Wanderlust-J1 in San Fran

Lorna Lawless

Do you want to know what the J1 experience is really like without the filter? Lifestyle Editor Lorna Lawless gives all the details.

The experience everyone talks about with fond memories of their sunny summers on the West Coast, from my experience it wasn’t always just as fond as I was told, however, it was still one of the best experiences of my life. One thing I want to start off with saying is if your planning on going to San Francisco, expect it to be colder than the dream idea you have made up in your head of the Californian heat. It’s just not the case in San Francisco, it was probably hotter in Ireland this summer if we are all being honest with ourselves, but let me be clear it’s still worth going.

We all hear of these incredible stories of driving down the West Coast after working in a lovely ice cream shop job in the city, and having a nice bit of money in their back pocket. However, many people don’t talk about the hardships of getting these jobs in the first place to secure your visa and scraping together the money to get across that border. One fact you need to face before deciding to go on a J1 is yes this is a money racket, and yes sometimes these travel companies will rip you off but I promise it will be worth it. A piece of advice I would offer is, lots of your friends will be up for going now but when it comes to handing over the cash for this adventure-majority will pull out, so don’t let that stop you.

San Francisco is everything I didn’t expect but in the best way. The people are wonderfully vibrant who have a zest for life like no other. As soon as you arrive you will notice the diverse culture throughout different areas of the city. One thing you will immediately notice is the intensity of the homelessness crisis in the city. So if you are planning on living there for the summer, please be prepared because these homeless people are taking high dosages of drugs and can be quite frightening. You would not think the government in San Francisco spends up to $250 million a year on homelessness yet the problem seems imminent, and it’s getting worse according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Luckily for J1er’s Berkeley is where everyone stays- I mean everyone you met in the Gaeltacht five years ago and even everyone you went to primary and secondary school with all end up in Berkeley-trust me. It is without a doubt the place to be when it comes to nightlife, socialising and meeting new people who are also doing J1’s. The rent in Berkeley is realistically the only affordable rent in San Francisco anyway because the city prices are insane. Berkeley is a cute quaint town with loads of cool food spots and even better coffee shops where you can chill and chat with your mates.

The city is beautiful, there is so much culture that you nearly don’t have enough time to experience it all. China town in San Fran is just incredible, it is like walking into another universe. At the end of this big section of the city, you get to North Beach, which is literally Italian pizza and pasta heaven. One solid recommendation I have in North Beach is ‘Calzone’s’ it’s a vibey Italian spot which is a small bit pricey, but worth it because the pizza is amazing. The cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge is possibly one of the coolest things you will ever experience its around €65 a head if you aren’t lucky enough to be working in one of the cycling places but honestly, it’s so worth it.

A few things that might help with your J1 experience if you’re thinking of doing one next year is always plan for the worst. Easy said I know but when there were four of us with two cases each and all of our cases got lost for seven days, you need to have extra funds to buy some clothes for that week.

There will always be extra costs that you will never expect so always plan ahead. If you not thinking about a J1 now for next summer I highly recommend you do. There is a lot of documentation and sorting out between going to the American embassy, getting pictures done and finding a job it’s all full steam ahead so you need to be organised. Research beforehand will honestly make your life so much easier.

This experience is worth every penny and it’s something you may never be able to do if you don’t do it now. Of course everything isn’t sugar-coated for you but that’s all part of the experience. The places you get to go, the people you meet and the independence you feel makes all effort worth it. In the end it’s so hard to leave and come back to reality but the life experience you gain you can’t put a price on.

Lorna Lawless

Image Credit: Lorna Lawless