The flavor of Isla Vista is a bit different this time of year. It tastes distinctly less like Jack Daniel’s and Sierra Nevada, and a little more like Bailey’s and Guinness.
Yes, the Irish are here again. I.V. wears a different hat in the summer, and this year it’s especially green. When Santa Barbara City College and UCSB students head home for the summer, their empty apartments are filled by summer subleasers. This summer, it seems more Irish visitors than ever are calling I.V. home.
By and large, the perception of many more long-term I.V. residents of their Irish guests seems less than positive. When I asked my friends about their opinion, they told tales that associated these temporary I.V. residents with everything from bad behavior to full-fledged crime. One friend blamed missing iPods on the random Irish people who showed up to a house party. Another friend claimed he knew someone who was raped by an Irish person last summer, and yet another friend scoffs every time her Irish neighbors walk by. So when I sat down with my own Irish neighbors – six girls in all – for an interview, you can understand my shock when they gushed about how warm all the American students had been to them.
“Californians are so friendly,” said Gill. “If we go back [to Ireland] and be this friendly, people will think we’re being fake.” Her friends let out big, hearty laughs and agreed. When I asked them what they were doing here, they explained that nearly all Irish college students do it. They’re enrolled in a J1 program, which allows college students to get temporary Social Security numbers and Exchange Visitor visas to live and work in the United States four months. They can pick from destinations all over the U.S., but California has by far the most choices. The J1 program allows these Irish students to immerse themselves in American culture. The girls laughed when they sarcastically said they came here to “experience diversity.” They admit freely that they’re here on essentially a three-month vacation. They’ve lived with their parents in Dublin forever – even while they’ve been at college – and were anxious to get away.
“Freedom is our reason for being here,” said Jane. “And the sun.” Because most of them were jobless when they first arrived, they had nothing to do but party and work on their tans. (They were sorely disappointed when I told them they weren’t the dark-skinned beauties they thought they were.) “This is the first time we’ve been sober all day since we’ve been here,” Gill said proudly. “You have to put that in there.” An hour later, a friend came by with a joint, and they became decidedly less sober.
Their “no responsibilities” lifestyle irked me when they moved into the apartment across from me on June 2, a week before finals. An Irish party doesn’t exactly make for soothing background music when I’m trying to write about Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
I.V. landlords don’t always call the Irish their favorite people, either. In 2005, a group of Irish students completely destroyed an apartment and left behind thousands of dollars worth of damage costs. (The Independent wrote a story on the matter too, and raised a few eyebrows with readers who accused the article of endorsing some antiquated stereotypes that plagued Irish-Americans generations ago.) Meridian Group – formerly known as BDC management – said in 2005 they would no longer rent to Irish students. A friend who currently rents from Meridian said he was specifically told not to sublet to Irish students in the summer. The police have also been cracking down on the Irish visitors. I.V. Foot Patrol Lieutenant Brian Olmstead said that, since June 1, 40 Irish visitors have been either arrested or issued citations for mostly alcohol-related offenses. Olmstead said that this number accounts for over half of the arrests for the last month.
So some of the Irish have wreaked some havoc here, to say the least. A few have left apartments in total shambles; a few of the girls have surely been promiscuous; a few of the guys have been more than grabby. Nobody is denying that a lot these Irish students love a crazy party. But is it really fair for me to hate on all of them because of a few awful seeds? Would it really be fair to say that all Isla Vistans love to host triple-keggers and ruin apartments just because some people on Del Playa Drive do so?
When I sat down and talked to the Irish girls, I couldn’t help but see similarities between the way they acted and the way UCSB freshmen act. For many I.V. students, college is the first time they have lived on their own. This newfound freedom can be quite a dangerous thing, as freshmen are tempted to test the limits to see just what they can do. I couldn’t count how many times my dormmates and I drunkenly stumbled from DP to our dorms across campus. These newbies – Irish in the summer, freshmen in the fall – just don’t quite know how things work, so they get in trouble. “You see this type of increase [in arrests and citations] in the fall, too,” Olmstead said. It seems as if the Irish students now living in I.V. are just a slightly older, foreign version of our freshman selves.
Becoming more responsible and respectful is just a matter of learning what flies here and what doesn’t. The Irish aren’t necessarily bad people who come to I.V. to ruin everything. They’re kids experiencing a parent-free existence for the first time, and trying to figure out just how to handle it. Being thrust into a brand new environment – the I.V. environment, no less – makes for an incredibly thrilling and overwhelming time. The Irish want to take full advantage – just like we UCSB students did freshman year. The Irish girls I interviewed told me they were getting tired of partying all the time – just like my friends and I got tired of making the trek to DP every weekend by January.
This isn’t to say that the Irish kids will calm down anytime soon – this is still a vacation for them. I just think that they’re not the pure evil so many I.V. locals have claimed they are. We should treat them like any other visitors: with wide, open arms. This openness part of the beauty of I.V. We’ll let them know what’s cool and what’s not. In return, I hope that they’ll respect us and our town, not ruin our already-falling-apart homes, and pass that knowledge on to future J1 students.
Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt their case if they brought over a few cases of Guinness, either.