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I thought I was a home bird but my summer in New York has been exhilarating

‘Whoever would have thought that a Donegal girl would feel so at home amidst the calamity of New York city?’

IT’S MAGNIFICENT AND overwhelming. Walking the streets of Manhattan, with your nose high in the air, gawking up at the tall skyscrapers, feeling smaller than you could ever imagine. No two buildings the same, no two passer-bys the same. New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and like countless other foreigners, it has become my home for the summer.

I thought I was a home bird, and thinking about going on a J1 terrified me. I went to the Gaeltacht and on a French-Exchange, both included in the worst experiences of my life. Nevertheless, I ached to get out of my hometown in Donegal and I booked my flights for New York.

Going on a J1 is an exhilarating process. After months of filling out forms and finally receiving my American visa, it’s as though nothing could hold me back. No family, no friends, no everyday woes, just the opportunity to live a completely different life full of adventures and new experiences for three months.


‘I’ve had so many wonderful experiences already’

I’ve been in New York a month and I’ve had many challenges and successes. A new country means settling into a new home, figuring out transport, a new bank account and a new phone company. Luckily for me I’m staying in Brooklyn with my friend’s uncle, which is a massive help, as accommodation is hard to find and rent is ridiculously high.

It took me two weeks to find a job, and while at times I thought I’d never start working thanks to the long wait for my social security number, I couldn’t be happier working in a café beside the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s owned by an Irish man and has some Irish staff so I never feel as though I’m too far from home.

I’ve had so many wonderful experiences already. I’ve been to Broadway twice, watched Shakespeare in the Park, cycled and boated around Central Park and spent a day in Coney Island. Not to mention spent endless amount of hours on Fifth Avenue and Soho, shopping and spending my tips.


Cultural surprises

As I’m under 21, I’m living a relatively quiet J1 life. We’ve had a few drinks but we’re far from the stereotypical work all day party all night students. It’s strange not being able to drink or go out but instead we’re trying to visit as many places as possible and experience as much as we can.

It’s a struggle trying to find places for lunch or breakfast that aren’t filled with sugar and fat. It’s no wonder to me how America has an obesity problem! On every block there is a Dunkin’ Donuts and even the smoothie bars add sugary syrups to your drink. The food out here is so rich and fatty, and I’ve eaten more fries in one month than I’d eat in three back home.

Mastering the subway was one of my biggest challenges during the first week. There seemed to be an unlimited amount of trains going in every direction and figuring out where to get off was a big challenge. It also took me a while to figure out the block layout of the city and what direction streets and avenues run it. But it’s one of those things that you get the hang off very quickly and once you know your stops, you’re sucking diesel.

Remembering those young people we have lost 

The six J1 students that lost their lives in Berkeley made us all reflect on the reality of a J1. The tragedy hit home for everyone in Ireland, as approximately 8,000 fellow Irish students headed to America with a J1 visa, full of the optimism of youth, looking to have the experience of our lives.

Two of my best friends are on a J1 in Berkeley and live three blocks away from the accident, while my cousin walks past the building every day on her way to work. Any of them could have been involved in that accident. We are all a part of the same ‘J1 team’ and we will never forget the moment we heard the devastating news and feared for each other’s safety. It made me appreciate my time away from home more and the opportunity that I’ve been given for the summer.

My decision to go on a J1 has been the best decision of my life, and I hope that the two months to come are filled with as much excitement and exhilaration as the first. I was dreading leaving the nest for three months, and spending a long time away from my dad and boyfriend, but I’ve never been happier. Whoever would have thought that a Donegal girl would feel so at home amidst the calamity of New York city, experiencing the things I never knew, I never knew?

Catherine Devine is 20 years old and from Donegal. She’s going into third year in Journalism in DCU and is the Editor-in-Chief of DCU’s student newspaper, The College View. Twitter: @CatherineDevin1

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