Beer me! Irish J1 students party hard in Ocean City, 2008

Tales from the dark side: Life on a J1 visa


Beer me! Irish J1 students party hard in Ocean City, 2008

It’s an annual rite of passage for thousands of Irish college students each summer: the J1 Visa, which allows them to work in the U.S for three months.

And every summer, thousands of Irish students can be seen traipsing the streets of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and New York, living 15 to a two-bed apartment.

You’ll know them by their sunburn - and by the bottles of beer in tow.

J1 summers can be a truly amazing time: filled with adventure and new experiences. When students return in September, they regale their friends with their crazy stories, a lot of which involve too much tequila and a strip club in Tijuana.

But sometimes, however, as this IrishCentral list shows, things go horribly, horribly wrong…..


A documentary series on Irish television last year, called “J1 Summer”, charted the exploits of students from Dublin, Galway and Dundalk, in San Diego, Chicago and Hawaii.

The results were shocking: some students were show stealing from their employer; others were shown having screaming matches with one another; another was filmed jumping off a balcony.

Boozing was one of the main activities the students get up: when one student arrived in San Diego, the rest of his pals organized a drinking game to welcome him, which involved fortified wine. Things soon got out of hand, with one student breaking his ankle.

Another episode features a group of underage students who discover a special bus trip to a club across the border to Mexico, complete with a stripper-pole.

They get dropped off on the other side of the Mexican border and head to a aclub where they can drink as much as they want for $12 per head. One of them goes missing – so the rest of his friends set off back to the U.S. without him.  

Total Destruction

Throwing TVs from rooftops; smashing photographs; a urine stained carpet; and a missing front door – this is just a brief list of destruction a group of Dublin students visited upon three Santa Barbara apartments in 2005.

The students – who went to college at the Dublin Institute of Technology, and had addresses in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods of Dublin – gained notoriety in Ireland when the story hit the headlines.

It was thought that they caused around $15,000 worth of damage.

They were also accused of writing obscene graffiti on the walls, and attacking a nearby fraternity house

Property manager Kathy Maher told the Irish Times that she had rented apartments to Irish students for years without any serious problems – but “There was never anything like this."

"The destruction is in every part of the room, from damaged heater covers, to overflowing toilets to marker scribbles all over the walls and the appliances,” she said.

“It wasn't just that there was graffiti on the walls, it was the really lewd words and pictures."


Just as there are always a bunch of J1 Irish college students who go over the top, booze too hard and end up doing themselves some serious danger, so too are there always some unfortunate J1’ers who end up falling victim to a scam.

Sometimes, this is through no fault of their own – and sometimes, this is just down to plain old naiveté.

Last year, a travel operator called Sayit said that it was aware of a number of students who didn’t get their deposits returned, which for student accommodation would normally be around $1000.

One scam involves evicting students with a few days to go on their lease, with no good reason, and then holding on to their deposit.

"In situations like this, which usually occur in coastal summer towns, we normally alert the local chamber of commerce who take a very dim view of students being taken advantage of," Sayit manager Trevor Ryan told the paper.

"If I was to give a piece of advice it would be to ensure that the property is thoroughly inspected prior to occupancy and any pre-existing damage or defects are noted in the lease prior to being signed by both the tenant and landlord."

One Cork student reported being evicted with one week to go on his lease. "It really is such a disgrace. Before we were evicted a group of Dublin girls were also evicted and then our neighbors got evicted the night of them leaving.

"Our house was always that messy so why evict us on the last week," he said.

Attempted Murder

If there is one thing that can ruin a perfectly good J1 summer , which should otherwise be taken up with boozing, it’s getting shot. 

Nothing destroys the holiday atmosphere like a long spell in a U.S. hospital after an unfortunate incident with a heavily-caliber handgun. 

Which is what happen to Tracy Keane, who in 1993 was a 21-year-old science student at Trinity College Dublin. 

While on a J1 in San Francisco in August, Tracy was out having pizza one night with friends in the famous Fisherman’s Wharf area of the city. Shortly after 11.30 p.m., she was mugged by a 16-year-old who was a weekend release from a detention center. 


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