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Kings Island Takes The American Dream on a Wild Ride

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http://www.wcpo.com/mostpopular/story.aspx?content_id=76b7df73-2080-4380-a42a-f8b5321418d1 - Video is found here.


Every summer more than 100 international students scrape together up to $3,000 to come to America, to work one summer at a spectacle unlike they've seen before - the great American amusement park.


But some of those students who've come to King's Island north of Cincinnati, Ohio, say their experience hasn't been so great.


On a sumptuous, sunny summer's day, thousands of people have come to enjoy the swinging good time, stuff-your-face, buckle-up-the-kids Screamfest that is King's Island.


And there to greet them at the front gate are Ghenadii and Vasili from Moldova.


Mederer from Kyrgyzstan is selling soft drinks drinks. Daniel from Colombia is serving Skyline coneys. And Melissa from the Dominican Republic is selling trinkets at a store geared for little girls.


They're some of 138 international students who spent thousands of dollars each to come here for the summer to work at King's Island.


The park's public information officer calls the jobs a great opportunity. He says he's certain they're having a good experience and enjoying themselves.


But some of the students tell a different story. Jorge from the Dominican Republic says, "They told us really nice things 'til we get here."


The students are living for three or more months in an apartment complex under extreme renovation. To get to their apartments they have to walk past missing ceilings, dangling doors, exposed wires, and sticky sub-floors.


Some of the apartments have mold, bugs, and sliding doors that won't lock. Miguel walks down a hallway with exposed ceilings and ripped-up carpeting and mutters: "In my country we don't live like this."


Frank, also from the Dominican Republic, says "It's terrible. I feel very, very bad here." Jorge adds, "We're humans."


The only furniture in the bare apartments: air mattresses on the floor.


Some of the students have improvised. A cardboard box becomes a dining room table. A shoebox makes a nightstand. And then there are the sofas or mattresses some have been lucky enough to scrounge from a dumpster.


Jorge is a hotel management student and calls the situation unfair. "We come to a developed country that we admire a lot over there, and then we got this minimum living conditions."


Jorge says it wouldn't be so bad if the students could just sleep here, and leave to explore the area. But, they can't.


The complex is in West Chester, miles from public transportation, which is limited in this far north suburb, 21 miles from Cincinnati and more than eight miles from King's Island.


They're so far from the city and its sights, the students say they may as well be a world away.


Their only transportation is a van King's Island uses to shuttle them only to work. It doesn't run on their days off, so they feel stranded. And on their work days, it's often full.


The I-Team watched as students couldn't find seats and had to wait for the next van. They say they've each wasted dozens of hours of their only time in America, waiting for limited rides to work and home.


For Jorge, it's been a huge disappointment. "We are stuck here," he says. "We almost think we're in jail." He says his entire cultural experience in America has consisted of rides from his apartment to King's Island and back.


Frank says he came here to immerse in the culture, to "Meet the people, meet the city, but I can't. I can't go. I don't have transportation."


That's not the deal the students say they signed.


Their journeys began with a trip to a glitzy website for Worldwide International Student Exchange. WISE places students at stores and resorts all over the United States, including King's Island, promising students will, "Experience another culture while earning money to support their stay."


The students signed job offers with Kings Island's Human Resources manager. The offer required them to sign a housing agreement with a hostel, "less than a mile", "within walking distance" to the Park, near public transportation. There would be "free bicycles available to borrow" and "assistance with finding second jobs" to help pay back their expenses for coming here.


The Kings Island Travel and Employment Information packet even boasts that the housing includes "computer/internet" and "telephone" access.


Engineering student Miguel says it sounded like a great experience. But he and the others say they found none of those promises once they arrived. No bikes, internet or phone at home.


So limited by the van schedule, they couldn't get to any second jobs, they say, much less anywhere else. "We got nothing here, almost nothing," says Miguel.


He says his one job sweeping at King's Island won't pay back the nearly $3,000 he spent coming here. He can barely cover food and what he pays King's Island for rent.


He and three others spend $1,200 a month for each two-bedroom apartment. A neighbor in the same building as some students told the I-Team her 2-bedroom costs $680. King's Island wouldn't tell us how much it's paying per unit.


Jorge says he feels misled about this experience. "We are frustrated here. Why they didn't find [a] nearby apartment, I don't know. Why they didn't get another place in Cincinnati, a place with public transportation, I don't know."


But the amusement park's public information officer promises, "It's certainly not something that we go into trying to mislead anybody. We want it to be the best experience for anybody."


Don Helbig says he'd never heard any of these complaints until the I-Team brought them to his attention.


The students say they've tried repeatedly to talk to the woman who hired them here but could never get in to see her.


Helbig says he knows these aren't the accommodations the students expected, but that King's Island will address the problems.


He says other housing the park had arranged fell through at the last minute and this was the only option King's Island could find to keep about 50 students together. "The rooms that they [the apartment complex] showed us were in good condition. We knew there were some renovations going on, but we were not shown all of the rooms."


Helbig says with 31 students already on the way, there was no way to notify them of the change. He says "There's no intent at all to mislead or misrepresent or anything like that at all."


And Helbig promises there was no attempt to make money on the living accommodations.


After our initial interview, King's Island sent an employee to visit every apartment to list its problems.


Then Helbig called us back to say they were doing more, that the park had bought a bus that would be available to the students even on their days off, so they could visit the sites of Cincinnati.


The students who spoke to us know they took a chance. King's Island sponsored their visas. If they lose their jobs, they could be deported.


When the I-Team asked if the students would be fired for making their living conditions public, Helbig said, "That's an answer that I can't give you. I'm not their immediate supervisor. I'm not the person that would be in charge of the associates here."


But he added that the park would, "look into the situation and try to help them and make it be the situation that they were looking to have when they came over."


Some of the students aren't waiting to find out. Miguel decided to leave King's Island, striking out for his own American adventure.


Summer is waning for some of the students already here six weeks, and yet to see any of the land they once revered, but now think of as Third World compared to their homes.


For Jorge, the experience has changed his opinion of the United States. "I'm really frustrated."


He says when he goes back home and his father asks, "How was Cincinnati?," he'll have to answer, "West Chester, you mean?" And when his father asks, "How was the museum? How were the Reds?," he'll have to say he never got to see them or the city he thought he'd experience this summer.


Helbig says King's Island now has made it a point to talk to as many international students as possible and find out their needs.


The park also is planning outings to take the students to Reds games, the Museum Center and the zoo.


And King's Island is looking ahead to to next year, to accommodations more in line with what the park AND the students expect.


I was completely shocked by this. It was absolutely horrible to hear about this. I just say it on TV. I've seen some of these guys around KI and I've heard about the international programs...and considered it for other countries. What was even worse is that Don Helbig couldn't even respond! I don't know how KI is going to bounce back from this bad PR.



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You mean to tell me that a Cedar Fair park doesn't care about its employees? I'm shocked. Really. I am.


The slippery slope towards becoming the next Six Flags continues...

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Oh wow, this is shocking. It's my understanding that Cedar Fair relies heavily on foreign students, am I right? If so, they should protect their 'assets' by at least providing on site housing, or else they may risk losing employees.

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^ Not trying to make this any more depressing, but there are typically long lines of people waiting to get an opportunity like this. And once they've signed that contract, they're pretty much yours.


Sounds like they're taking advantage of that limitless supply of labor.







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This is the first I have heard the living conditions described, but not the first I have heard of how badly the foreign exchange workers are treated by parks. I think any foreign exchange program to America has to be frustrating as we just don't offer the extensive mass transit systems and such that many of the students have access to in their countries. They believe they can come here and easily hop from state to state and attraction to attraction. It is just not the way we Americans live...although we probably should! And then to treat them deplorably at the environments they are placed to work....very sad statement indeed.

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Thats awful! It really sucks that Kings Island would treat them so crappily. I'm really happy they went to the media with this to shed some light on it and hopefully get them to act on it.


During my time at Disney and Universal we had a ton of International students and it was way better than this! Disney of course has the three pretty decent apartment complexes and the treehouses! You pretty much live ON Disney property.


Universal was a little different because it was a little more of a hike to the apartments.. but they are building a brand new building pretty much on property for International students I believe.


But both places the international students seemed to have an awesome experience and they were all easily some of the best workers and coolest people I ever met. Kings Island.. you suck!

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This is terrible and how unfair. Those poor kids spending all that money and basically getting screwed. More should be done about this. Is this how we want the rest of the world to view us? I am horrified by this whole thing. How can the park possibly fire them for making these awful conditions public? What else could they do? Coming all the way over here just to end up stuck at 'home' and go to work. Nobody deserves this. If what the park says is true then what else could they have done to make it better? This could totally end up biting the park in the ass.

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What an amazing scam. I'm not shocked by any of this, though. CF is taking advantage of cheap labor that they can treat worse than their US employees, since they can threaten the internationals with deportation. And I'd love to konw where the extra money the kids are paying for the apartments is going...



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I know Cedar Point has a LOT of international workers...but they get like, "on campus" housing, don't they?


Yeah, Cedar Point has employee housing both on and off-site, but it's all in very close proximity to the park - you pass by a lot of it on the way up the Causeway. I've heard some stories about their housing not being very pleasant as well, but nothing of this magnitude.

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As someone who has spent a majority of my life around this park, I'm embarrased!


After reading what they live with, and sleep on, ect. I think about one shelter my church has worked with over the years up in Dayton. The homeless at this shelter have regular twin beds, night stands, table and chairs, and a bathroom, (granted it was a former hotel), but still.


I read this article and find out that these kids first impression of our country are air matresses and cardboard boxes as tables! I hope KI will do what they can ASAP to remedy this, and in the future take a more personal hold on this situation. Not just dish it off to another company to take care of things.

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What made the housing at Cedar Point a little less than desireable was that the bedrooms were fairly small and you had 3-4 people in each. Some of the buildings were set up like apartments with 5 bedrooms each, a kitchen/living room and two bathrooms. The problem with the apartment style buildings was that it was up to those who lived in it to keep it clean.........so yeah..........didn't hapen very often.


Now the dorm style buildings were not so bad since the bathrooms, while still not steller, were at least cleaned everyday.


Any set-up at Cedar Point as far as employee housing goes was never anything like this. Personally, I think Kings Island should help repay some of the expense the students had to pay to get here. Even if they were shown "one room", they should have asked to see all of the rooms and gone from there. This makes me wonder if this has been going on for a good couple years or if this has just been a problem for this year?

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Why do I get the feeling that Kings Island (not "King's Island," as that scrupulously proofread article printed several times) is far from the only park to be pulling these shenanigans? It sounds like indentured servitude.


Of all the things we complain about parks doing, this is absolutely the worst. It makes $1 lockers and FlashPass look like Christmas morning by comparison.

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Wow - did I read the same article? I do not disagree that some exchange students had major problems - but the article did say there are a total of 138 exchange students and 50 (30%) had housing and general living condition issues. I for one, given the source think the majority of exchange students or 70% are doing better than the few that were quoted.


More importantly, I think these students saw the free market system and democracy at work. Granted they had a bad 6 week experience, which is probably too long given their agreement with the park - but it also sounds like the park is going to meet all of their expectations - for the remainder of this year AND next !! Isn't that a good thing? People will always make mistakes and the unexpected will always happen - I think it was a slow news day in Cincinatti, with some bias and sour grapes over CF dominance in Ohio thrown into the mix.


Bottom line: I am thrilled those student's situation will improve dramatically.

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