David Holmgren owns and runs Subway, Dairy Queen, and the Holy Terror Coffee & Fudge shop in Keystone. Every year, his businesses welcome a diverse group of Work & Travel USA participants from around the world to work in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Tell us about the impact that having international students on your team has had on your businesses.
One of the most energizing aspects of our business is utilizing the opportunity we have with international staff. It’s refreshing to have students come to the United States to share their life history and experiences and to interact with both domestic and international tourists in South Dakota.
Keystone is home to Mount Rushmore which draws three million visitors a year. There wouldn’t be a large enough labor base to support that without these invaluable international students.
It’s important for us to share the American experience with international college students so they can see how we live here in the United States and then take that experience home. They make friendships, not only with other students, but also with Americans, like the people they work with, tourists, or locals.
How do you train and orient the students when they first arrive?
We are a small management team and do all the orientation and training ourselves. When they first arrive, we relax and have a little fun. Then, we go through their housing, work, and social media agreements. Next, we go over how to acquire a social security number and bank account. We try to accomplish all of that within the first or second day that they’re here.
What kind of feedback have customers given you about their experiences with the international students?
There have been remarkable relationships built over the years where a guest who has traveled to Thailand or Türkiye or Colombia (to name a few) and they know the home city that a student is from. They’re like, “I’ve been to that restaurant, I know that street!” Now they have a common life experience, and it forges a long term connection. Customers will leave a comment on TripAdvisor or Yelp about a student, or they’ll connect with the student via Facebook.
I remember an American family who had adopted children from Taiwan, and each of their children no longer spoke Mandarin or Cantonese fluently. So, the kids spent time speaking with our Taiwanese student. It was a great experience for that family, they loved it.
What has been the best part about working with InterExchange?
I really love working with InterExchange. They are very proactive when the students or I have questions, or we have special requests. We get an immediate response, from either our direct consultant out in the field or our representative back in the InterExchange home office.
In addition, the way that InterExchange has set up their matching program provides a lot of information so we can properly review applicants. There’s a lot of details there, which gives us a better picture or background information on who the student is and how they’re going to fit into our work culture. We can contact students directly when doing the interviewing, and I really appreciate that.
What would you tell fellow business owners who are considering hosting international students about making their students feel more comfortable?
We work really hard to have a diverse group. We seldom have more than four students from any given country. For example, we’ll have one student from Ukraine, one from Jamaica, two from Taiwan, and one from Kazakhstan. We feel as long as the culture shock of being homesick doesn’t overwhelm them, it’s a better life experience for them to live and work with students from other countries.
My students take great pride in their education and what they’re studying. We have a profile board for each participant that has their photo, home country’s flag, what they’re studying, and the name of their university. We’re showing pride in the fact that we have these great students from all over the world, and it helps the guests understand why these international students are here. It also creates accountability for the participants because their face is up there, and they might be the only person from Türkiye (for example) that an American will ever meet in their entire life.
The students know that they’re an ambassador, not only for their country but also for their school and their family. I think that’s really what changes lives; that’s what makes a big difference in our business.