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Work, culture exchange brings new face to BP

Peter Meszaros, blooming paririe, mn
Peter Meszaros, a native of Hungary, is training at Stinar in Blooming Prairie, thanks to a J-1 visa. The process to get him here took more than two years. He must return to Hungary with his new skills after a year. Staff photo by Kay Fate
Hungarian native training at Stinar
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

Blooming Prairie has hosted several international exchange students over the years, but Peter Meszaros isn’t like the others.

His “classroom” is the production floor at Stinar, which manufactures aviation ground-support equipment – things like the stairways passengers use to board a plane from the tarmac, potable water trucks, and scissor lifts to assist with maintenance.

Stinar is also his host family, responsible for teaching him the culture of the U.S. as well.

Meszaros, 43, is here on a J-1 visa, one of four categories allowed by U.S. immigration law. It is typically used for work exchange by physicians, professors, research and short-term scholars, teachers, au pairs, and summer work-travel visitors.

The process

A native of Hungary, Meszaros is a mechanic by trade, working on cars, motorcycles and semitrailers. He’s been a field mechanic for forklifts and was a quality inspector for the Caterpillar factory in his country.

“All of my life, I’ve repaired things,” he said. “I’m a mechanic here, and over there, too, but I’m training here.”

Miranda Camery, human resources generalist for Kruckeberg Industries, the parent company of Stinar, said it goes beyond that.

“He’s more than a mechanic,” she said. “He’s more like an engineer, and that was very difficult to explain.”

That meant a much more detailed J-1 visa application process, taking more than two years and involving an immigration attorney, the American Immigration Counsel, the Department of State and, of course, the American Embassy in Hungary.

Every delay in paperwork – from a missing reference to email glitches to a seven-hour time difference that muddled deadlines – restarted the process, Camery said, “and there was nothing we could do.”

“I just did everything they asked, as fast as I could,” Meszaros said. “It was confusing for me.”

“It was confusing for me, Peter, and I speak English,” Camery said.

So does Meszaros; in fact, he was required to do his interview at the Embassy in English.

Though the immigration lawyer said he had done well, and had been approved, “I didn’t trust it – they could send me back at Customs and Immigration,” Meszaros said.

The exchange

He finally arrived in Minnesota in July; his one-year visa expires July 31, 2024. He’ll return to Hungary, where he must stay for two years, using the skills acquired during his time in Blooming Prairie.

“What I learn from Stinar, I can use in Europe,” he said. “It’s a culture exchange: I must learn something I can use over there.”

Meszaros will not be a Stinar employee in Europe, but he would be available – and most importantly, have the knowledge – to help any of their customers overseas with the training he received in Blooming Prairie.

“It’s not employment as we look at it in the United States – it’s training, teaching him how to do something,” Camery said. “We don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, because this is uncharted territory – but if we have European customers to sell to, and we have Peter there, that could be what we see in the future.”

A large part of the J-1 visa application process was Stinar’s training plan for Meszaros.

The three-phase plan begins with becoming acclimated to the area and culture, learning about things like banking, insurance, and the internet, and becoming familiar with the daily machinations at Stinar.

He is in the second phase, which involves increasing the knowledge, skills, and techniques he’ll need to take home.

The final phase is measuring the acquisition of his competencies, “to make sure he’s ready to take the knowledge with him and have it be useable,” Camery said.

The training

All along, the host company has goals to meet: “Are we actually giving Peter the opportunities to learn and (be) immersed in the culture?”

But Meszaros, too, is looking for those opportunities.

“I was interested in the United States” for years, he said, “how the people live here, the culture. We only see what is in the movies – and that might not show” the real story.

A few years ago, his mechanical ability caught the eye of Craig Kruckeberg, CEO of Stinar.

Kruckeberg saw the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship, and the J-1 process began.

“A lot of host companies or applicants might just give up, because of how difficult it was,” Camery said, “but Craig pushed it. It was super-important to him.”

Now that Meszaros is here, “we all think very highly of him,” she said, “and he knows what he’s talking about, so it’s really fun to watch. He’s so talented; he already understands the mechanical and electrical” parts of the business.

For his part, Meszaros believes he has a good working relationship with the Stinar crew. While many of the tools they use are similar, “the guys use them a different way, an easier” way, he said.

Something new to Meszaros was the hydraulic stairways Stinar produces. He is also adjusting to tracking his time and labor on an app on his phone, which is then used by the company to adjust materials and pricing.

Those things “are better, but complex,” he said.

The culture

Meszaros lives in town. He has an international driver’s license, and plans to get an American license, he said.

Though he learned to speak English while in school, “It wasn’t helpful, really,” Meszaros said. “If you have a native speaker to help you, that’s best.”

He spent two months with a private tutor before arriving in the U.S., which he said helped significantly.

He had another tutor, of sorts:

“About 10 years ago, I started watching every movie in English,” Meszaros said. In Hungary, movies are dubbed in Hungarian, so it was a conscious choice.

“You can always find someone to help you if you can speak English,” he said. “It is your way to speak everywhere. Manuals in my work are often in English, too.”

Still, English is littered with slang phrases, which can present a problem.

He gave the example of someone asking him, “what’s new today?”

“And I keep thinking about it,” Meszaros said. “I was thinking, what do you want to know? Do you want to know new things?”

Or using the phrase “you bet,” instead of “thank you;” coworkers are helping with that, Meszaros said.

“They’ll say it another way so that I can understand, but if they explain it to me, then I can use it, too,” he said. “I’d rather learn it than have them change.”

What hasn’t changed much – yet – is the weather he’s used to.

Summers in Hungary are hot, but dry, Meszaros said. “Winter is cold, but only really cold for about a week – not for months.” Winter temps there hover around freezing, he said.

The future

Next summer, Meszaros will return to Hatvan, Hungary, where his mother and brother live – but he didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d return to the U.S.

“Yes,” he said.

To live?

He was slower to answer that.

“Maybe,” Meszaros said. “I have friends here, too, already,” which has been the highlight of his experience so far.

“The best thing is when my friend invite me to the house for a hamburger party,” he said, “because that means you are a part of the life here.”

Camery believes it’s an opportunity for everyone.

“We need to make him feel welcome,” she said, “because Peter’s here by himself. I think when people see him on the street locally, they should introduce themselves and talk to him.

“He’s here for us, for Stinar, but he’s here to learn the culture and about life in small-town Blooming Prairie.”

It’s the life he wants, Meszaros said.

“I’m more interested in the small towns, how the real people live, not the big city,” he said. “They invite me, and I cook Hungarian stew for them.”

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