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International Travel-Based Documentary Director Visits Edgewood




The Edgewood College Social Science Department brought Melody Gilbert to talk about her film, The Summer Help.

In the film, Gilbert follows the journey of eight students from American University in Bulgaria, where she used to teach. It documents their time from the end of their schooling to their jobs in the United States and then their return. As the story progresses, two main characters become the focus, Elena and Nikoleta, who are both freshman and end up having vastly different experiences.

Gilbert drew her inspiration from her time teaching, and saw students who were aspiring politicians, journalists, and bankers. These students were working the jobs that many American teenagers wouldn’t have the interest in. Some students were working up to 80 to 100 hours per week on minimum wage.

“I was really surprised to find out so many of them spent their summers cooking and cleaning for Americans on vacation,” said Gilbert. “AUBG (American University in Bulgaria) is a very prestigious school with the best and brightest students from the region, and I had trouble imagining them doing these jobs.”

The students that she worked with talked about their program, “WAT”, which stands for “Work and Travel”. This program allows foreign college students to apply for a J-1 visa to do summer work in the United States for tourism and hospitality. The J-1 visa is specifically used for non-immigrant students, and is usually used for research scholars, professors, and exchange students who are in programs that deal with cultural exchange.

The problem is that there isn’t the same cultural exchange with these programs. In a VICE interview with Gilbert, she talked about how the students’ perception of America changed.

“They ended up having completely different experiences. In the beginning, they are both excited and open-minded,” said Gilbert. “The only reference you have for America is what you see on TV or in movies.”

The process has taken over five years, and now faces challenges with the climate around immigration in the United States.

“Trump has said in the past that he has considered eliminating the J-1 visa, so it will be interesting for all of us to watch the film through that lens,” said Gilbert. “It’s a very different world than when I started filming.”

The film will be playing in the Anderson Auditorium on Feb. 27th at 7:00pm. Gilbert will also be attending select classes within the Social Science department.

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