The US government official, who oversees the J-1 student visa program, has called on Irish students to curtail their drinking and mob mentality while living abroad. His comments follow the massive vandalism caused by a group of J-1 students who rented house in San Francisco.
Robin Lerner the US Department of State called the vandalism caused to Ritu Vohra’s Sunset District home, reported on CBS news, “a pretty egregious case of vandalism”.
She said “We do see too much drinking, and too much public drinking.”
Lerner continued “I think this gives us a great opportunity to talk about this sort of thing as a society. Just don’t do it. And maybe don’t run around in such big packs together.
“I think young people sometimes don’t have their heads on their shoulders and it’s always a problem. American students do these kinds of things as well when they are overseas. Sometimes they forget to be responsible.”
Consul-general in San Francisco Philip Grant said “reputational damage” had been done to Irish students in the city.
However Lerner, who was speaking at the RDS, in Dublin, at an event aimed at building network of current J1 travelers and alumni, responded saying it was the actions of a minority of students that is causing this reputation.
She said “The vast majority who come are fantastic and they have such a variety of experiences.”
“Americans love Irish people. They are so nice and so friendly. But for example in Ocean City, when they are going out and they are getting drunk and they are getting arrested, it’s a problem for us. Drunk and disorderliness makes the mayor very unhappy, and then it makes him not like the programme.”
Lerner told the conference that community groups in the United States have been established to help mitigate such incidences going forward and added that because of these groups there have been fewer complaints to from city mayors.
She said these groups “They stave off housing problems, make sure they know where everybody is, and keep the partying at bay.
“The police know where [the students] are now as well so they’re involved from the beginning. They talk to the students and tell them ‘don’t do this or we’ll throw you in the slammer’ kind of thing, so they’re really trying to get ahead of it.
“Most of the mayors love having them. But some are trying to turn their seaside towns in family resorts so rowdy behavior can cause a problem. But I don’t think there’s too much of that. People going to those towns are rowdy too you know.”
Speaking at the same conference Minster of State for Trade Promotion at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sean Sherlock, also called on J-1 students to “build networks of goodwill.”
He urged the students to use their time in the United States to build “networks, connections and potential opportunities” and added that those students who vandalized Vohru’s home in San Francisco “do not represent the overwhelming majority who participate in the summer J1 program from Ireland”.
He said “I pay tribute our Consulate in San Francisco, to the local Irish community in San Francisco, including local Irish immigration centers, and to other Irish J1 students who have sought to make amends for what has taken place. We are engaging with student organizations to try to minimize the prospect of such occurrences in the future.”