Summer Work Visa Brings Students to Telluride Each Winter

By Julia Caulfield

PC: Zanny Espinoza

PC: Zanny Espinoza

Zanny Espinoza is a smiling 18-year-old. She has dark brown curls, and wears bright red lipstick. She is one of the many young people to come to Telluride for the winter. But unlike many of the people who come from across the country to spend their winter skiing and snowboarding, Espinoza came from her home in Peru on a summer work travel visa.

She’s a sociology student at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, a private university in her hometown of Lima, Peru’s capital. In many ways, Lima couldn’t be more different from Telluride.

“Lima is a mix of a lot of things. First, you know South America was conquered by the Spaniards, so we speak Spanish. We have a lot of Spanish influence. Then, people from different parts of Peru started migrating, so it’s a very big city; ten million people in a very small place, and it’s a mix of tradition and a mix of other cultures…and the food, it’s so amazing in my country,” says Espinoza.

So how did she end up in Telluride?

Espinoza is here on a J1 Visa. The visa allows her to work and travel in the U.S. during her summer vacation—Peru’s summer is Colorado’s winter.

She worked with an agency in Peru, and another in U.S. that helps to connect students with employer sponsors. Espinoza is one of ten J1 Visa holders to get a job at Clark’s Market in Telluride for the winter season.

Mike Jackman, manager at Clark’s Market, says Clark’s has been a J1 Visa employment sponsor for about a decade. In that time, the Market has employed J1 Visa holders from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, and China. He says the program is a great way to increase staff during the busy season.

“The resort location and the seasonal nature of a business in Telluride – of course South American countries it’s their summer, so a lot of the students are off for their summer semester – and they come and work here for exactly the three months we need them the most,” says Jackman.

Students with J1 Visas are often placed in resort towns, or areas with a lot of seasonal work.

Originally Espinoza was hoping to work at the Clark’s Market in Aspen. But the all the positions there were full, so she ended up in Telluride. In the end she said she’s happy she came here.

“I really like the mountain, it’s so beautiful,” she says. “Once I went to San Sophia station, the first station on the Gondola, and the views were breathtaking. I was really in love with that.”

She’s met a lot of great people, and she’s enjoyed her work, but that doesn’t mean everything’s been easy. According to the State Department website, one of the ideas behind the J1 Visa is for students to be able to travel. But because Telluride is isolated, and expensive, Espinoza says she hasn’t been able to see as much of the country as she would like.

One of Espinoza’s big goals was to see the Grand Canyon, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

“I wanted to go to Vegas and take a trip from there, but it’s very expensive, so I’m not sure,” she adds. 

She says it’s frustrating, almost like she was promised something she didn’t get.

Despite all that, Espinoza says being in Telluride has been a good experience.

“I feel so independent now. In my country I have three brothers – they are younger than me – my mom and dad. And also with my, you know, South America we live with cousins, we live with all the people; like twenty people in one house, it’s like that. So, I live with a lot of people. And here I’m just living on my own, or with my friends. And also, I think that my parents trust me more because they know that I can do this, I can live alone here. I feel really good. I feel like I’m a bit more mature now,” says Espinoza.

Espinoza says she’s interested in participating in another work travel visa program in the future, maybe to Australia.

In March, Espinoza will head back to Peru. But before too long, a new group of students from China will be at Clark’s Market in Telluride for the summer to work and explore through the J1 Visa program.