A Long Way From Home – Top Tips For A Great J1 Experience

Christmas is long forgotten and 2018 is underway, which means it is time to start planning summer adventures. Firstly, if you are considering participating in the J1 programme do not hesitate and go for it. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity which can only be experienced during our college years. What I am trying to say is, grab the opportunity while you can.

I commenced my organisation in November 2016, as soon as USIT (the J1 company) opened their applications for 2017. I was anxious to start planning my adventure to the US of A. Where should I go? Florida? California? New York? Ohio? The list was endless, I had no clue, however, I was open to all suggestions. USIT have two options when applying for a J1 to the States – a basic or premium package. I opted for the latter, as this allows you to access hundreds of jobs in the US which have already been approved and without the hassle of finding your own. Finding your own job can be time-consuming and there’s a lot more paperwork involved. I also bought this package because I had no idea where I wanted to travel to and every State I could imagine was available to me. I considered many job options – a hotel in Washington, a theme park in Ohio or a restaurant in New York, but nothing was taking my fancy. Little did I know, my J1 would take me to the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

This is not your typical J1 destination, and to be honest I hadn’t even heard of the island before, but this is what enthralled me. Nantucket is located 30 miles from the coast of Cape Cod and truly in a world of its own. I googled the island before applying to the job listed and I fell in love with images of the cobbled main street, boats docked at the harbour and picturesque beaches. I worked in a bakery/sandwich shop called Something Natural which I was soon to discover was famous on the island for its freshly made sandwiches and mouth-watering cookies. I contacted my soon to be employer and I had the job with accommodation secured by January. The hard part of location and employment was complete, all that was left was to book my fights and request my J1 visa. Flights are booked through the J1 company which are very flexible. To receive your visa there is a lot of paperwork involved and an interview at the US embassy in Dublin. With a job in the bag, paperwork and interviews done and dusted, it was time to pass my college exams and start my adventure.

I landed in Boston on May 23rd and planned to stay the night. The following day, I journeyed to Cape Cod to take the ferry to my final destination, Nantucket. The nerves kicked in as the ferry arrived at the harbour, however, I was greeted with a warm welcome from my employer who brought freshly made sandwiches and cookies, of course. My employer drove me to the employee housing, two miles out of town, where I met my fellow J1’ers.

My first day of work in America, Friday May 26th, I settled in almost too quickly and was soon living the American, or New England, dream. My days were work filled and the evenings were spent on the beach watching the sunset. My days off were spent at the beach, cycling the island, or just hanging out with friends who were from all over the world – Georgia (in Europe), Jamaica, the UK, Bulgaria, America and of course, Ireland. The work was enjoyable, with complimentary sandwiches and cookies, until August when work became demanding and tiring due to peak summer season on the island. For the first time on my trip, I felt homesick, a feeling I have never experienced before. The work was taking over and it was hard to see the beauty and uniqueness of the island. I kept reminding myself where I was and how I will more than likely never live here again, just enjoy it. Luckily, a friend and I had time off to visit splendid Boston. I adored Boston, the relaxation and site-seeing was exactly what we needed. Whilst in Boston, I went whale-watching, visited the New England Aquarium and of course went to see the legendary Red Sox play baseball at Fenway Park. As well as Boston, I visited Martha’s Vineyard in June, Nantucket’s neighbouring island. With our Boston trip over, it was time to travel back to Nantucket to earn the last bit of cash before travelling home. I completed my work contract on Labour Day, September 4th, with my flight home not until the 7th. I opted to spend my final days in Boston, a city I would have been equally happy to have spent my summer.

After fifteen weeks in America, it was time to go home, the saying is true – there is no place like home. I could not deny my excitement with the thoughts of my wonderful mother waiting with her arms wide open at the arrival gate, the person I missed the most, although my dog was a strong contender.

My J1 experience is one that I will never forget and one that I am so thrilled to have achieved. It’s a learning experience, going out of your comfort zone, independence and new cultures. The J1 has given me more confidence and preparation for travelling. Although, my next adventure awaits, Erasmus to The Netherlands to study European Culture and Journalism.

Top tips

  1. Go solo. This is allows you to travel to wherever you wish to go instead of following the crowd. Travelling alone also pushes you to put yourself out there and make friends. Also, do not use the excuse that you want to wait until you are 21 to go to the States, I was nineteen turning twenty and I feel I wouldn’t have had a different experience if I was 21.
  2. Where to go? It is true that the west coast is the most popular destination, but broaden your horizons and be open to all recommendations as there are many options and even places you may not have heard of. I was lucky to have accommodation with the job which is certainly preferable, therefore I do not know the process of finding your own housing.
  3. Organisation. There is a lot of paperwork involved and it can be a long process with balancing college so try and keep up to date with this.

Thank you for reading about my travels and most importantly, enjoy your unforgettable summer.