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Niamh's J1 Summer In San Diego

Niamh spent her summer on a J1 in San Diego. Read about her experience here:

The decision to go on a J1 wasn’t a tough one to make- spend a summer going to and from work in Ireland versus in San Diego? I’ve yet to meet anyone who’d turn down an opportunity like that. The chance to have some independence that I don’t get living at home wasn’t something I was likely to pass on.

There wasn’t really much debate at all before the group decided on San Diego, a bit of city and a lot of beach right on the West Coast- it fit everyone’s idea of the ideal J1 location. Once that decision was made, it was on to finding jobs- something that proved a little more difficult than we thought it might be. Luckily for 4 out of 8 of us, we found jobs directly through Sayit and Interexchange, in the food service of one of the most visited museums downtown in San Diego.

The four of us got that sorted around February and getting that done early took off a lot of stress that remained for the others. In the last few weeks before jetting off, getting everyone else's jobs sorted became a group effort and it was all hands on deck finding places that would hire. But, hard work pays off and we were all sorted and ready to go by May!

I really loved my job, the hours could be tough at times but we always had good craic. I got to hear stories, tour the museum and learn things that I probably wouldn’t have had I not worked there- admittedly I probably wouldn’t even have visited the museum, but I’m so happy that it worked out the way it did. Add on top of that all the new experience I got to add to my CV: I’m so happy I got the job that I did.

The next thing on the list was accommodation- we had a hostel booked for our first full week there and we got to house hunting on day 1. After a lot of ups and downs (and miscommunication with leasing offices), we were ready to move in to our house after the week, thanks to a family member of one of the group who held an American passport agreeing to be our U.S. guarantor.

Once we got settled in the house the time started flying and before we knew it weeks had passed. For me, the biggest factor in settling into the Cali way of life was getting myself into a routine and keeping busy! A few of us bought cheap bikes for the work commute, I loved getting some exercise in that way and getting to keep up my fitness while I was away. It was nice for a bit of stress relief too (let’s be honest, with 8 girls all living on top of each other, getting 40 minutes to pedal it out was paramount!). Days off were spent exploring- between the zoo, safari park, beaches, museums, parks and trails in San Diego there was never a dull moment. Even a lazy day lying in the sun was far more exciting than a lazy day in Dublin!

Being across the Atlantic and 8 hours behind home is a definite way to learn how to look after yourself. Like I mentioned earlier, for me and loads of others, the J1 is the first time you’re really independent and it’s funny the things you realise you’ve never put much thought into before. Like when it was almost 9pm and I remembered I had to make my own dinner. Or finding where to do laundry, along with the unavoidable shrinking and dying of clothes before you have the art of adulting down.

Knowing that you have to plan your own days and trips, and remembering that no one’s going to step in and do it for you- if you don’t plan it, it’s not happening- is a wake up call. It can be tough at times when things aren’t quite working out, but with decent phone plans and data coverage, home is never too far away. Even if you’re falling asleep messaging while they’re having their breakfast.

One of the best weekends I had while away was my trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios. Some friends from home who were also in San Diego for the summer found a language school downtown that organised loads of trips that were open to anyone, not just members of the school. We left first thing on a Saturday morning and had the best weekend running around care-free and enjoying a mini mid-summer holiday.

That trip was one of the things that I wasn’t dead-set on doing before I went away, but when I heard that there was a trip organised, and I had a few dollars to spare in my bank account (a rare occurrence), I decided to tag along. Something I’d recommend to anyone going on a J1 is to keep your mind open to chances like that- last minute adventures often end up being the best ones! Over the course of the J1, I visited Washington D.C., Virginia, San Francisco, Chicago and finished up in New York before heading back to Ireland. Although the costs all added up, travelling and seeing other places while I was Stateside was definitely worth it! It was great getting to see other cities and being able to compare them to laid-back California.

I think the most important thing to remember on a J1 is there’s loads of ways to do one, and you have to do the J1 that you want. Not what your friend wants and not what someone you know was there before did. Yes, it’s important to compromise, but at the end of the day you need to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. That’s different things for different people, and that’s ok.

For me, for example, getting the most out of day was what I wanted- to see everything I wanted to see and get a good night’s sleep, so I could do it all over again tomorrow. That was something that I had to learn to stand by, and not feel the need to bend to do what everyone else was doing instead. It was tough at the start but once I stood my ground a few times, it became way easier, and people just got to know that that was me.

My best advice for someone who’s deciding whether or not to do a J1 is do it! You only have a few short years in college where the visa is available to you and it’s something you’ll always remember! Once the decision’s been made, get a start on the job hunt- the sooner the better- because jobs fill up really quickly with the amount of Irish people looking!

What I really wish I did before arriving in America was finding accommodation before we got there. It can be difficult when you’re worried about getting scammed, but sites like AirBnB can be a really good and secure way to get long-term accommodation. Having that done would have definitely relieved a lot of the pressure in that first week, and I could have enjoyed my work-free week a little more without housing always being in the back of my mind.

Ultimately, enjoy your J1 the way that you want to and you’ll come home with no regrets, wherever in the States you go… (even if San Diego’s the best)!

Read more blogs: Julianne's San Diego J1 Experience, Cara's Ocean City SummerRebecca's New York J1 ExperienceKate's Boston J1 Summer5 Tips For Getting The Most From Your J1 ExperienceMike's Chicago J1 Experience5 Useful Mobile Apps You'll Need On Your J1

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