Don’t miss out on the alumni connection with Irish people, and friends of Ireland, all over the USA and Canada.
Part two of this story continued from “Irish Alumni organizations in USA and Canada: bridging countries, industry, and generations.”
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.
Read part I: Irish alumni groups in USA and Canada – bridging countries, industries, and generations
Start Networking Now
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.
To start looking, you can check the website for the university you’re interested in – larger ones will have a webpage listing their overseas contacts and have the staff to assist. You can also do a general search on the web – or focus on LinkedIn, which is designed to help people build their business contacts.
If there isn’t an established group where the new arrival is headed, an individual or two can help make them feel at home. If you’re going somewhere with a smaller population of people from Ireland (say, up-state New York versus New York city), Alumni can also be found through LinkedIn’s professional database. Anyone whose public profile includes details of their education and current location can be found using those search filters – and you can send a private message to them using a LinkedIn message, asking to get in touch and for any suggestions.
Social media has reinvigorated overseas Alumni groups, by providing a way for an institution to publicize its Alumni office, for Alumni to find and connect with one another, and to connect back to the Alma Mater. Says Seph Murtagh, Communications Coordinator at Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton in Ithaca, upstate New York, “This is a small town, there are no Irish organizations here – although I may occasionally meet an Irish person when I’m visiting Cornell University nearby. I follow UCC on FaceBook and Twitter, and especially enjoy the videos from their music program, which was my main course of study.”
Irish alumni organizations can learn from America
Many Irish Alumni programs have developed recently compared to those across the Atlantic. Recalls Aidan F. Browne, Founding Board Member of the Smurfit Graduate School of Business and former Executive Director of UCD North America, “I moved from Ireland to Boston in 1986 and got involved in growing an Irish group, starting with my Irish professional contacts and fellow sports enthusiasts. The Paddy Net existed before the Internet! In 1993 I was approached by UCD President Dr. Paddy Masterson to advise on establishing a UCD Irish network in North America, and later we worked with Dr. Laurence Crowley, the Chairman of the Michael Smurfit Business School at UCD, to establish the North American Board of the Smurfit Graduate Business School. Browne investigated how American Alumni organizations operated. “Americans are very good at this,” he says, “and they get the return on their investment.” The broader Boston network grew from about 300 people to over 4,000. They started to hold joint activities with American Universities and then with other Irish Alumni groups that were forming in the Boston area.
Murtagh was an Exchange Student at University College Cork (UCC) during the late 1990s–early 2000s. Those were the Celtic Tiger years with Ireland rapidly getting online, but, “I haven’t really heard from the UCC Alumni organization, although I get fundraising letters sometimes,” he said. “Possibly there is some catching up to do with bigger US institutions such as Cornell University (over 23,000 students in 2018) with the large scale of its Alumni Departments.” Cornell’s annual Homecoming is a major event spanning three days.
All aspects of Ireland are modernizing, but even with that, Alumni offices are challenged to connect with former students who emigrated out of Ireland in pre-internet days with no forwarding address. Locally-setup Alumni groups provide a gravitational pull for these. The group in your target area may be informally run by a few volunteers, who organize occasional gatherings to catch up, or whenever their home university asks for help with a reception for a visiting academic.
Use your benefits
Whether you’re traveling overseas or not, don’t forget to go online to your university’s website and fill out your contact information form. This will keep you connected with news, events and people. It’s well worth doing for member benefits too. These can include shopping discounts, use of on-campus facilities when visiting, reciprocal arrangements with clubs and Universities around the world, and Mentoring frameworks that can be in-person, or all online and therefore with easy international reach.
It helps that the current trend is away from thinking of Alumni primarily as a source of donations – which could discourage some people from connecting. The role of Alumni Relations is increasingly being separated from fundraising, especially with new privacy and business rules in the European Union. There are many other ways that former students can help their home institution, too – by acting as unofficial ambassadors, by gathering people together to meet a visiting Academic, and even by liking and sharing social media posts. There may be a Mentoring program to sign up for, where an experienced graduate can help a student, in-person or by video-call. Some Corporations will match their employees’ volunteer time with cash donations, so volunteer effort can go towards financial donations too, in a nice win for all parties.
Build it yourself
FaceBook is an easy forum for setting up an online or in-person event and – if you wish – to pay a modest fee to publicize it, with audience-targeting using parameters such as age, location, and interests. The paradigm has shifted from the traditional Alumni office in the home institution sending out an annual paper newsletter to any street addresses it has for Alumni, to that office posting online messages on a variety of topics (awards and sports competitions being popular), and actively encouraging former students to set up their own local chapter – the message being, “Please get in touch and we will help you to set things up.” Says Ciarán Hynes, “The central UCD Alumni office does tremendous background support, including speaker suggestions by vertical or by city, with telling us about people coming over, and sending email blasts.” Chris Ahearn adds, “TCD Alumni helps local branches with mailing lists, communications, publicity, event registration and letting people know about visiting academics. We deeply appreciate the work people do as branch contacts.”
Adds Robert O’Driscoll, Consul General of Ireland, Western United States, “In the eighteen months since arriving in San Francisco I have been struck by the active engagement by Irish Alumni organizations here. The Consulate team actively supports Alumni groups – frequently hosting them in the Consulate’s office in San Francisco – reflecting the high regard in which we hold the Alumni organizations and the work they do.”
By helping to build your local Alumni branch, you will not only enjoy connecting with people yourself, but USA and Canada have great regard for Volunteerism – you’ll reap professional as well as social benefits from adding this volunteer work to your Résumé (C.V.) and your online, searchable profile!
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