Recruiting done across the pond to find lifeguards for new park

An international exchange program was used by Collier County officials to fill positions at the Sun-N-Fun Lagoon water park.

Dressed in the regulatory whistle, red bathing suit and a matching red hair ribbon, Alejandra Paez, 19, watches over a pint-sized swimmer with blonde ringlets and pink sunglasses.

Looking at her, you'd never suspect the lifeguard at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon is an Ecuadorian exchange student, worlds away from home.

"I got into an exchange program to improve my English," she said, standing her post Thursday afternoon. "They showed me the location and the job assignment a month before I came and I liked it. I'd been to Florida before. I never dreamed I'd be a lifeguard."

Paez is one of six international students from Turkey, Ukraine, Scotland and her native Ecuador, who signed over their summers to Collier County's latest attraction.

Mehmet Cetinbudak, 20, a Turkish college student, stood behind the stairs that lead up to the park's three water slides, smiling at passersby behind a pair of sunglasses.

"It's a simple city, not crowded as much," he said, comparing Naples with his native Bursa. "I like to spend time with the children and people."

Cetinbudak came to the U.S. with two of his friends, Tansu Dengiz and Taha Aydin, and the three live and work together, thanks to housing provided by the county.

Kateryna Lozoba, 20, of Ukraine, stands watch over floaters in the lazy river Thursday afternoon at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon water park in Naples. Lozoba is on of six international lifeguards working at the newly opened water park. The lifeguards were brought to Naples after the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department contacted the Center for Cultural Interchange.

Photo by Anthony Souffle, Daily News

Kateryna Lozoba, 20, of Ukraine, stands watch over floaters in the lazy river Thursday afternoon at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon water park in Naples. Lozoba is on of six international lifeguards working at the newly opened water park. The lifeguards were brought to Naples after the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department contacted the Center for Cultural Interchange.

But how did these internationally inclined scholars wind up watching the lazy river at Fun-N-Sun?

Parks and Recreation teamed up with the Center for Cultural Interchange at a World Waterpark Association convention in Las Vegas.

And the result is a local smorgasbord of cultures and creeds.

In preparation for the job, the imported guards took part in a two-week training.

Regular certification requires 40 hours and then there are five additional hours for water park-specific training, according to Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Camden Smith.

"Some of them are still in the process. That's why you see a lot of them in helping positions," Smith said, walking through the dripping wet crowd.

But at one post, one of the official lifeguards shouts for the kids not trail the wall in a buttery, Scottish accent.

Nicola Meckay, 18, is not part of the CCI program, but the teen does hail all the way from Scotland. Meckay has dual citizenship and moved down for the summer with her grandmother.

"I came around Christmas and found out about [the job]," she said, keeping a watchful eye on the water. "I sent in my application from Scotland and had a phone interview."

In Scotland, Meckay has been a lifeguard since she was 16.

To operate, the park needs between 28 and 30 lifeguards, according to Smith. But the staff hopes to continue surpassing those numbers.

"We have about 33 lifeguards now, but we're still hiring," Smith said. We hope to get 40. Forty is great because then these guys get days off and vacations."

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