Irish Alumni in USA & Canada: golden connections for expats old and new
By Aly Gardner-Shelby
First published on IrishCentral.com: Irish Alumni in USA & Canada: golden connections for expats old and new
Part 2 of 3 continued from at Irish Alumni in USA & Canada: golden connections for expats old and new
The Seattle area has a thriving Irish community, spearheaded by dynamic Honorary Consul John Keane, who oversees the Irish Heritage Cluband Seattle’s Irish Week. People looking for business as well as social connections are served by the Irish Network Seattle. However, the Alumni dimension is not highly developed yet. Doing a web search on “Irish Alumni Seattle,” and looking past the results for Notre Dame (Irish-oriented, but located in Indiana), you’ll find top hits for TCD Alumni, Seattle and Pacific Northwestand University College Dublin Alumni – Seattle. Seattle-area Stripe employee Brian Delahunty shook his head, “Waterford Institute of Technology doesn’t have an Alumni network out here. I do believe it would be beneficial and I’d love to have one.” Microsoft employee Anne Magner has a similar story, “Unfortunately, there is no University College Cork Alumni organization here. If there was, I would 110% be part of it!”
Meanwhile, Áine Richards, a Board member of Irish Network Seattle and on the committee forUniversity College Dublin Alumni – Seattle, gives a cross-group perspective: “What I love most about the Irish University Alumni in Seattle is the sense of solidarity; that we are all part of a larger community. Many universities from Trinity and UCD to UL to Queens are represented in the Puget Sound area, but often don’t have a formal chapter of their alumni association to turn to. The larger university groups will host events and invite alumni from any Irish university. It goes a long way to making folks feel that they are not alone, and has even encouraged some, like myself, to set up chapters of their own university alumni clubs.”
Whether you’re a summer Visa-holder, planning a long-term or permanent move, or just a fan of all things Irish – don’t miss out on the Alumni connection with Irish people, and friends of Ireland, all over the USA and Canada.
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Visa-holders who arrive in their new location without serious pre-planning may find life more expensive than they had expected, and if you’re on a work visa in a popular Irish destination such as Boston or New York, you won’t be the only one pounding the streets and noticing businesses with Irish names on the front. Visa rules can be complicated, says Jessica Houghton, a graduate from Queens University, Belfast, and
President of Irish Network Atlanta, “We frequently get inquiries regarding the process for coming to Atlanta for work and in which order prospects should go about it (apply for a job and then get a visa or apply for a visa and then find a job). Of course we aren’t qualified ourselves to provide Visa or Immigration-specific information, but as a network we have contacts at the Irish Consulate, and Immigration attorneys, to whom we direct people.”
“Visa situations vary for people, so providing early information about how that works is very useful,” says Chris Ahearn, TCD Alumni Development Officer for North America, “The US has strict rules – one person’s application in the Green Card/Diversity Lottery was denied because they had used the wrong envelope size. Also, people must provide the original copy of their birth certificate, which may be a challenge.”
Hannah Clark of the Vancouver TCD Alumni group has a similar experience, “We are helping to connect new talent with potential employers, and we help the new people to get connected – preferably before they arrive.” Adds Ciarán Hynes, Board member of UCD’s Michael Smurfit School of Business, and an organizer with UCD Alumni’s branch in Boston, “Some people arrive without pre-planning and have to scramble – but the Alumni office in UCD and the Michael Smurfit School of Business have ramped-up activities globally in recent years. They’re getting the message out at home – if you’re going, make sure and connect, especially before you go.”
The availability of new online resources, and improved programs that help students with their transition to a post-study world, are helping reduce instances of a familiar story: the friend-of-a-friend from Ireland who has been through the revolving door of calls, meetings and emails, and can’t seem to get an offer. Jessica Houghton: “It’s my experience that people do a lot of their due diligence before they buy their plane tickets! We are often in contact months in advance of their arrival.”
Michaela O’Shaughnessy, Social Media Manager at Teen Vogue in New York, adds, “It’s important to try your best to network as much as possible before you move over and try to set up as many meetings when you first get here as possible, but also know that finding the right job for you may take several weeks! When I first moved here, I started waitressing straight away so I had a steady income while I was job hunting, that financial freedom meant that I didn’t have to settle for the first offer I got and could afford to wait to find something that was worth moving for. Good things take time but the opportunities available in New York make it all worth it!”
Andrew Pike, retired Archdeacon of Vancouver B.C. who has lived in the city for 25 years, describes the challenges for a newcomer, “This city can be a difficult place to break into socially, so Alumni associations are a great help. In the past when someone first arrived in a community one could usually get a toe in the door through the church, hobby group, or sports group, but somehow all of these seem to have dropped out of general favor and many people feel alone nowadays.” Ahearn adds, “An Alumni group provides an instant community. My fiancée is from Sligo, and she met some of her best friends here, in the USA.”
Even people who are moving from one place to another within the country will benefit from contacting Alumni ahead of time – and it’s worth remembering that Alumni include people who studied at a university for any length of time, not just people who graduated there. Summer school attendees or College exchange students also count, and Alumni gatherings often include non-Alumni who have a general interest in the island of Ireland.