After finishing my University degree, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be heading overseas instead of heading straight into a career at the young age of 21. Both of my parents travelled together for multiple years prior to settling back home so growing up hearing their travel war-stories made the decision an easy one. Having had a few friends already head over to the US on their J1 program through IEP’s Work USA 12 month program, and then learning of its exclusivity to recent graduates made a US working holiday a no brainer! Following in many other J1 holders footsteps, I packed my bags and headed for New York City with no job, short term accommodation and very little money in the bank!
First Day in the City
The first day I spent in New York was probably not your typical first day of getting your life admin out of the way. Instead, I jumped on the subway at the nearest station to where I was staying in Bedstuy and embarked on a journey with no real destination in mind. Arriving at the 50th street station in Midtown Manhattan, might not have been the smartest decision but it sounded about as good as any place to get off. Little did I know I was only a few blocks from Times Square. After a short walk I ‘stumbled upon’ one of the busiest pedestrian squares on the planet and it was wildly overwhelming and exciting. I spent a few hours exploring that area before, as anyone who has lived in New York will tell you, Times Square got very old.
It was also getting late so I decided to head home. Unfortunately, halfway to where I was staying everyone on the subway was kicked off. Reason being – President Obama was in town and his motorcade was scheduled to head over top of that trainline in the next few hours. To mitigate any threat to his security, everyone was booted off the subway. To someone new to New York City and Brooklyn, I may as well have been let out in the middle of nowhere. The great thing about New York City is that you can ask anyone you bump into for directions and they will no doubt give you a hand! So that’s what I did – I was pointed in the right direction and found my way home after a decent walk. New Yorkers get a bad wrap for being grumpy and shouty. In reality they’re more animated than they are grumpy and shouty – and definitely happy to help.
I fortunately found work within a week of being in New York. I have two tips for finding work in New York as a J1 visa holder. Tip 1 – you need to be flexible and aim to get any job to start getting the cash rolling in. After you’ve landed that first job – then you can start working on finding a more career focused job if you are that way inclined. Tip 2 – you need to oversell your skill set by 30%. The reason for this is simply – everyone does it. Employers know everyone does this too so they are automatically going to discount your skill set by 30%. If you give yourself a little bit of a boost here or there, then your employer is going to get a realistic understanding of who you are and what your skills actually are! Now you shouldn’t be outright lying – but polish up some of your skills and you’ll be working in no time.
My first job was working in the oldest Ski Shop in New York – Emilio’s Ski Shop in Forest Hill, Queens. The family run shop had been around since the 50’s and unfortunately has since shut. It was a bunch of fun working in such a classic New York, family run business, environment. This was the job I took to get the cash flow. While I was working there, I spent my spare time looking for a job specific to my degree. I landed an interview with a tech startup and within 1-2 weeks I was working as a sales research and account manager. It was great working with such a young team that was so passionate about what they did! I worked both jobs (7 days a week) until the end of the East Coast ski season and then continued on with the tech startup for the rest of my 12 months. The role at the tech start up set me on a great career path that has led me into multiple different industries and eventually the travel industry!
I will always maintain that New York City is the best city on the planet. Although I don’t have vast travel experience, the major cities I’ve been to and lived in don’t come close to what New York has to offer. Green space, live music, vintage/thrift shopping, affordable or free art galleries, day trips to the beach at Coney Island or sculpture parks/galleries like Storm King or Dia: Beacon – these are all parts of living in New York that I enjoyed. Yet I enjoyed nothing more than the food scene in New York City.
It doesn’t matter where you are, you will always be a few steps away from the best “pizza/dumplings/bagels/BBQ/wings” in the city or perhaps the world. New York is where I developed a minor passion for incredible food. The restaurant scene is notoriously excellent. The sheer number of great restaurants that open every month is staggering. However – what I found most exciting and what I ended up spending my weekends doing – was finding delicious cheap eats. Whether it’s making the trek out to Flushing, Queens to find the best Xiao Long Bao or out to Far Rockaway for the best fish tacos in the city, the feeling when you discover a new favourite is incredible. People still ask me for a list of restaurants to try when they visit NYC and I am always happy to share the experiences. Getting a good recommendation is always great but doing research and uncovering a hidden gem is the best fun I had while living there.
At the end of the 12 months on the J1 visa you are given a 30 day grace period to travel around the US. I chose to use that time (plus 2 weeks of my working time) to do a roadtrip with a couple friends in our 1992 Acura Legend with the seat warmers. We drove from New York to LA via the American South over 6 weeks. There were a tonne of highlights – absorbing live Music in Memphis, meeting Julian Casablancas of ‘The Strokes’ in Nashville, celebrating halloween in New Orleans, experiencing the visual beauty of White Sands in New Mexico and partying all night long with two random Vegas newly weds. Of course with any road trip there were also car troubles – but we don’t speak about those.
Our US road trip is the single most exciting and enjoyable travel experience I’ve ever had and probably ever will experience. I could do a series of blogs just on the stories and memories we created. A US road trip regardless of where you do it is at the very top of my recommendation list for anyone doing the 12 month J1 Visa program.
Doing the Work USA 12 month program is no doubt the single most important thing I’ve done in my life. The trials and tribulations of living in a city that can be so unforgiving put me on a bit of a path. Meeting some amazing friends for life, eating some of the best food you can imagine for less than a fiver, and learning so much about yourself is the best thing you can do straight out of Uni. I’d recommend it to anyone I can.