There are a lot of things to consider when you decide to go on a J1. For those of you who don’t know, a J1 visa is granted to Irish students who wish to work abroad in America for 3 months of the Summer. It’s a really great experience and something that I would recommend to anyone, but there are definitely a lot of things you have to think about before moving over and while you’re there. Here are a few tips that I have from my experience on a J1!
- Choosing where you go
This is one of the hardest decisions about the J1. Nine times out of ten it will be rare that you and your friends will all want to go to exactly the same place, so there are a few different things you must consider when going. Although the east coast is a very attractive place to go (I went to Newport/Huntington Beach in 2013!) you have to take into account the fact that jobs the whole way along that coast from San Diego to San Francisco is tough to get as well as accommodation. We got very lucky when we went over, but we still ended up with ten of us in a one bedroom apartment with zero furniture.. so you have to be willing to compromise if that’s where your heart is set on!
(Pic Above: Ten of us in our one bedroom, no furniture apartment!)
Although the tipping culture is great in America, you aren’t guaranteed to get a job in a restaurant as a server and the minimum wage is usually crap compared to Ireland! Make sure that you have plenty of money saved before you go over because once you pay for your deposit and rent there won’t be much left and contrary to what you may think it is actually quite expensive out there! I remember when I went over I thought that the supermarkets were quite expensive to the likes of Tesco, and when I went to New York in 2015 it was even worse so save an extra few pence because you will definitely need it.. we lived off popcorn chicken from the 99c store for the first while, and although it actually tasted pretty good it was definitely, definitely not chicken…😂
The chances are that if you don’t wear it over here (when its sunny at least..) then you’re not going to wear it over there! I brought so much stuff with me that I thought ‘oh, that will be nice!’ but reality is it will get pushed to the back as always. As they say, Lay out all the clothes and money you want to bring – then bring half the clothes and double the money! I also made the mistake of bringing no shampoo/conditioner/toiletries whatsoever because I thought they would cost pennys over there… I was wrong! Save yourself that few extra euro and rob some from home to take with you! Things like dry shampoo also seemed quite hard to get our hands on so make sure to bring a bottle or two with you because it will be your saviour! If you have space for things like towels then bring them along because it will save you a bit of money as well. Empty pillow cases are great when stuffed with clothes/underwear to double up as a pillow also!
- Spend Smart
Although it’s easy to buy food when you’re out and about, try get meals where you work if it’s a restaurant/diner/café. These places will usually give free or discounted meals to their employees which would be a huge help. Drink is cheaper over there in supermarkets but roughly the same price in most bars – so drink before you go out and save your money for something better like travelling.
- Take advantage of where you are
It’s not every day that you’re going to be a stone’s throw away from some of the most monumental places in the world. Connecting flights will only be €100-200 euro usually so if that means you are in New York and get the chance to fly to Vegas then take the chance while you can because it will cost a lot more to fly over there from home! If you’re on the east coast, rent a car and drive to places like the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and other big cities like San Fran, LA, San Diego (depending where you are, obviously!). If you’re in New York you are close to Washington D.C and only a few hours of a drive away from Niagara Falls in Canada. Once you know where you are going, write a list of the places you would like to see and try plan them while you’re there to make your trip just that little bit more exciting!
(Pic Above: Las Vegas Strip)
- Getting a job
Although I think the rules have changed slightly now so that you have to have a job sorted before you go, keep your wits about you and apply to places that you think might actually hire. I was lucky enough to get a job in Rubys Diner in Balboa Pier before I went who ended up taking on four of my friends as well. I e-mailed a few places, and even rang a few as well to try speak to the right person. If you try hard enough, chances are you will get something sorted! In places like Montauk they hold skype interviews a few months before you go over so apply, apply, apply. If you get a job as well, have the decency to turn up! This person has gone out of their way to help you and hire you instead of an American, so make sure to repay them and actually show up for work. The J1 is one big holiday, but I think it’s really important to respect your employer regardless.
(Pic Above: Rubys Diner)
- Make friends
There is something about Irish people attracting other Irish people, no matter where you go in the world you will bump in to someone only a few short miles from your home town! You’ll more than likely make some great Irish friends while you are over there, but try making friends with the locals as well. They know the best places to go and usually think the Irish are an absolute riot so they will be always willing to go out doing things with you! You have plenty time surrounded by people from your home country to make friends with them so try make friends with the people around you who could help you experience their culture and new, fun things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. And who knows, they could help you down the line if you ever come back to visit! Another important thing to note is that you should go with people who you are really good friends with, you will be spending a horrendous amount of time in their company so to put it politely, you would really want to be able to put up with his or her shit!
(Pic Above: Hapi Point at Grand Canyon)
- Make the most of it!
There’s no denying that there will be times that you will be sitting on a beach in San Diego or Chicago, or taking a stroll in Central Park and even though you are somewhere amazing you will miss home. You’re hungover and sick and all you want is to be back in your home bed and not a burst air mattress. 99% of the time you won’t have a care in the world while you are abroad, and that feeling of escaping reality is one of the best parts – so don’t let the days when you miss home get you down because before you know it, it will be time to go back home and you will be cursing the day you have to leave your crammed apartment and your friends to go back to mammy and daddy!
(Pic above: Ruby’s Diner on Balboa Pier)
If you have any other thoughts, please share in the comments below!