The US Ambassador and the Irish government's Minister for the Diaspora met with Irish students planning their J-1 trip to the United States, to discuss the exchange program and remind them that in partaking in the trip they were acting as ambassadors for Ireland.
Their warnings came after the behavior of Irish students in San Francisco last summer made international headlines when a group left their landlady's home in an uninhabitable state after their summer stay. The extensive damage included smashed doors, windows, a banister, light fixtures and cabinets, and gaping holes in the walls.
The US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley and Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan joined the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and local partner USIT for an orientation session for outgoing J-1 visa-carrying students headed to the United States for the summer.
In the last 50 years over 150,000 Irish have participated in the J-1 program. The result is a group of influential members of Irish society who all have a strong connection to the United States.
As Ambassador O’Malley pointed out during the orientation, “What do Tánaiste Joan Burton, RTE’s Ray Darcy and Paddy Powers all have in common? Yes, they are all alumni of the J-1 Summer Work and Travel Program.”
Despite Ireland’s comparatively small size it continues to send more students to the United States each summer than any other country. In 2014 8,000 students took part in the visa program.
O’Malley said, “An exchange on this scale plays a large role in strengthening ties between the US and Ireland, and creating new transatlantic connections between US and Irish youth.
“The US Embassy looks forward to seeing all of you this spring for your visa interview. But more importantly, we want you to stay connected to your US experience when you return. We find alumni of the J-1 program working in American companies and organizations all over Ireland. The advantage you will have in making the best of this opportunity is real, as long as you treat this program for what it is – a unique educational and cultural exchange.”
The orientation meeting’s aim was to point out the importance of the J-1 program as an exchange, the role J-1ers play in shaping the image of Ireland in the United States and to highlight the opportunity for J-1 participants upon their to join a network of alumni. The Ambassador spoke about the Ireland-U.S. Alumni Association (IUSA), among the largest and most diverse alumni networks in the world, and asked the students to consider reconnecting with the US through associations such as this when they returned.
He added, “Your J-1 experience has the potential to pay dividends in your life and career for years to come. So have a great summer, be safe, have fun, and we look forward to connecting with you when you get back.”
In advance of the orientation Minister Deenihan said, “Those who go on the J-1 should see themselves as representatives of a great tradition of US-Irish friendship and should be Ambassadors for that relationship. They should also use the time spent in the US to gain an invaluable insight into the workplace and capitalize on this opportunity to enhance their employment potential when they finish college, especially with US companies.”
The event was held at the Debating Chamber at University College Dublin's Student Centre and was part of an effort to improve communications and build a better network for outgoing J-1 summer work and travel participants. The United States Embassy plans to work with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, local agencies, and US sponsors on a series of J-1 outreach and information events this year.