At their university in Eastern Europe, they are future politicians, bankers and journalists, but in America they are just “the help.”

SYNOPSIS:  “The Summer Help” tells the story about international students – many from Eastern Europe- who descend upon America’s summer resorts to clean hotels rooms, wash dishes and do the jobs many Americans avoid. Who are they and why are they here? What will they find? Is America what they thought it would be? At their universities back home, they are future politicians, journalists and bankers, but in America they are just “the help.”


mel-on-red-couch-screen-grabLEAD ARTIST: Melody Gilbert
I started this film in 2012 a year after I moved overseas to teach filmmaking and journalism at a university in Bulgaria. The idea was sparked when I heard some of my students talking about “WAT.” What is W.A.T.? I soon discovered it stands for “Work and Travel” – a  U.S. government program that allows foreign students to get a special visa (J-1) to do summer work in the U.S. tourism and hospitality sector. I was intrigued that students from my university in the Balkans actually pay a fee- often more than $1000- for the privilege to go to the U.S. for three months to wash dishes, serve food or make pizzas or for minimum wage. These students will earn more in one summer than their parents in Moldova, Albania, or Bulgaria will make in a year or more. Most will use the money to help their struggling parents and pay to pay their tuition. But that also means that their hard work is helping to pay my salary. I had to know what their lives as “the summer help” was like. You may not know much about the workers serving your dinner or making your pizza this summer, but after watching this documentary, I hope you do.