J1 Tips, Advice & What to Expect

Sunday, 8 January 2017

So you're thinking of going on a J1? You have come to the right place. Today I'm going to share with you some of my advice and tips all about the programme.

A little background- So in the summer of 2016 I jetted off to San Diego to spend three months working as a host in a restaurant and to experience life stateside.

Location wise, I'm a bit biased. There are so many places you can go on a J1, practically you can go anywhere in the US. Depending on what you're looking for, different places can be good for different things but in my opinion San Diego is an all rounder. Perfect weather, beaches on your doorstep, a relaxed atmosphere and great nightlife. Plus, so many Irish head there every summer so there is a huge J1 community. My only con would have to be the public transport, it really isn't great as it took us all basically an hour to commute to work but we made it work and it wasn't a very big problem. 

When trying to figure out what company to go with to get your visa can be tough, there are pros and cons to them all.

I did the J1 work and travel summer visa with USIT- they are very expensive but I've heard horror stories about other agencies and USIT seem to come up trumps if there are any issues. My advice- push them. They told us that there was too many people going to San Diego, but we firmly told them that is where we wanted to go and there was no problems. Bargain with them too, tell them you have friends going with other companies who got things for cheaper and they'll bargain with you- I saw that a lot, especially if you need to change flights going home. I am so happy that I went with USIT, they provided me with a sense of security as they helped if your job wasn't working out, with flights and any advice you need. Some other companies just threatened to deport some people when they lost their job or had any sort of complications. Also, buy the insurance plans, you never know when you'll need it!

Overall though, I'd recommend going with USIT, they get the job done and help you tremendously along the way.

Ok now that I have that explained, I'll share some tips and advice..

MONEY
How much money do you think you need? Bring more. To be honest, you can't have enough money going stateside. So many situations will arise that you never even would have thought of and budgeted for. Even though you will have a job pre-arranged, you need to remember that you may not get paid for a few weeks, you need a security deposit for accommodation and if you're new place comes unfurnished, you need to allow to buy whatever you need to live (air mattresses and a shower curtain, all the essentials haha). How much you bring is up to you, but make sure you don't leave yourself short. 

PACKING
As hard as it may be ladies, don't overpack. I brought a huge suitcase and a carry on- it was just an inconvenience. Take a long look at all of the clothes you're bringing and make sure you'll get a lot of use out of them all. For me, there was a few pairs of shorts, playsuits and dresses that I gravitated towards and there was plenty of clothes that I could have left at home. 

YOUR JOB
Quit it if you're not happy. I was quite unlucky in my job where it was quite unreliable with the shifts, I got 2 definite shifts a week and every other day I'd be rostered in for a 'You Call Us' which meant I had to call them at a certain time to see if I'm needed (which I never was) but if I was I would have to be there within an hour. As it took me an hour to get to work I couldn't really make set plans. In hindsight, although it would have been a stress to quit that job and find a new one, I should have done that. As I didn't get many hours, my own money I brought kept me afloat however it meant I had to come home early as I had no money to travel. It wasn't all bad though, I had so much fun exploring San Diego and doing everything I could there so I don't have any regrets. 

TRAVEL
Apart from a trip to San Francisco (photo diary is here), the Grand Canyon and a trip to Vegas, I didn't get to do the full, post J1 travelling that everyone seems to do. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad that I got to do the travel that I did but as I touched on before, I just didn't have the money to do any more. If you learn one thing from this post- save money while you're there to travel, it's a great way to end your few months away!

SORT OUT YOUR PHONE
A bit of a random tip but it makes all of the difference to the beginning of your trip. Unlock your phone long before you leave or buy one over there! USIT gave me an American SIM card before I left so it was very easy experience, until I realised the day before I left that my phone wasn't unlocked and wouldn't accept a new SIM card.. Having to connect to wifi to access the internet can become the biggest pain while trying to source accommodation so save yourself the stress and get your phone unlocked well in advance.. That means if there is any issue you can sort it out in Ireland rather than trying to do it while you're there on a different time zone. 

BE PREPARED FOR THE LIVING CONDITIONS
Although you can do the J1 so many different ways, as accommodation is so expensive, you will probably be living quite minimalistically to say the least. My apartment may have been an exception, I think depending on how much you want to pay will determine what you'll be living like and judging by the amount we paid, it really reflects how we were living. Even though it was a tight squeeze,  and generally just in bits, none of us complained about it and to be honest, when we were living in it, it didn't affect us at all and we actually really enjoyed living there. Just be prepared to live with a lot of people in a small space- don't let that turn you off though, it's a short term situation that you come accustomed to very quickly.. Plus, its great craic!

Now for a few points about finding ACCOMMODATION
Trying to find somewhere to live was truly the most heartbreaking thing but looking back it was a hilarious experience. We messed up big time when it came to this subject so I'm going to leave you with a few points so that you can learn from my mistakes.. 
  • Don't pay money up front: Whether this be if you found accommodation before you go and you want to put a down payment or, like us, when you want a place but haven't signed any paperwork for it yet. You never know who you're giving it to, it's most likely a lot of money on the line so make sure it's going to the right person who will give you a good place to live.
  • Start the search at home: Have a look for places to live before you go, talk to people who have gone before and get recommendations and have an idea of where to start. You'll burn through money staying in motels night by night so get it sorted as soon as you can.
  • Utalise Facebook: Find people to live with before you go.. Unless you're going with a huge group, you're not going to know the people you live with so join a few J1 Facebook groups and get searching. It's a risky one that can go any way, luckily our house all got on so well and we were all on the same page about things but we all met through Facebook! I put up a post in one of the groups that I was looking for someone to take us in and I received a message from one of the lads saying they were looking for somewhere to live too- it started from there!
  • Use Hotwire: Hotwire gives you really cheap temporary accommodation so whether you use it while you're looking for a permanent place to live or you're visiting a new city- it's a very handy website to use! 
All of these accommodation tips will help you save money, which as I mentioned, you can eat through over the first few weeks of being there.


SHOULD YOU GO AT 20?
As a twenty year old going on a J1, I have to admit I was worried. With the legal age for drinking being 21 I didn't know what to expect and how much the law would be enforced. Let me tell you- it is heavily enforced with certain exceptions. Due to the fact that pre drinks was always the best part of the night and the fact that we drank at home a lot, it really didn't hinder my experience that much. I think it really could though, I do wish I had have been 21 but I had such a good time that I don't think it was a problem.. However that was just the situation I was in. So my advice, wait until you're 21 but if you want to go on a J1, just go, don't let your age hold you back! 
Side Note: Don't go to Vegas though, you won't get in anywhere hahah.

And my last piece of advice..
JUST GO
If you're reading this post pondering about the idea of going on a J1, do it. The experience was amazing, I had the best summer of my life and have no regrets about it. Don't let numbers hold you back either, you don't need a big group to go. I went with just one person, my best friend Lizzy and we are so glad that we just took the leap of faith and just went for it when nobody else did. 


So there you have it, my tips and advice for your summer of a lifetime! I do wish I knew these things before I went, but looking back on it, I wouldn't change any of it because it was such a laugh along the way.

If you need further advice or want to ask me any particular questions, feel free to reach out to me on all of my social media links below!

Best of luck on your J1!