Summer of Strife for Irish Students
Pic news students
Micheal Hallissey, Pearse Dillon, Eoin O’Connor and Colin McSweeney.
Summertime in New York is proving hot and bothersome in more ways than one for many Irish students seeking work and accommodation. APRIL DREW met up with some of the new arrivals, who shared their frustrations.
It's that time of the year again. Thousands of Irish students descend upon our neighborhoods in search of jobs, accommodation and a summer filled with memories only New York can provide.
About two weeks ago it became apparent that the Irish students were arriving in their droves. It was, and still is, a common sight to see six to eight young Irish, sporting their county jerseys, pounding the pavements on McLean Avenue in Yonkers and Katonah Avenue in nearby Woodlawn in search for a place to lay their heads for the summer and the possibility of a job.
The Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers and the Emerald Isle Immigration Centers in the Bronx and Queens have been inundated with students seeking assistance in securing a place to stay for the summer and a job to tie them over till September.
The Irish Voice spent Thursday afternoon in the Aisling Center, located on McLean Avenue, witnessing first hand the student foot traffic coming through the center.
The back room of the center was designated for luggage. The ladies were pinks and purples, the men mainly black. Some students were leaving their suitcases with the center staff while they took the train into the city in search of jobs.
Up to Friday the center was in the process of trying to find summer accommodations for over 180 students. A similar number was being reported in the Emerald Isle offices.
Although a substantial number of the students were still out of work, the main issue was the lack of accommodations available for rental for the summer period.
After spending the morning in New York City searching for work and becoming acquainted with the liveliness of the place, four young Irish men spoke to the Irish Voice about their reasons for coming to New York this summer.
They all sang the same tune -- there is no work in Ireland to tie them over till September when they are due to return to college.
They each paid ***950 ($1,200) for a J-1 visa and a flight to the U.S. and are hopeful to make a bit of money over the summer working in New York that will get them through the forthcoming college year.
Colin McSweeney from Co. Kerry and Eoin O’Connor from Co. Carlow said if they don’t find accommodation in very near future they will have to return to Ireland.
The friends, who are in college at the Limerick Institute of Technology, have been sleeping in the living room of a house in Yonkers with 10 other students and are at their wit’s end.
“We’re lucky to have somewhere at the minute to sleep at night, but we can’t keep it up. We need to get somewhere to rent ourselves or we are going to have to head back to Ireland,” McSweeney said on Thursday.
O’Connor, who used the money he received for his 21st birthday to come to New York added, “it was either stay home with the family for the summer with no work, or come to New York and try to find something.”
On Monday, O’Connor revealed in a text message to the Irish Voice that they are in Queens and Brooklyn searching for rentals, but were still having no luck.
“We will seriously have to go back home if something doesn’t show up in the next few days, “ O’Connor’s text message said.
The Kerry man worked the past few summers on a building site in Ireland to put himself through college, but this year “there are no jobs there,” he added.
The friends are also seeking employment but can’t commit to anything until they have an abode.
The reason he is in New York? “To find a job and have the craic,” he says.
However, Dillon’s worry is that he won’t find employment.
Initially, Dillon’s plans included a summer of football playing with the Roscommon team in New York and then a spot of traveling, but at this stage he isn’t even sure if he can find a job.
“It’s been tough, but I hope I can get something soon,” he said.
His friend, Micheal Hallissey from Co. Kerry, was the lucky one of the group. He has secured a place to stay and was on a promise of a construction job beginning this week.
“I just hope my friends get sorted now,” said Hallissey.
Colm Dalton, 20, and John Grady, 23, both students at Sligo Institute of Technology, are homeless and without jobs. They spent their first few nights sleeping in a hotel in Yonkers before a friend kindly offered them a couch.
They now spend their time split between the Aisling Center where they leave their luggage, and the couch they have been allowed to sleep on in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house where 10 others live.
“We seriously can’t believe how hard it is to get somewhere to rent,” said Dalton, a Co. Longford native.
Last year Grady, from Co. Cavan, worked one day a week in a bar. That job was not available this year.
“We weighed up our options and decided New York was the place to come for the summer, so we paid nearly a grand for the J-1 and here we are,” said Grady with disappointment in his voice.
As of Friday the two friends had called up to 50 available accommodations but no one wanted to rent short-term. They hadn’t even begun to search for jobs.
“That is probably going to be another issue (jobs), but we are willing to work at anything at all so hopefully if we can get accommodation sorted we will be able to start on the job hunt,” said Dalton.
Grady and Dalton came with about $1,500 each in their back pockets.
“We are trying to keep our money for a deposit for accommodation, but at the rate things are going we are going to have to go back to Ireland,” said Dalton.
“We can’t ask our parents for any more money, so if something doesn’t become available soon we will be changing out return tickets to sooner rather than later,” he added.
The friends said if it wasn’t for the staff at the Aisling Center they would be at a loss.
“The staff here, Elizabeth, Maura and Sister Christine, have been amazing to us,” said Grady.
“They’ve really kept our spirits up and have shown us a kind heart and friendly words when times are tough, and even thrown us a few mugs of tea.”
As Grady and Dalton went back to cold calling about accommodations, the phone at the Aisling Center was ringing off the hook.
A group of 10 Irish students were making their way from Brooklyn to the Bronx because they were unsuccessful in finding a place to live there.
Another young man informed the center that he had another 10 friends arriving from Ireland on Friday, also in need to accommodation and a job.
Moments previous to that two girls from Co. Cork had popped into the center with luggage in tow. They spent the previous few days in Boston in search of work and a place to stay. They kept meeting dead ends, so they boarded a Greyhound bus to New York in search of better luck.
Ashley Varley, 19, and Olivia Brosnan, 21, both from Co. Limerick, have the same story.
Varley worked in a clothing store in Limerick City for the past two summers and Brosnan looked after children.
This year both jobs were unavailable, and the chance to travel and work in the U.S. presented itself.
“I had friends who went on the J-1 last year to New York and loved it so much. All I head about was the craic they had at Fagan’s Bar and the Rambling House for months, so Ashley and I decided to give it a go seeing as we had no work in Ireland this year,” explains Brosnan, who is studying business at the University of Limerick.
The girls arrived in New York a week before the Irish Voice caught up with them, and they were beginning to get frustrated.
“We spent the first two nights in a hostel in the city, then another three in a hotel up here and for the past two we have been sleeping on a floor in a bedroom with four other girls. It’s just ridiculous,” said Varley.
The house they are currently staying in temporarily houses 16 students. It’s a three-bedroom/ two-bath and has no air conditioning.
“We’d get over the air conditioning if we had a bed. The problem we face now is that some of the lads’ friends are coming from home to stay, so we have to leave and we have nowhere to go,” said Brosnan.
They were on their way to the Emerald Isle Immigration Center on Katonah Avenue in the Bronx to seek help.
John Hayes, J-1 co-coordinator at the Emerald Isle’s office in the Bronx, told the Irish Voice the center has seen a huge increase in the numbers of J-1 students arriving in New York this year as opposed to previous summers.
The worry, said Hayes, is that a lot of the students are “not prepared for the economic situation in the U.S.”
Hayes and the staff at both Emerald Isle centers are doing their best to seek employment for the students.
“I’ve been largely cold calling various links we have -- for example, people who used this office in the past or who have reached out to Irish students in the previous summers, but of course at the moment it’s proving increasingly difficult in the current economic climate,” said Hayes.
Although the job situation is bad, Hayes said the accommodation issue is “a lot trickier.”
“In the past few summers the J-1 students have not been superb tenants, making it difficult to find rentals, but we are delighted when people come through our doors with something available for them,” said Hayes.
To contact the Aisling Center call 914-237-5121. To contact the Emerald Isle Immigration Center call 718-478-5502, for Michelle Ext. 204 in Queens, or John at Ext. 106 in the Bronx.