Oliver Dormeau had just landed at Dulles International Airport after a nine-hour flight from Paris. Looking dazed and bewildered as he shuffled with the crowd into the terminal, he heard a familiar sound.
"U.S. citizens, lines one through five, tous les autres, lignes six a` onze," said Heather Nelson, 18, of Sterling, directing all the others to lines six through 11.
At an airport accused of not providing enough information for English-speaking travelers, a small battalion of local high school and college students was greeting Dormeau in French.
"Vous devez remplir cette partie aussi," said Lara Hausch, 21, a junior at Mary Washington College, showing Dormeau that he needed to fill out another part of his arrival card.
After helping Dormeau complete the form, Hausch translated a reporter's question for him: Does it help to have a French translator handy when arriving in America?
"Beaucoup, beaucoup," Dormeau said, visibly relieved.
Nelson and Hausch are two of the 10 French-, German- and Spanish-speaking students hired for the summer by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to help greet international passengers at Dulles.
Trained and supervised by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the students direct travelers to the right lines, help them fill out their forms, find pets, answer questions about baggage and flight connections, and generally try to help cut through the confusion.
The job is a tough one at Dulles, where more than a million international travelers arrive each year, tired and cranky after long flights, only to find themselves jammed into a cramped and stuffy building. Both temperatures and tensions rise on summer afternoons when as many as five jumbo jets may unload more than 1,000 passengers within three hours.
"Some people don't want to wait, and throw attitudes left and right," said summer airport employee Gregor Orr, 18, of Ashburn. "Americans are more rude than foreigners. They figure, 'This is my country, so why should I wait?' "
The authority is building a new international arrivals terminal with three times the current space, capable of handling four times the number of passengers as the old building.
The new terminal is expected to open by the end of the year, which is none too soon for an airport where international service is growing quickly.
Dulles handled 1.2 million international passengers in the year that ended May 31, up 15.5 percent from the year before. Since April, four carriers have added international flights and two others have said they will do so soon.
The summer student guides help relieve the pressure, airport and immigration officials said.
"They're very bubbly and very positive. The passenger sees that and appreciates it," said Joseph L. LaCombe, the immigration service's port director for the Washington area.
"I just love being able to talk to people in German," said Petra Schwab, 18, who lived in Germany for eight years with her family before moving to Herndon. "We do our job with a smile. About half the job is being personable to ease some of the anxiety of coming to the United States."
The challenges of the job include greeting Ethiopians, Iranians and others who do not speak any of the students' languages. Last week the students found themselves greeting a group of deaf Russians, and found themselves quickly learning Russian sign language, Nelson said.
Orr said he likes the job because, "it's not just flipping burgers at Roy Roger's -- it broadens your mind's horizons."