In the next two weeks America’s Luckiest Fishing Village will become a Global Village as hundreds of college students from all over the world converge on Destin. We know these students as J-1 Students because that is the designation of their summer visa. They come here to work in the enterprises that accommodate all the summer tourists.
Because it is the first time most of these students have been in the United States they are easy to identify. They become a service pool in our restaurants, stores, and entertainment centers. They perform a great service here. They bring a sense of zest, vigor and vitality as they explore new visions for their lives in the country they believe is teeming with possibilities. Most of them believe that the economic and social value of their stay in Destin is big. They often make more in a day than their parents make in a week in their home countries. And they have so much to offer.
But the reality of life in America can be shocking. People take each other for granted. Working in the areas that service tourists offers up daily situations that are often not the best picture of Americans. The proverbial “ugly American” is not just the traveling tourist to other countries, but also right here at home. If this year is anything like previous years, these students get a crash course in raw commercialism. We are all moving fast (literally), we want to be served immediately, we are self-absorbed with our daily agendas, and we are often hasty with the service learner. They travel up and down our corridors, often unaware of the dangers. Last year I was shocked into reality when a beautiful young lady lost her life on a bicycle.
This is an appeal to simple kindness, understanding, and consideration. What a difference the J-1 student’s American experience will be if we treat them like our son or daughter, brother or sister. What if we pause to know them, to offer our genuine best selves to these visitors who serve us as well? What if we lived up to our potential as the true “City of Blessing” whereby we offered to give more than we receive? This is the real Destin.
On June 2 at 7:30 p.m. the community will welcome these international students with an exciting event at the Destin Life Center at the Destin United Methodist Church. One hundred new bicycles will be given away to these new commuters along with food and a fun evening full of Destin hospitality. This is an opportunity for us to truly bless others. In addition many in Destin are opening their homes to these summer guests so that they can have a safe and prosperous American experience. The Methodist Church is coordinating the home program as well.
The most amazing thing about these summer guests is this. We will meet amazing people who may become more than guests. They will become friends, and incredible relationships will emerge that bring the world together. This city really is a global village!
Dr. Barry Carpenter is pastor of Destin United Methodist Church and can be reached at. firstname.lastname@example.org.