Mark Brophy and Grace Donnellan discuss their experiences on the J1 in America and summer in Canada respectively and offer advice on how to make the most out the experience.
Mark Brophy's J1 Experience:
Going to Chicago on the J1 may have been one of the best decisions of my life so far. I went by myself, leaving my friends and family back in Dublin, to work, live and travel all on my own for the first time in my life. Giving myself the opportunity to be something that I may have been too timid to be in Ireland. This may not be exactly what you will experience on your own J1, but it is certainly an option, as the J1 experience is entirely what you choose to make of it.
The J1 is one of the easiest visas an Irish student can to work and travel. With it, you get to work for two months and then travel for one. The work is usually minimum wage, and you will likely rely on tips for most of your income. Living in America gave me a whole new perspective on culture and society. I got to live the crazy stories about America I had only heard about beforehand. As well as shifting your perspectives, America also offers a vastness you can't get in Ireland. A common saying is that 100 miles in Europe is considered far and 100 years in America is a long time ago. Travel far and see the amazing variety that Ireland might just be a bit too small to have. Experience truly special things, such as walking around New York and going to a Broadway play. Going on a J1 it is what you make of it, so break out and try anything and everything.
Here are some few things that would be handy to know before going. Be aware that their universities come back earlier than our own and it wasn't uncommon for people to be asked to leave their accommodation as soon as they finished work. Even if that wasn't what they originally agreed to. This happened to roughly one-third of the friends I made over there. I would also suggest you bring over your own Ibuprofen, Lemsip and other common over the counter medicines. The medicine over in the US is very strong and they often overprescribe. In addition to this, the doctors over there are incredibly expensive. A good alternative is a large pharmacy chain called CVS which has a quick check system where they can give you a quick diagnosis and offer you the appropriate medicine.
That is the J1, a journey that can go anywhere so long as your willing to go for it.
Grace Donnellan's Summer in Canada:
Last year me and seven of my friends decided to spend the summer in Vancouver. It was the best summer of my life and an experience I’d recommend to everyone. Applying for the IEC visa is pretty simple. First you create a profile and are put into a pool with everyone else from your country. Every month people are randomly selected from the pool and invited to apply. My friends and I all waited around a month or two for an invitation. Once you get the invitation you fill out a few online forms and submit some documents. You also have to submit your biometric information in an office in Dublin. You have 20 days to complete your application but once you are organised about it this is more than enough time. You will receive your visa a few weeks after finishing your application. It is best to begin the process in January to make sure you have plenty of time.
Accommodation can be hard to find. We were lucky enough to have it organised weeks before we went over but some people I know only got somewhere days before they left. Other people ended up staying in AirBnBs for the first few weeks while trying to find a place to live. My advice is to join Facebook groups, especially ones for students from the local universities as there will be students subletting for the summer. Frats are also a good option if you don’t mind living with a lot of people! Areas around UBC, Kitsilano, Jericho and Dunbar are the most popular with Irish students. Unlike a J1 you don’t need to have a job before you go to Vancouver. We spent a day or two handing CVs out all around downtown Vancouver and Granville Island and we all got multiple interviews and jobs in the end. It takes perseverance but there is no shortage of employment there so you’ll get one eventually. The transport system in Vancouver is pretty good, make sure you get a Compass Card, their equivalent to a leap card, once you arrive. Vancouver is an amazing city with beautiful beaches and scenery, the most important thing to do is enjoy your summer!