Isla Vista residents can expect to start hearing some unusual accents around town, as more than a hundred Irish citizens will be spending the summer in the area through work visa programs.
Melissa Ames Hall, program director for Camp Counselors USA (CCUSA), an organization which helps international students find summer jobs in the U.S., said numerous Irish students are spending their summers working in Santa Barbara and I.V. Over 1,000 people from Ireland are staying in the United States through the CCUSA program this summer, Hall said. She said Santa Barbara and I.V. in particular have become popular destinations for international students staying in California.
Although Hall said she could not divulge the exact number of Irish CCUSA participants that will be staying in the region, she said she thinks that “a couple hundred” of them will be living in the Santa Barbara area over the summer.
CCUSA is a sponsor of the J-1 visa, which is a work and travel visa available to university students from outside the United States. Hall said all of CCUSA’s students must work while they are in the United States, and many choose to work in service jobs in college towns like I.V. and San Diego.
“A lot of the Irish kids do choose Santa Barbara or San Diego because they’re college towns where there is work for the summer,” Hall said. “They are only in the U.S. for up to four months and they are legally working. We do have quite a few that go [to I.V.], and they do that out of their own free will and their own choice.”
Laura Rafferty from Tyrone, Ireland said she is here on a work visa through CCUSA and is working at Mac’s Market. She said she heard about Santa Barbara from students at home and decided to spend the summer working and enjoying the beaches in I.V.
“I heard about I.V. through word of mouth, really,” Rafferty said. “I’ve been trying to go to the beach on my days off.”
Like Rafferty, Hall said, many of the Irish students pick I.V. after hearing about it from others who have made similar trips.
“What happened is like five years ago, something like four Irish kids went to Santa Barbara,” Hall said. “They had a great time and they told people, and all of a sudden everyone wants to go.”
Irish citizens are among the few groups that can obtain American visas without proving they have a job waiting in the United States, Hall said, making U.S. travel an appealing and feasible option for many Irish students.
Fontainebleu Residence Hall Director Jeremiah Harvey said many of the Irish visitors are staying in his building, and he said he has seen a notable increase in their numbers this summer.
“I don’t know how many there are in total, but in [this] building I’d say about 20,” Harvey said. “We’ve never had that many Irish students before.”
Nineteen-year-old Sheeva Murray from Galway, Ireland, came to I.V. via the Council of International Educational Exchange, an organization similar to CCUSA. Murray said the experience has been positive thus far, although she said she has encountered some negative stereotypes.
“The fighting and drinking Irish stereotype is usually what people think of us,” Murray said.
Twenty-one-year-old Mike Kennedy from Belfast said the biggest difference between Ireland and the United States is the food.
“There are ridiculous amounts of fast food places here,” Kennedy said. “The portions are massive. They could kill a horse. Not us. We are underfed.”
Rafferty said she is particularly excited about the abundance of Mexican food in I.V.
“You get a lot of Mexican food here,” Rafferty said. “At home you never get Mexican food.”
— Staff writer Mollie Vandor and reporter Emily Ghan contributed to this story.