University town a summer magnet for J-1 students

Berkeley is a destination of choice for many Irish students

A woman leaves flowers at the scene of a balcony collapse at Library Gardens Apartments in downtown Berkeley. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A woman leaves flowers at the scene of a balcony collapse at Library Gardens Apartments in downtown Berkeley. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

 

From the minute I arrived in Berkeley as an exchange student from Trinity College Dublin in 2012 I could feel the Irish legacy in the city, with many students taking advantage of the cheaper rents and proximity to San Francisco for J-1 work visas.

There were lots of Irish students from TCD and UCD studying alongside me in the University of California campus, but the vast majority of the Irish population in Berkeley was made up of students travelling there during their college breaks.

When they heard I was Irish, most of the Americans I met in Berkeley talked of the strange phenomenon of Irish students flocking to the area during the summer months, effectively keeping the city from becoming dormant from June to September.

Many US students I met while studying there also commented on the lively nature of students from Ireland, saying they looked forward to the influx of Irish energy that came with their annual arrival.

A lot of the American students who live in the city’s buildings while studying at the university sublet their rooms to Irish people when they go home during the summer.

The house I lived in as a student was a large co-operative with 40 beds. A few Irish students would come and live there alongside Americans during the summer.

Fraternity houses

During my time in Berkeley there were reports of calls to the police department about parties in the area, particularly given the large number of university professors and their families often living beside student apartments.

While I was there too, many houses inhabited by students were closed for whole semesters to be seismically retrofitted; some older apartment blocks and fraternity houses no longer stood up to earthquake building regulations and had to be completely refitted to be deemed safe for students to live in them.