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Mike's Chicago J1 Experience

Mike talks about his experience in Chicago on his J1. Here's how he got on:

"J1 USA is without question, the most incredible experience an Irish student can do with their summer. It will take you out of your comfort zone but has positive consequences such as finding yourself, life-changing experiences and helps to provide ideas for your life path after college.

Chicago, for me, was an easy J1 destination choice. Best described as a combination between Los Angeles and New York. There are miles of “Californian” style beaches along Lake Michigan, while on the other side, an astonishing skyline can easily compete with the likes of Boston and New York. There’s plenty to do to keep you busy throughout the summer. A few highlights in Chicago included the world-renowned music festival, Lollapalooza. The Taste of Chicago is the nation’s premier outdoor food festival, not to mention the Six Flags Great America Theme Park.  


Another notable experience was working in a busy downtown bar, experiencing first-hand America’s “tip culture”.  I managed to live almost 2 months without touching my bank account because tips were so good (especially because I’m Irish). Chicago is rich in sports history, giving you an array of options from that point of view.  I was very lucky to witness the local Ice Hockey team, Chicago Blackhawks, win the Stanley Cup while over there. Having only recently learned about the fundamentals of that particular sport, it was incredible to be on the streets of Chicago during the week they won. WHAT an atmosphere- something I had never experienced before in my life.

Like many other J1 students, I chose to spend my final 3 weeks in America travelling, soaking up rich American culture down the east coast/ southeast, concluding in 'The Big Easy', that is New Orleans.

Having visited NYC before, I repeated my visits to Ground Zero, Empire State, Central Park and Times Square while also going off the beaten path a little, including visits to the underground food court (delicious upmarket pastries and cakes). Other off-the-beaten-track sites included the funky stores around SoHo like The Evolution Store, where I bought a rattlesnake tail, the ‘Bodies’ Museum and a New York Yankees Baseball game.

New York

Next stop was Washington D.C; If you’re a fan of TV series ‘House of Cards’, then the opening credits will give you an idea of where I visited; including a trip to Arlington Cemetery (the burial site of John F Kennedy), the Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial and the famous steps from ‘The Exorcist’, all while getting a taste of the city’s amazing artisan food.

My highlights of Philadelphia included running up and down the steps from the film ‘Rocky’ and indulging  in a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich in the bar scene from the show ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. My next stop- the small and cosy city of Nashville- saw me purchasing a pair of "proper" cowboy boots and of course a Stetson before failing miserably on an electric rodeo bull while listening to authentic country music.

Transitioning immediately from country to blues saw me travel down to Memphis, Tennessee; where I got to experience the historic Beale Street, known for its blues bars. I got to visit the Civil Rights Museum and eerily stood on the spot where Martin Luther King Jnr was shot, before doing a tour of Graceland on Presley Boulevard. I also got to dine at Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken in the home state of this cuisine. This roadside restaurant was seen on the popular TV series ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’.

New Orleans

Nightlife and the local cuisine is what made New Orleans my absolute favourite stop off on my travels. I got to taste the world renowned beignets in Café Du Monde. If you like freshly baked doughnuts, then you’re going to love these deep-fried nuggets of doughy heaven!  To be even more adventurous, I sampled alligator sausage, po-boy, gumbo and jambalaya. I'm proud to say that I also survived the hottest hot sauce in the world, namely ‘2nd Dimension’. 

Other highlights of “The Big Easy” included the 24/7 party atmosphere on Bourbon Street, internationally known by association with Mardi Gras, and a swamp boat tour to see alligators.  Overall, for me, the J1 experience was life changing, one of my better life decisions so far, and looking forward to many more.

If you're thinking about a J1 experience, don't think about it for too long. Just DO IT.  Grab the bull by the horns and let the J1 experience be your guide.  If you've already made the decision to go, well done.  I can guarantee you that you will not be sorry, and that your J1 experience will be at the forefront of your happy memories for years to come."

Read more blogs: Julianne's San Diego J1 Experience5 Tips For Making The Most Of Your J1 Experience5 Useful Mobile Apps You'll Need On Your J1, J1 Jobs: All You Need To Know.

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