Belfast Telegraph

Berkeley: Heartbreaking end to trip of such promise

By Sara Neill

It was the trip abroad that should have been one of the most positive experiences of their lives; instead the families of six Irish students are faced with heartbreak.

Eoghan Culligan, Nick Shuster, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Lorcan Miller, and Ashley Donohoe are just six of the 170,000 people working, studying or teaching each month in the United States on the J1 visa programme.

J1 users are exchange visitors allowed into America for anything between three months and one year, to experience more about the country and its people.

For many travellers, it is a chance to learn more about themselves.

At 22, I made the trip to LA to be an au pair for a year.

I remember being overwhelmed by anticipation and excitement when my sister and I reached Belfast City Airport for the start of my solo trip.

Twelve months later, I ran into my parents' arms when my work was finished and it was time to leave the friends and relationships I had made.

It was a year in which I navigated the bus routes around Sunset Boulevard, learned to understand the inflections of the German, Austrian and Swedish that the other au pairs spoke, and adjusted my own vocabulary, swapped 'bin' for 'trash can', and realised Americans have no idea what a lorry is.

Most of all it was the year that I realised how amazing it felt to be independent. Catching flights alone and exploring new cities solo gave me a thrill.

My year away also had a very calming influence, and I changed from someone who could worry about having nothing to worry about, to a person who realised life would happen regardless and there were things I could not change.

The tragedy resonated with Nichola Daly, who lived in Arizona for a year on the Marriott management development programme.

"It was one of the best years of my life," she said.

"I would've stayed, only the visa ran out."

As she found out about the accident in California, Nichola remembered her own experience in the States.

She said: "It really upset me, because we had a balcony and at the weekend everyone congregated there. Just the thought of that happening...

"It brought back memories and I know how excited those guys have been and for that to happen, it's absolutely devastating."

Belfast Telegraph


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