The J1 to the States is a rite of passage for many Irish college students and a time you’ll always remember, long after the road-trips and frat parties are over.
Having spent the past two summers living in San Francisco and Boston, I feel it’s my duty to impart some nuggets of advice on those of you who have decided to head off towards bluer skies and cheaper beer this summer. So read on and learn from my mistakes, so you don’t have them to add on to what will inevitably end up as your own long list of questionable decisions.
1. Make life easy for yourself and find a job and accommodation before you go. That is, unless you want to spend most of your savings on a pricey hostel and waste a couple of weeks handing out CV’s, when all of your smarter pals are making money and having a good time. Websites like craigslist.com are really useful for getting everything sorted, and most employers are up for interviewing you on Skype before you go.
2. Stay in student accommodation if you can - especially if you’re under 21. There’ll always be a sound older housemate who doesn’t mind buying you a plastic 2 litre bottle of cheap vodka or a rake of Four Loco. Also don’t forget that you’ve gone to the US to meet Americans - so if you wanted to live in grotty isolated dwellings with 15 other Irish people, you probably should have just rented a caravan in Wexford or something. I stayed in frat houses in Berkeley and MIT the last two years, and frat parties are like no other.
3. Take every opportunity that comes your way. My friends and I were lucky enough to live with great yanks who brought us on amazing road-trips to places like Joshua Tree near LA, Lake Kirkwood in North California, and Cape Cod. Save and travel to other parts of America if you can afford it - the memory will be worth so much more than a slightly bigger bank balance when you get home.
4. Get the easiest job you can that will make you enough money to live on. You’re going away to enjoy yourself, not to work like you’re trying to feed a family of six. Work in a restaurant or café that will feed you for little or nothing every day if you can. It means you can save money for more important things like booze. And don’t think of work as a task in between getting hammered. I had some of the best craic on my J1 with the people I worked with, probably because my supervisors liked to smoke spliffs on their lunch breaks.
5. Have fun but don’t be stupid. The cops in the US are nothing like our Gardaí, and you can get arrested for seemingly harmless Irish past-times such as drinking cans in public, fighting or just being a drunk gobshite. Also it doesn’t matter how decent your health insurance is, the majority of policies won’t cover you if you’ve been drinking or taking drugs. Hospital fees in America are absolutely insane, so don’t be thick.
So there’s just a few tips to get you on your way.
As you fly off for your summer in the States, spare a thought for us poor plebs left at home.
You’ll come back with a different perspective, and so many stories, new experiences, and life-long friends. Not to mention some serious beer pong skills. You’ll more than likely be struck down with that terrible affliction: the post-J1 blues. But that’s ok - it just shows how great it was.
P.S. If you’re in San Francisco, don’t buy weed off a street dealer called Rhino with a purple toy monkey around his neck. It’s just twigs.