Wednesday 29 March 2017

Student's view: We work hard and party but news of tragedy so close to us was shocking

Two women embrace while watching sheriff's deputies move the body of a person who died when a fourth floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley,
Two women embrace while watching sheriff's deputies move the body of a person who died when a fourth floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley,
People gather at the scene of a balcony collapse in Berkeley

Most of the Irish who've come to Berkeley for the summer have just settled in over here.

I'm here since the start of June and live in a three-bedroom place with nine others.

What happened in the apartment has been a major shock to all of us.

We spent the morning checking with others to see if they're OK because we're only a five-minute walk from Kittredge Street.

We all woke up with missed calls in the middle of the night after the news broke, and we've been getting loads of texts and calls since, so we've got very little sleep with all the panic.

Life over here is similar for the majority of J1 students. Bar and restaurant work is the source of jobs for most of us.

I'm working in a Greek restaurant and rely on tips - I get paid $10 an hour, but usually get some decent tips to keep me going, usually between $50-$100 (€44-€88) a night.


In an ideal world, you'd want to save a bit of money, but to be honest most Irish here just want to enjoy themselves, go out to parties and then whatever they have left over, save up and do a bit of travelling for the last month.

We want to do about seven or eight weeks work, finish up around the start of August and then head to a couple of different places - maybe San Diego or Las Vegas, and then spend the last five nights in New York before we head home.

The J1 is just a chance to get away for the summer.

We had a big group of us that wanted to travel, and we heard that Berkeley in particular was full of Irish, which was a major pull factor.

You end up hanging out with your group of friends and then a load of other Irish that you only half know.

A lot of the nights out are very Irish-orientated, so there'd be Irish pub and club nights and then you've got house parties and frat parties which can be pretty unbelievable.


Some of the frat houses around here have swimming pools, and it's generally all harmless fun. Nothing really gets too out of hand because if it ever threatens to, the police are there to close it down - they're pretty strict.

There never seems to be any trouble at the parties, they're all really calm, which is a lot different to back home.

There's a great atmosphere so I'm sure that was the case on Kittredge Street.

The Americans aren't really big drinkers so most places close at around 2am and even the house parties finish up early enough.

Some of the Irish students here work in Berkeley and some work in the city of San Francisco itself, so it means it's a rare occasion when all nine of us are actually together to go and do something for the day.

There's three cinemas, loads of shops and everything you need around Berkeley.

It only takes about 40 minutes to get to San Francisco from here and there's loads to do there too.

The weather is good so we all try to get in as much sight-seeing as possible.

Last Sunday night, my friends and I were actually at a different 21st birthday party, not far from where the accident happened, but our night out finished up pretty early.

David Smith, from Athboy, Co Meath, is on a J1 working visa in Berkeley, California

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