Making Connections in Ireland

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Ireland, hosted an inaugural event, “J1 Connect,” which brought together hundreds of J-1 Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) alumni to celebrate its impact on participants’ lives and role in advancing U.S.-Ireland relations.  The J-1 Visa provides opportunities for almost 275,000 international visitors each year to experience the United States, its society and culture, and engage with Americans.  Through any one of 13 different types of privately-funded J-1 visa exchange programs, participants may teach, study, conduct research, share their specialized skills, or receive on-the-job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years.  “J1 Connect” harnessed the significant role J-1 programs play in boosting mutual respect and trust, and promoting bilateral economic growth and cooperation between the two countries. 

Each year, the Irish J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) program sends more students to the United States than any other country in the world.  There have been over 150,000 Irish participants in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program in the last 50 years and J-1 program alumni are now represented across a full spectrum of sectors in Ireland, including in business, politics, academics, and culture. 

The daylong event in Dublin helped alumni explore how to build on their J-1 experience through workshops.  Exhibitors spoke about pursuing higher education, conducting business, and traveling in the United States.  Partners and representatives at the event included LinkedIn, Facebook, Delta Airlines, VisitUSA, the U.S. Consular Section, iUSA Alumni Network, and EducationUSA, among others. 

As one of the first Irish students ever to participate in the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Joan Burton described her exchange visitor experience in the United States as “transformative.”  Tánaiste Burton shared how she learned valuable life skills while working and interacting with local Americans in New York City and Atlantic City.  She even bought her first vehicle, a Honda 60 motorbike, with her earnings! 

“J1 Connect” also featured a panel of prominent exchange visitor alumni, which included a well-known radio personality and former Provost of Trinity College in Dublin.  I had the privilege of speaking on this impressive panel of J-1 alums, each of whom shared their story about how their careers got started with the J-1 experience.  Michelle Darmody, a former Summer Work Travel participant and local restaurateur, made a particular impression on me.  Michelle said that the lessons she learned about U.S. customer service and ethics during her J-1 SWT experience have been crucial to the success of her culinary businesses today.

I am grateful to our mission in Dublin, Ireland, for their efforts to strengthen the J-1 alumni network in Ireland.  There is no doubt in my mind that such work will pay huge dividends in advancing our public diplomacy goals, boosting bilateral ties, and fostering change-makers and leaders.  In fact, I echo Irish Minister of State for Trade Promotion Sean Sherlock T.D.’s belief that “many of the J-1 students of today will be leaders and promoters of Ireland-U.S. connections tomorrow.”

It is our vision for more U.S. embassies around the world to replicate and build on similar initiatives for their J-1 alumni.  We encourage U.S. missions, alumni, and other stakeholders  to partner with us by amplifying the impact J-1 programs have on them and their countries, host employers and local communities, and the U.S. economy, as featured in my blog, Route J-1.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (#J1visa and #RouteJ1) and help spread the word about the power of international people-to-people exchange.

About the Author: Robin Lerner serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Former J-1 Participants Register for Workshops at the “J1 Connect” Event
Deputy Assistant Secretary Lerner Speaks in a Panel With Prominent J-1 Alums at the “J1 Connect” Event
Chargé d'affaires Dwyer, Deputy Assistant Secretary Lerner, Tánaiste Burton, and a Delta Airlines Representative Pose for a Photo at the “J1 Connect” Event
Deputy Assistant Secretary Lerner Participates in a Panel With Prominent J-1 Alums at the “J1 Connect” Event
Posted by Robin Lerner
October 1, 2014

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