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Jack's Skyscraper Summer in Chicago

Read Jack's blog about his J1 summer this year in Chicago:

"As an individual who was in his last year in college, the J1 was a no brainer for me before completing my last summer of what I called “freedom” and entering the world of work.

Chicago was my primary choice of location; it wasn’t as expensive as New York and didn’t appear to have as much of a housing shortage as San Francisco. The city was perfect. With arguably the best skyline in America and possibly the world, it had so much to offer. The city was perfect for embracing the American culture; the people were friendly, the architecture was fascinating and there was so much to do including kayaking along the riverfront, attending an outdoor rooftop cinema, visiting the Six Flags theme park or even just chilling out on the beaches along Lake Michigan along with much more.

Jack J1 Chicago Blog Sunset

I worked at Skydeck Chicago, located at Willis Towers. Willis Towers (or Sears Tower as the locals call it) is the tallest tower in Chicago and was the tallest building in the world for 25 years.

To be working with a company whose sole focus was attracting tourists to the building and the glass ledge was an enjoyable and unforgettable experience.

I met people from all over the world there (including a few Irish). It was the American people that embraced me the most, they loved my accent and the fact that I was Irish, making it easier to interact with them. A job like this one was the perfect job for me as most of my time was spent interacting and communicating with people of different nationalities and I loved that. I was a tourist in Chicago, but I was also showing other tourists around which I found funny but loved all the same.

As a recommendation I would encourage anyone who’s going on a J1 to look for a server job. The tipping culture in America is like no other and it is the best job to be in if you are looking to make good money. That being said, the J1 isn’t about having lots of money, it’s about experiencing America, making friends and seeing new places. I never got tips in my work however was probably one of the J1ers that enjoyed my job the most, purely because of the environment I was in.

jack willis tower j1 blog

I secured accommodation through J1accom and would have no hesitation in recommending them. The aim of J1accom is to provide summer accommodation for J1 students, they have places in Chicago, San Francisco and New York at the moment.

What made J1accom so enjoyable was that if I ever felt homesick, I always thought of the fact that there were well over 100 Irish students in the same apartment block who were in the same boat.

The apartments were ideally located in the heart of the city and they felt very safe with 24/7 security. Meeting Irish students there that were on a J1 was also brilliant because you never felt too far away from home.

The best thing about J1accom was that the rent was paid before I went over to Chicago meaning it was one less thing to worry about in America when I was making money from working. The apartments we stayed in were very modern and as well as this we had access to a gym, a games room (where we could play pool or table tennis) and a laundry room. This provided an opportunity to interact with other Irish J1ers and enjoy our time even more at J1accom.

jack chicago blog j1 accomm

Once you settled into your accommodation and job, and gotten to know the area a little bit it starts to feel like a proper home, the only thing missing is the face-to-face contact with family members. This was made up for with video calls quite regularly to stay connected and catch up on any gossip from home. As the weeks pass you get more used to the day-to-day life and having your own routine. Most of the time I found that you were so busy that you wouldn’t have time to think about home so the chances of being homesick are very slim.

The public transport in Chicago is amazing and far superior to most other cities in the USA.

The CTA train lines mean that getting from one end of the city to the other isn’t very difficult with trains coming along every few minutes. It’s convenient when events are on in the city because the roads would often be closed during these events like Lollapalooza, Nascar etc.

There was an abundance of activities to do in Chicago when I was off or even before work. I was fortunate enough to be given a city pass for free because of where I worked. That allowed me to visit some of the top attractions in the city. The highlights from the various activities I did in Chicago included a 14000-foot skydive (this was in Michigan city, an hour's drive from Chicago), kayaking along the river, attending a baseball game and seeing the city from the top floor (103rd) of where I worked. There is so much to do in Chicago, I spoke to locals who had lived there most of their life and they still hadn’t done everything, but one thing’s for sure- you will never get bored.

jack chicago blog skydive

Similarly to most J1 students, the last 16 days of our visa programme was spent travelling up the west coast of America. This was probably the highlight of the summer mainly because our work was finished and it felt like a proper holiday, hopping from place to place and visiting the main attractions we were proper tourists.

We visited Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, the Yosemite National Park and San Francisco.

Part of our travels involved renting out a car as my friend and I each had a licence. Having the car gave us great flexibility and allowed us to take the coastal route when touring part of America. A word of warning for anyone planning to rent a car- a lot of car rentals require that you have a credit card and won’t accept a debit card or Revolut one, so it’s definitely worth applying for one when you set up an American bank account.

Las Vegas felt like a dream, it consisted of one long strip which was dotted with casinos, hotels and luxury resorts. It’s one of those places that a person needs to experience to understand it fully, but as a word of warning, suncream is a must. It was the hottest place we experienced throughout the summer, with the temperature over 40 degrees Celsius. On the final day before heading to San Diego we rented out a car and drove to the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam which were both fascinating places.

 Jack Chicago Blog Hoover Dam Jack Chicago Blog Grand Canyon

San Diego was our next stop and reminded me a lot of home purely because it was next to the coast. It’s a very popular J1 spot and I can see why, there a numerous beaches to chill out/do water sports on (Pacific Beach and La Jolla Beach), amazing bars and restaurants for socialising and a very peaceful vibe about the place. For me it was the place that felt most like home.

Jack Chicago j1 Blog San Diego

It was then on to Los Angeles. We visited Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, the Hollywood Sign and Beverly Hills. Two full days is more than enough to see this place, but it was well worth seeing it. Los Angeles is big so be prepared to spend money on Ubers as well as time travelling around the city if you don’t have a car. One of the best things we did in Los Angeles was the Warner Brothers studio tour and it is something I would hands down recommend. We got to see the sets of quite a few well-known sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Friends, Gossip Girl and many more.

Jack J1 Chicago Blog Hollywood

The Yosemite National Park was our last stop before San Francisco. The views at this place were amazing. We experienced a few of the trails which we found hard to navigate. However if I were to return, I’d do the half-dome or full-dome which are strenuous trails but take you right up to the top of the rocks. The views are meant to be unreal up there. If you are visiting this place and plan to do a few of the trails, be sure to bring a good pair of runners.

Jack J1 Blog Yosemite National Park

Our final stop was San Francisco and this was one of my favourite places. The hills and steepness of the streets is mesmerising, we got a hands-on experience on the bike as well as the cable car. We cycled the Golden Gate Bridge which was epic, as well as visiting Alcatraz, which was very interesting. Three days is more than enough to see San Francisco as well. For anyone visiting San Francisco, bring a jumper as it can get quite cold when the sun goes in, especially in the evenings.

Jack J1 Blog San Francisco Jack J1 Blog San Fran Cabe Car

That was the last stop on our J1. To conclude, Vegas is a different paradise, San Diego is relaxed, Los Angeles is massive and San Francisco is closer to the Irish climate. If I were to go on another J1 visa I would choose either San Francisco because I loved it so much when I was there, or else New York.

My experience in America taught me a lot about the American culture as well as providing me with an independent set of skills that will help me as I grow older. Choosing to go on the J1 was the best decision I ever made and it led to the best summer of my life.

Start planning your own American J1 summer right now. Click here to apply

Want to start planning your own J1 for next summer? Apply online now. Contact us in Cork on 021 4279190 or J1visa@sayit.ie. Follow us on Instagram or Tik Tok for the latest news and updates.


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