‘Very few of us have been left un­touched’

Of­fi­cial says Ire­land mourns 5 vic­tims who were part of a pop­u­lar work pro­gram here.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Sarah Parvini and Veron­ica Rocha sarah.parvini@latimes.com Twit­ter: @sarah­parvini veron­ica.rocha @latimes.com Twit­ter: @veroni­carochaLA Times staff writer Javier Pan­zar in Berke­ley con­trib­uted to this re­port.

For hun­dreds of col­lege stu­dents in Ire­land, flock­ing to Cal­i­for­nia for the sum­mer has be­come a rite of pas­sage.

They ar­rive in Berke­ley each year not to fill UC lec­ture halls, but to work on tem­po­rary J-1 visas, the fed­eral Work Travel Pro­gram that al­lows stu­dents to live and work in the U.S. for up to four months.

On Tues­day, of­fi­cials said five of the six stu­dents who died in a bal­cony col­lapse just af­ter mid­night near UC Berke­ley were Ir­ish stu­dents here on J-1 visas: Oliva Burke, Eoghan Cul­li­gan, Nic­co­lai Schuster, Lor­can Miller and Eimear Walsh, all 21 years old. The sixth vic­tim was Ash­ley Dono­hoe, 22, of Rohn­ert Park in Sonoma County, north of San Fran­cisco.

The stu­dents were mostly from South Dublin. They would have landed sum­mer jobs at such places as Fish­er­man’s Wharf in San Fran­cisco, hop­ing to get a feel of what it’s like to live in the U.S. and to learn the value of work, said Philip Grant, con­sul gen­eral of Ire­land to the Western U.S.

“There isn’t a fam­ily in Ire­land whose chil­dren haven’t come over on that pro­gram,” Grant told re­porters. “Very few of us have been left un­touched by this tragedy.”

About 8,000 Ir­ish stu­dents ap­plied for the J-1 visa in 2014, of­fi­cials said. To qual­ify, stu­dents have to be en­rolled in, and ac­tively pur­su­ing, a de­gree or a full-time course of study at an ac­cred­ited aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion. Se­niors can ap­ply to the pro­gram as well but must do so be­fore grad­u­a­tion. Of­fi­cials said as many as 35% of Ire­land’s J-1 stu­dents come to Cal­i­for­nia.

“A lot of that is be­cause a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of im­mi­grants who re­lo­cated from Ire­land have been com­ing to the Bay Area for many years,” said Ivan Har­row, pres­i­dent of Ir­ish Net­work Bay Area. “When these stu­dents come, it’s com­fort­ing to have some­one lo­cal.”

The Bay Area has be­come a de­sir­able lo­ca­tion be­cause of its young pop­u­la­tion, ties to the Ir­ish com­mu­nity and good weather, he said.

Come June, the Ir­ish brogue per­me­ates cafes, bars and apart­ments around Berke­ley.

“They come to work, to study, to party,” for­mer Berke­ley City Coun­cil­man Gor­don Woz­niak said. “They cer­tainly add an in­ter­na­tional fla­vor.”

Many Ir­ish stu­dents come to Cal­i­for­nia be­cause “Ire­land is kind of fas­ci­nated by the States,” said Sinéad Lof­tus, a 21-year-old stu­dent at Trin­ity Col­lege in Dublin who is in Berke­ley on a J-1 visa.

“A J-1 is so pop­u­lar be­cause you’re there for longer and get to ex­pe­ri­ence the cul­ture,” she said. “Ir­ish tend to go where other Ir­ish have had good ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Lof­tus, who came to Cal­i­for­nia about three weeks ago, is wait­ing for the fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion that she can work at Zara, a cloth­ing re­tailer.

“The likes of us work at Old Navy, Chipo­tle, Clarks, Macy’s,” she said.

Lof­tus’ room­mate is also an Ir­ish stu­dent on a visa. The pair woke up to mes­sages and phone calls ask­ing if they were OK.

“We’re still in shock, try­ing to sift through mes­sages from fam­ily and friends,” Lof­tus said. “It’s like a night- mare. It could have been us.”

Tues­day morn­ing, out­side the apart­ment com­plex where the ac­ci­dent hap­pened, a hand­ful of Ir­ish stu­dents hud­dled to­gether to mourn the loss of their friends.

A bunch of irises and a box of tis­sues with a card read­ing, “Dear Ir­ish stu­dents ... we are so sorry to hear of your loss,” was left out­side the com­plex. It was signed, “A Berke­ley Ir­ish-Amer­i­can mom.”

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