The journey to the J1

Ashleigh Nolan

Going on a J1 has become a staple of the college experience. The excitement of heading across the Atlantic to spend a summer broadening your horizons is a wonderful experience. It’s that excitement that makes you scrounge together the money for the flight, telling your Mammy for the billionth time that you’ll be safe and, is ultimately what makes you say goodbye to your family and board the plane.

However, while you will always hear about the amazing adventures, the absurd amount of donuts and the hostel horror stories that seems to happen to everyone, not many will tell you exactly how they made their dreams of heading stateside a reality.

The truth is heading to the U.S. takes a lot of work. With visas and job hunting to factor in, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. In the end, the never-ending pile of paper work and the hidden costs are worth it.

People talk about doing a lot of things. Going on a J1 is one of them. The reality is that when it comes down to handing over the cash to do it, you’ll find a lot less people willing to pay up.

This was the case for me. Myself and some friends had discussed going abroad for the summer but when it came down to actually booking, the eagerness they had once shared with me was somewhat diminished.

For some people, going with friends is all part of the adventure but I decided not to let it stop me.

I had heard about working as a camp counsellor through various agencies around DCU. When I looked into it further, it sounded ideal for me.

As I was going alone, having the support of an agency, of people who did this all the time, definitely eased my nerves and, after doing some research, Camp Leaders seemed like the right agency for me. They offered a higher wage bracket, had a good reputation and were reasonably priced.

Research is essential for having the smoothest possible experience. There will always be some hidden costs or bumps along the road that you didn’t factor in but being as knowledgeable as possible will never go against you.

Money is also a huge element of going on a J1. Depending on where in the U.S you are going, flights can quickly add up to almost a thousand euro.

This is where working as a camp counsellor became an added bonus. As I would live at the camp, they would feed and house me. This took a huge pressure off. I knew all the money I earned would be spent on my 30 days travel at the end, rather than spending it on food and accommodation while I worked.

I interviewed via skype for my job as a dance teacher at an all-girls camp in Maine. The day after my 20th birthday I chatted to a woman who would become my boss and then the matriarch of my summer family.

I had signed up to Camp Leaders in the December and as January and February passed, I became more and more nervous that my dream summer would remain simply a dream. But when I took that call in March, the day after my birthday, I knew it was worth the wait and that I had found the place for me.

I only had 12 weeks to get all of my relevant documentation organised. A trip to the American Embassy to get my visa, a trip to the doctor to confirm that I had received my vaccines as an infant, a trip to the Gardai to confirm that I had no criminal record.

These are the elements of the J1 that no one talks about. The annoyance of paperwork and the costs that go with it. These nuisances that can, if you let it, taint the experience.

However, when I left camp on August 16th 2017 to travel around the east coast with my new camp friends, I knew I would do it all again.

Sobbing as you say goodbye to your boss pretty much confirms that camp has become a part of you.

Yes, a J1 is exciting and wonderful but it is getting through the scary moment of pressing book on the plane ticket, knowing the time and effort you put into being there, the tearful goodbye to your loved ones, that makes you appreciate every second of the experience.

Ashleigh Nolan

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