had a distinctive scent. These people often got breakfast and not much more.
The tourist culture in Maine created an interesting situation for many of the young people. There were many jobs available that needed local people to fill them. However, there weren’t many people that actually lived in this part of Maine and even fewer that weren’t so wealthy that they would never want to be a cashier or stock person at a store or work as fisherman or a barista. I grew up in Ohio where there are plenty of people who want jobs but not many entry level jobs for teenagers. So, while I am used to people getting their first job at 17 or 18, most of the kids in Maine started working as early as 14. To be honest, these 14 year old kids were much more mature than what I was used to 14 year olds acting like.
The rest of Maine consisted of the wealthy divided into three groups. There were the boaters who came into the port on their boats fueling up and getting supplies for them to use while they sailed down the coast. These people were fairly low maintenance as they chose to live on boats for long periods where they weren’t able to shower and had limited electric capabilities. Then, there were the people staying in the hotels for short periods of time. These people were upper middle class. While they had the money to go on vacation, they were not so wealthy that they could go on vacation for long periods of time. Those people were the ones who had Summer homes. One woman said to me “I figured that since I was there every Summer, I might as well buy the home.” To be honest, I’m not sure how these people could afford to live the way that they lived.
As the assistant manager at the store, I came across all of these people and watched how differently they reacted to prices (which were admittedly high but not as profitable as many assumed) and to the exchange students. From a distance, I observed how people reacted to exchange students. Many of them chose to talk to them about immigration policy and the political situation of China and their trips to Beijing.
My job provided me with a lens to see the ways in which people communicated and interacted with each other.