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Victoria woman calls encounter with exchange students a 'God thing'


Sept. 23, 2013 at 4:23 a.m.
Updated Sept. 24, 2013 at 4:24 a.m.

A group of Chinese college students made their way to the Crossroads this summer through the ERDT Work and Travel Program for work with area Pizza Huts. They arrived in the area after a contract with a South Carolina hotel fell through. Pictured, from left, are Effie Feng, Vivi Ding, Ashley Zhou, Chris Ma and Summer Tao.

One Victoria woman said it was divine intervention that put her in touch with a group of visiting Chinese exchange students.

Linda Palmer and her husband, Deral Palmer, had taken a trip to the bank several months ago when they noticed a woman walking along Navarro Street. The duo pulled over to ask the woman, 18-year-old Effie Feng, if they could help.

"She was walking to work at the Pizza Hut behind the mall," explained Palmer, 66. "It was just so hot - 104 degrees - and we offered to give her a ride. When we met her, we knew it was a God thing."

Feng accepted the ride and told the couple she was part of a program that allows college students to travel abroad for seasonal work.

The students originally had contracts to work with a South Carolina hotel, Palmer explained, but the work agreement fell through as they were flying to the United States. Following some reorganization, Pizza Hut offered them work.

The husband and wife arrived at the restaurant and dropped off Feng - but not before exchanging email addresses with the girl. They kept in contact, Palmer said, and before long, they'd gotten permission from the ERDT Work and Travel program - the travel group that brought the students in - for Feng and another student, Ashley Zhou, to stay with the family.

The Palmers, known affectionately by the girls as their "grandparents," took the young women to San Antonio's River Walk and on shopping trips to Houston, Feng said.

Zhou added that they also found a sense of community through Northside Baptist Church, which offers Chinese services.

"There are three or four aunties who take us to church on Sunday," she said, perched in a Pizza Hut booth. "Then, we have a big Chinese lunch."

While simply living in the Crossroads offered lessons on American culture, the students said their work at Pizza Hut did, too.

Chris Ma, a member of the group, said her English improved while Zhou's main lesson was a simple one.

"We learned to make pizzas," she said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Feng said the experience changed some of the preconceived notions she had about people.

"Even if they were strangers, people were very nice," she said. "We feel very warm."

Palmer thanked Pizza Hut for helping the students through their transition. Not only did employees offer them rides to and from work, but the company also helped them book travel plans and more.

"They went above and beyond. They really did," red-headed Palmer said.

The students' time in the United States might be coming to an end - both of Palmer's girls leave Wednesday, and some other students have already made their way home - but the relationships don't end there.

Palmer said she plans to stay in touch with her temporary lodgers online via email and video chats because Facebook is not available in China.

In-person visits, too, could join the mix. Feng said she hopes to return to the Crossroads for a possible internship in hotel management, while Palmer is planning a trip to China, possibly in January.

Whatever happens, Palmer said, her summertime roommates will always hold a place in her heart.

"I am truly thankful we stopped that first day we saw Effie," she said with a smile. "These were just the most honorable, appreciative and hard-working people I have been around in a long time. They were such a blessing to my husband and I."

A representative with ERDT Work and Travel who declined to give her name, stating she did not want it known to the public, said she had no information regarding how many students were in area or regarding their reroute from South Carolina to Victoria.



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