Worldly fair workers

COSTA MESA — Vasile Zbranca is making a living far away from home at the Orange County Fair.

He is working hard, traveling and gaining experience.

And it's all possible for him because he grills kabobs at the fair.

"I'm really living the American Dream because I'm working and I'm also having fun at the same time," he said, his voiced salted in a heavy Romanian accent.

Zbranca is one of dozens of employees who come from countries around the world to work at the summertime fair. Walking through the busy and loud 150-acre property, it's difficult to avoid their colorful accents as they call you out to play a game.

And when you decide to stop at a food booth, it's like you're traveling from one country to another in just one day. Take your pick: Australia? Mexico? South Africa? How about New Zealand or Russia?

They are among the countries represented at the OC Fair.

It's Zbranca's first time in America. The 21-year-old business and economics student came through a work and travel program, J-1 Visa.

He is one of 50 foreign nationals working at Chicken Charlie's, the place that fries everything.

Tony Boghosian, co-owner of Chicken Charlie's Enterprises, said his company's program allows many students from around the world to come to work and learn.

Each of the employees at Chicken Charlie's is required to be college students in their home country. Chicken Charlie's has 75 employees, 50 of which are international workers.

"It's ironic, we have people that are studying to be chemists, doctors and lawyers — they are very highly educated and intelligent, but they are here working at the Fair," Boghosian said.

Boghosian said hiring international employees works better for their kind of business. Not many people are willing to take on a job for three months, and if they do, not many can travel to fairs across the country during the summer.

American employees are locally hired. When the OC Fair ends and Chicken Charlie's moves onto the next one, the company will be looking to hire employees from that local community, he said.

This opportunity is perfect for Yulia Koptyug, 20, a Russian who's studying tourism and hospitality, with an emphasis on social and cultural services. At the fair, she gets to see people from all walks of life and do what she likes best — interacting with people.

"It's difficult work, but it's still good, because we have a lot of fun and it's a good experience," Koptyug said.

Ray Cammack Shows, the company that runs the carnival at the fair, has more than 100 employees who come from other countries to work the carnival.

Juan Pablo from Mexico only gets to see his wife and two kids three months out of the year. The rest of the time, he's in America, traveling from one fair to another.

And he's been doing it for the last 10 years.

"It's hard because you're away from home, you don't see your family, you don't spend birthdays or Mother's Day with your kids," he said.

But Pablo's job is one that many in his country would like to have.

"I feel lucky to be here; I have a better life, it's better for my kids and wife," he said. "You have to do what you have to do to support your family."

Pablo, 31, is here on an H-2 visa, which allows entry to the United States for temporary work.

He not only sends money to his family twice a month, but his work here allows him to also help his community whenever he can, including raising money to help a sick neighbor or a family member, even raising funds to build a church.

"I'm happy to help," he said.

Stevee Randell has been coming to the United States for nine months out of the year for the past three years. Fairs aren't new for the Australian native. She grew up with them.

"I'm here learning new things, seeing the world and being independent, it's about time I went off on my own," Randell, 23, said.

All of the employees contribute to the country's economy, to Social Security and pay taxes, but they never see the latter benefit because they are likely to go back to their homes, said Chris Lopez, Cammack's vice president of legal safety and governmental affairs.

Today At The Fair

•The Fab Four Sgt. Pepper's Experience will perform at 8 p.m. at the Pacific Amphitheater.

•Sett & Tender Hooligans — a tribute to Morrissey and the Smiths — perform at 8:30 p.m. at The Hanger.

•The Maloof Money Cup is all day at the Action Sports Arena.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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