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Emma's J1 in Cape Cod

Emma spent this summer on Cape Cod, before travelling to Chicago and Canada. Read about her experience here:

Choosing to go on a J1 for the summer was a bit of a no-brainer for me; all my older cousins had gone on a least one in their early twenties, and still talked about their amazing experiences over ten years later. Also, with the previous two summers adventures very much curtailed due to the dreaded C word, I felt I was well overdue a big overseas trip.

So when a work colleague started telling me about her summers spent working on Cape Cod, and how she would be more than happy to hook me and my friends up with jobs, I couldn’t say yes quick enough. Being someone who loves the outdoors, I knew I wouldn’t be happy spending an entire summer in a city so going to Cape Cod, which is just down the coast from Boston, Massachusetts, was the ideal scenario for me.

The jobs we were offered were as servers in a busy restaurant bar in the heart of Hyannis town, and as I had worked for a number of years as a waitress here in Ireland I knew it would suit me to a T. We were then given contacts through work for possible places to stay, and while it didn’t initially sound that appealing, we ended up nabbing lovely rooms in a motel near work. We were also put in contact with a lovely lady who sourced us all great bikes to help us get about the Cape, for which we were immensely grateful.

While our first day on the Cape was very wet and chilly, when we woke the following morning and walked the five minutes to the nearby beach, we knew we made the right decision picking this as our J1 spot; the beaches around us were spectacular. We settled in very quickly in the first few weeks to summer life on the Cape; during the off-season it can be an incredibly quiet, weather-beaten place, but come summertime the place comes to life and the crowds from Boston come in their droves. We established a routine of spending the mornings at one of the many gorgeous beaches or going for cycles to nearby towns for ice-cream. Then we would pop back to the motel to get changed and ready for work at four most evenings.

We instantly loved the place we were working; our co-workers were so friendly and welcoming; the work was rewarding (and the tips were very healthy!). It wasn’t long before we were going on day trips with our co-workers, with them taking us out on boats, to nearby events, or just for food on our off-days. They were also more than happy to give us lifts to and from work, saving us arriving sweaty and dishevelled from a twenty minute cycle in the mid-afternoon heat! Working as a server in America turned out to be quite different to waiting here. For one thing, being a server meant your job was just serving the needs of your table; you took orders and brought them drinks, but it was someone else’s job to bring them their food, and clear it after, and clean down and reset tables. All this meant we could focus on chatting and building a rapport with the customers, and with us being Irish they were only delighted to keep talking to us. It took us a bit of time to really get in to the whole “selling yourself” as the server, but we picked up the tricks from our American co-workers quickly and it made the job a lot more enjoyable.

We really struck gold with the crew we were working with all summer. The divide was about half Americans and half J1 students from a wide array of countries right around the world- from Bulgaria and Turkey, to Mongolia, Thailand, and Brazil. Even in the area we were staying, there was only one other group of Irish J1 students. At first we thought this wasn’t great, cause everyone in other J1 spots was surrounded by Irish people, but we soon came to realise we had gotten a much better deal out of it. It gave us the chance to get to know people from so many diverse cultures and backgrounds and learn so much about them. Also, making the effort to know the ones who were locals made us feel much more included and settled in the area, participating in events, and exploring things that only those who grew up there would know about. We also now have contacts in so many places in the world, not to mention many people to hang out with should we return to the Cape, and we just would not have gotten that had we clung to other Irish students all summer.

The month of June can still be quite quiet on the Cape until the schools let out for the summer, so for the first few weeks work was not as busy as expected and some things in the area were yet to open for the summer. It was in these days, when we weren’t up to as much, that I was most likely to feel homesick. But the more and more we got to know people and form connections the less I would think of home, and even when I did, it wasn’t in a longing way, but increasingly as the summer passed in a dreading having to return! My number one tip to anyone would be to keep busy, and definitely spending time with others that are not just your immediate group or other Irish really helps, as you don’t focus on home as much. Also being able to do video calls to home made it easier, seeing people and leaving voice messages to hear them talk was nice.

Before heading out, I don’t think I could have come up with a better scenario as to how I would spend my summer. I loved working in the restaurant, the atmosphere and people were great. Also, all the things we would do in our spare time were just my favourite things to do. The beach featured almost on the daily, and if we had more than just the morning off we’d try to make the effort to go to beaches further away. We also made use of the regional bus which, while not the most reliable time-wise, was cheap and brought us to all the lovely towns along the Cape.

We also made several larger day trips to do things like see Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and go to Provincetown. Boston was very accessible with hourly buses, so we often headed up for baseball games, strolls around Harvard, or just a wander downtown. It didn’t always have to be big days out though; we were always delighted to go out sailing with our co-workers, or grab brunch with them, or even just chill and watch movies. Even though we were there to work and make money, it was very rare a day didn’t just feel like being on an extended holiday with friends. Leaving the Cape I was incredibly sad. We’d had so much fun there and made so many incredible friends that we knew realistically we would likely not see again at least in the near future. However, we are already planning a trip to visit some of those who are in Europe, and I’ve found myself already checking the price of flights back to Boston next summer!

Leaving Cape Cod wasn’t the end of our amazing J1 summer though: we then set off on two weeks of travel around the US and Canada. We started with flying to Nashville, where we partied in Honkytonk bars, learned to line dance, rode mechanical bulls and were almost able to tolerate country music by the end of our time there! After a rather unpleasant overnight bus journey, we arrived in Chicago where we met up with friends from home who had spent the summer there. I fell in love with the city very quickly; the architecture, the student life, the food options, the lake. It really is a fab city and one I would love to spend more time in soon. Despite what we had been told, there were few times we felt anything other than very safe there, and our four days went by far too fast.

We then boarded an overnight train (starting to see a trend here) to Buffalo, NY, from where we travelled the short distance up to Niagara Falls. The Falls were absolutely stunning, they are very breath-taking up close. The surrounding area leaves a bit to be desired, but there is more than enough near the Falls to kill an afternoon. We then got a bus across the border into Canada, where we got to see the Falls from a distinct perspective, before continuing on to Toronto. (editor's note from SAYIT HQ: your J1 visa does not allow you re-entry to the USA if you leave. So if you're planning to see Canada, make sure you do it on the way home!)

Toronto is a really nice city. It feels quite American, but is a much more manageable size than most cities I have visited south of the border. The view from the CN tower is incredible and the nightlife was great. We spent three days in a lake house outside Ottawa, and it was absolutely stunning. We spent our days kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming, reading, chatting, barbequing, playing cards, and just chilling out. It also reinforced to me even more that the summer setup we had was the best for me; cities are great but the pace you are going at the whole time just isn’t for me. Taking a few days just to do nothing was my idea of heaven.

It also left us rearing to go when we arrived in Montréal, our last stop on our trip. I spent two nights there, flying home a day before the others, but I really enjoyed my brief time there. We explored the old town, walked up Mont Réal for amazing views of the city and lake, and enjoyed the distinct European feel of the place. I loved our trip so much and feel very privileged that I got to experience it, but after the two weeks I was ready to go home.

For anyone who’s considering a J1 but having doubts, just go for it. It will be one of the best experiences of your life. Also make sure to choose somewhere you think you’d genuinely be happy staying for the summer; don’t just go where everyone else is going. If you like busyness and things always happening, a city would be a good fit. But likewise, if you prefer a slower pace, especially during the summer, a seaside town might be ideal. When you’ve decided on a place, get contacting people who went there before, whether they’re known connections or online, they’ll know the best places to look for jobs, to get your housing, what day to day life will be like, etc. Places that come recommended nearly always work out best.

Also, join the Facebook groups and local J1 forums, they are a wealth of information and a great place to find contacts for jobs, accommodation, bikes... everything really, including getting to know other J1ers before you go. One thing as well I couldn’t recommend enough is to start the process early, and keep following up on employers and sponsors to get things signed and completed as soon as you can. So many people end up having to delay their flights and miss out on part of the summer because the embassy gets so full come May. But don’t let any of that put you off going. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the summer I had on Cape Cod on my J1 was the best summer of my life and I’d repeat it again in a heartbeat.

Want to start planning your own J1 for next summer? Register your interest now. Contact us in Cork on 021 4279190 or J1visa@sayit.ie. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and updates.

See other students' experiences: Bill's J1 in ChicagoOlivia's J1 Summer Vlog,  Emma's J1 in San Francisco, James' East Coast Vlog5 Tips For Making The Most Of Your J1 ExperienceKate's Boston J1 Summer.

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