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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 21 January, 2020

Road tripping in Mexico, working with ex-cons - then putting it all on YouTube. Aaah, the J1 experience

From the 1970s to today, former J1-ers share their memories about good times in the USA.

Image: Paul Deering via YouTube

WORKING LONG DAYS in a crew of “illegals” and “ex-cons” to fund their escapades in Mexico – and then putting it all on YouTube.

That’s the modern J1 experience, at least for these students.

Paul Deering, 20, and David Shaw, 21, were among about 7,000 Irish students who this year took the rite of passage to the US during their summer break – a trip which took them from the west coast to across the border and back up the country’s eastern fringe.

The pair began their trip working as furniture removalists in San Francisco, doing 10-hour days, living in “horrible” accommodation and using the Apple store for internet to save cash for their travels.

IMG_1795 David Shaw, left, and Paul Deering.

“We were pretty much working with illegals and ex-cons, but just to meet them and hear their stories was part of the experience,” Shaw said.

I thought the Americans were really good; I wouldn’t want to die in America but I would like to live there for a few years.”

And of course it’s all on YouTube

Deering condensed their two-month stay in the US into a five-minute video he shot on his beloved GoPro camera, capturing all their hijinks in California’s vast national parks and south of the US border.

Source: Paul Deering/YouTube

“People thought we were mad going to Mexico because of how dangerous everyone says it is, but we went there anyway,” he said.

An estimated 150,000 Irish people have taken up the working holiday over the years and today Deering and Shaw were among a group of J1 alumni who shared there experiences at an event put on by the US embassy in Dublin.

Will work for tips

Michelle Darmody, from Dublin’s The Cake Cafe, was 21 when she did the first of two J1 trips to the US in 1997.

She worked waiting tables in a 24-hour diner and in a bar - experiences she said helped give her a strong work ethic for her later culinary career.

Source: Video

“I arrived into Manhattan quite late in the evening and I still remember the taxi ride … I think I fell in love with New York instantly,” she told

“Definitely waiting tables there, working in bars, they made you work hard – you got well paid but it was very hard work.

We got twice the tips of all the American waitresses which used to annoy them. I think having an Irish accent and probably seeming a little lost … it definitely helped.”

Back in the day

John Hegarty, the former head of Trinity College Dublin, spent the summer of 1970 as a 22-year-old working as a courier for a real estate firm in downtown New York.

Source: Video

“It was a completely different time than now … Catholic students were only then allowed into Trinity College, which is where I spent the rest of my career,” he said.

That gives you an idea what Ireland was like at the time – highly homogeneous, quite inward looking, and there were no jobs.

“What we call the great 60s revolution, the cultural change, had happened in the US by that stage, but that 60s revolution didn’t reach Ireland until the 1970s.

“It was an experience that transformed my life and I think most J1-ers would probably see that experience in the US as transforming their lives in one way or another.”

Hegarty said the Americans loved all things Irish, “completely different” to the attitude he experienced when he spent the previous summer in England.

READ: Irish students are still welcome in the US after that whole SF apartment-trashing business

READ: The rites of passage every Irish person must go through

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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