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The J1 was a rite of passage for me. We're not all party-animals

There’s fear that the J1 Visa programme could come to an abrupt end, but Catherine Devine says she spent her summer engaging in American culture, not partying and acting out of control.

Catherine Devine

HAVING SPENT THE summer in New York, I don’t see why J1 students have become an embarrassment to our country and a problem for the US.

We are labelled as party-animals who are chaotic and out of control, reckless teenagers who cause damage to buildings.

The US authorities are talking about introducing a new requirement where young people have to have a job lined up before they go over to America.

This would stop hundreds of J1 students from going as it is very difficult to get a job without talking face to face with managers. It took me two weeks, going door to door, before I secured a job. This new requirement is ridiculous and would effectively lead to the termination of the J1 programme.

I worked and paid my taxes

But Irish students are not problematic in America and shouldn’t be treated as if we are. We have all made it to college and have come to America to work. If we don’t find work within a certain time- frame we are sent home. I worked anything between 40-60 hours right up until my last week in America and paid taxes.

We are not a burden on American society, we work hard in order to support ourselves while abroad.

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One thing I learned from my time waitressing was that the Irish and Americans have a great relationship. Most of the Americans I met we’re enthralled in Ireland and asked if I knew their ancestors.

Strong relationship between the Irish and Americans

We have a relationship that stems from the Irish emigrating on the coffin ships and that relationship shouldn’t be tarnished because a handful of J1 students get out of control.

The J1 visa programme is an experience of a lifetime. I’ll never forget the three months I spent in New York. I wasn’t 21 and bars and nightclubs in New York are very strict, so I didn’t spend my time drinking and partying.

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Instead I engaged with America culturally and visited the Metropolitan, The World Trade Centre, and Broadway shows. I also visited the 9/11 museum, which was an eye-opening experience for me as I was only six when the tragedy happened.

‘We’re not all party-animals’

I spent my summer engaging in American culture, not partying and acting out of control.

The most exciting part about a J1 is the opportunity to travel. When I finished working I went to the Jersey Shore and Washington DC.

Two very different places that equally engaged me with American culture. On the Jersey Shore I saw the effects of Hurricane Sandy, eat fried Oreos and learned that factor 50 is not enough to protect my Irish skin.

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In Washington DC, I visited the theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot, visited all the presidential monuments and The White House.

I also stayed in The Willard Hotel which was just two blocks from The White House and where Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

I think it’s safe to say that all J1 students don’t deserve the reputation that they have been landed with.

That New York Times article 

The Berkeley tragedy brought a lot of attention to the J1 programme over the summer. The New York Times published a disgraceful article blaming the students for partying and linking it to the students in San Francisco who damaged buildings during their stay.

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We were branded as an ‘embarrassment to Ireland’. While it was later confirmed that the balcony that collapsed was not built correctly, J1 students were still seen as crazy and wild and only interested in partying.

This is not the case. We pay taxes, we engage in culture, we get to know the local area and learn more about America than we could ever do from just watching American sitcoms or learning about it in books.

We also learn how we as young adults survive in a completely foreign environment and grow up so much while we’re away.

America and New York in particular, is a welcoming place filled with multinationals. While I stood on the subway, I saw an array of coloured hands all holding onto the same pole.

I don’t think it’s right or fair that Irish students are being discriminated against when we become just as much a part of society as any other nationality in America.

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