I spent my summer on a J1 Visa in the United States of America. It’s something I’d wanted to do for a long time and in the end, it exceeded my expectations and really was the best thing I’ve ever done. The company that got me to America was Challenger Sports and I coached soccer for them at summer camps for 2 months. Each coach was assigned a region in the States and I could not believe it when I got mine; Texas! I was excited but also tentative, picturing all the stereotypes; massive plates of food, insane heat, cowboys, ranches, guns, big trucks and funny accents. I couldn’t help but question whether it would be for me.
It ended up being a dream. It was as if I’d arrived in an alternate universe; everything was so huge and so different, but I loved every second of it. I was coaching at a camp in a new city or town each week and stayed with a different host family each time, so I got to experience various aspects of the state and so many varieties of people.
“It was as if I’d arrived in an alternate universe”
The coaching work itself was tiring but also rewarding and enjoyable and the hours weren’t overly long. That said, I would strongly advise that anyone have at least some ability to control kids and some interest in soccer to do it! As for the food, it was amazing; a lot of it is actually like what we have here at home but it’s just better, simple as that. I also got to try plenty of local grub like their classic barbecued meats and lots of authentic Mexican food.
The weather was off the scales. It was hot 24/7 with the temperature ranging between 35 to 38 degrees Celsius on average, sometimes getting into the 40s. I remember one morning where I was coaching in 43 degree heat by 10am. To go along with that, you also had spells of major thunderstorms where the heavens would open up and thunder and lightning would rage, an amazing spectacle if you had the right view of it.
What I loved the most about Texas, however, was the people. Each and every family that I stayed with were so good to me. They were all kind, welcoming and hospitable and it abolished any previous negative image I had of American people in general. The week I spent with them was the perfect amount of time to get attached but it was also not long enough to want to leave and goodbyes on a Sunday were always emotional. In that way, the families were both the best and worst part of the summer.
As well as 8 weeks in Texas, I spent two in Louisiana, which involved getting stuck in a car in the middle of nowhere for 12 hours, holding alligators, and drinking homemade moonshine. I was lucky enough to get to spend the week of 4th July in Miami on vacation. My visa entitled me to a month’s travel upon finishing work, so I was able to take in the sights and experiences of Baltimore, Washington DC, New York, Newport, Boston and York with my best friend.
“I felt like I’d been away for about a week when I got home”
For a lot of people, the apprehension about doing this would be leaving home for so long and having to stay with these complete strangers who you assume are all bonkers. To that, all I can say is that if you give it everything you have, you’re always busy having fun and are always surrounded by people, so much so that it doesn’t allow you to get bored or give you time to miss people as much as you thought you would. From coaching to floating down rivers, baseball games, parasailing, gun ranges, rodeos, indoor skydiving, jet skiing, theme parks, water parks, beach days and more, my time in America flew by and I felt like I’d been away for about a week when I got home.
3 months, 9 states and 13 families later, it dawned on me that travel really is the best education and I could not recommend doing something like this highly enough.