Irish Students Visiting Berkeley Look for Jobs to Support Stay

By Jill Cowan

At a house on College Avenue, Luke Donnellan, 20, speaks over the familiar din of cooking food and laughing housemates. The door of the small basement kitchen is open and a balmy evening breeze filters through the room.

The atmosphere is relaxed, despite the fact that Donnellan and most of his 13 housemates – all of whom are students from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland – have spent the past couple weeks pounding the pavement in search of summer jobs.

“We got here the 25th of May … so we’d be wandering around and slowly as the days go by you’ll see more little pods of Irish people going around,” he said. “You go, well, they’re looking for jobs, we’re looking for jobs, the Americans themselves are looking for jobs and God knows who else, and then you start going, OK, this is starting to get a bit daunting.”

Donnellan is one of the hundreds of Irish students who come to Berkeley every year to spend their summer, using J-1 exchange visitor visas. These visas allow students to live and work in the U.S. legally for up to four months and have become very popular among Irish students looking to spend time in California.

“It’s a big thing,” Donellan said. “It’s like a last hurrah before we all actually have real jobs in the real world.”

But Donnellan and his housemate Stephen Giles, 21, said they have had particular difficulty in finding jobs to support their stay this summer.

“We’re just applying anywhere that was accepting resumes or had applications we could fill out,” Giles said.

Miguel Sanchez, general manager of Smart Alec’s Intelligent Food restaurant on Telegraph Avenue, said J-1 visitors will have a tough time finding work in Berkeley. He said he is unlikely to hire right now because business usually drops in June between the end of the academic year and the beginning of most summer sessions.

“If I’m going to spend time training people, I probably won’t hire them temporarily,” he said. “I’ll be more likely to hire part-time students who will be around when it gets the busiest for the cashiers.”

However, others said Irish students generally have better luck across the bay. Nathan Quintana, the housing manager of Sigma Nu fraternity – where about half of the summer residents are Irish students – said a couple of the house’s J-1 visitors have gotten jobs at Pier 39.

“They seem to really like them over in San Francisco,” he said.

Likewise, Donnellan said that of his housemates who had already managed to get jobs, nearly all of them found work in San Francisco at stores in or near Union Square, where tourism makes temporary employees valuable to businesses that can use extra help during the summer months.

Donnellan and Giles said they had, to an extent, anticipated a sparse job market. Though they are still determined to enjoy their time in California, the two both acknowledged that their search for employment has been far from easy.

“It was more blind hope than anything (coming here),” Donnellan said. “It was just like … ‘we’ll go over, we’ll have a good time, there’ll be jobs.’ We didn’t think it would be barren as this, though.”

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