Working in europe: an alternative to the j1

I turn twenty-one this summer, on the fourth of July. Naturally, I’ve assumed for my entire life that I would spend that day stateside. Imagine spending a birthday in a place where a significant amount of people already assume you come from a country where leprechauns frolic past horse-drawn carriages (and love you for it), on the day that happens to be said place’s birth of independence and you’re turning their legal age. Biggest party ever, right?

Except when it comes down to it, a J1 is much easier said than done. Now more than ever, the rules are tight, becoming restraints more than guidelines. Having a job beforehand may not be impossible, but to get the right one can be a struggle, particularly for those like myself who don’t have any connections over there. It’s an overwhelming task to undertake. Admittedly, when I started to have doubts about going over for the summer, questioning the plan I’d been steeling up to for years. I felt like I was just being lazy. But that’s not true. It’s okay to wonder if an idea has more personal costs to you than it’s really worth, and turn away. Never mind all the hurdles I’ve mentioned – the cost alone is off-putting. A J1 is expensive.

I decided quite early on this year that a J1 this summer wasn’t what I wanted to do at this point in my life. I’m not saying never. Next year, I may have completely changed my mind. But, for now, it’s not right for me.

However, that didn’t mean that I wanted a regular summer. Apart from sporadic holidays and the occasional trip to the Gaelteacht, I’ve spent every summer of my life at home. After first year, I worked in an engineering consultancy as a receptionist for three months. Last summer, I volunteered with the Galway Arts Festival, visited my sister in London, and worked some part-time jobs here and there. Solid, productive summers, yet I feel like I gained nothing profound from them. Your years at university are ones you’ll never get back, as we’re constantly told, and I don’t want to waste them.

Seeing as I go to college twenty minutes from my parent’s house, I’ve never properly ventured out of my comfort zone. People say that spending time abroad makes you grow up, gains you brand new experiences and allows you to meet those that change your perception entirely.

I still wanted all this – just not a J1.

So, I explored other options. Top of my list was going back to Lisbon, the city I visited (and fell in love with) last summer. But I investigated a lot of places. For me, the kind of job I wanted to have this summer had to be a fun one. My third year has been an unofficial placement of sorts that I’ve spent in a bookshop. It may not sound like a gruelling environment, but acting as customer services for a huge website can be exhausting, especially when you’re trying to simultaneously submit a book for your degree, and keep up with extra-curricular activities and have a social life. Never mind staying fit, cooking, cleaning, finding out what the heck ‘Stranger Things’ is… In short, it’s been a challenging year.

I could have searched for a writing internship. Maybe it would be wiser if I did. But the kind of experience I want is to meet people from other countries, to really get to know different ways of life. To open my eyes somewhat and just take a complete veer from the way my life is right now. Take a leap from the norm.

I decided that some sort of party company would be where to start. I applied to different locations – Greece, Spain, Turkey – but I soon heard good news back from my dream job in Lisbon, the same hostel I stayed in before.

I get butterflies thinking about what’s to come this summer. I’ve never checked in a suitcase before – where does one do that, how does one ensure it’s not lost and how on EARTH does one lug it around all day? If I leave my laptop in Ireland will it decay from lack of use?

But the panic is completely outweighed by the excitement. Any time one of these questions pops to mind, I wave it down with the new chilled thoughts of party-hostel worker Orla. She won’t fret about miniscule things.

I’m hoping that this experience will broaden my mind. As cliché as it sounds, I think it could do with the extension. It’s terrifying, but, hopefully, this time next year I’ll be writing articles describing how it was the best time in my life and wishing to go back.

Stay tuned.