I’ve procrastinated writing about my summer in ‘Chi-town’ since my return from the states. The reason for this is twofold; firstly, because putting such an incredible experience into words is no easy feat and secondly, because writing this means writing in the past tense, hence the crushing consolidation of the fact that the experience has ended (cue the melancholic memories and small violins). Alas, I’ll solider on for the greater good of you folks reading this and wondering if Chicago is the place for you or if J1Accom should be your home for the summer. The answer to both is yes, don’t believe me? Read my story and I assure you, you will.
At twenty-two I felt that as college ended, I needed to do something to celebrate my survival. What better way than to the leave the country in search of dodgy tan lines, ‘Fourloco’ induced paralysis and the perfect pictures I’d seen friends post on social media platforms in previous years. Truth be told, Chicago hadn’t been on my ‘hit list’ of cities (poor choice of words- sorry Trump). That was until Paul planted the seed and within a few weeks, the flights were booked, the bags were packed and the legs were waxed (mine, not Paul’s). Cue a wonderful ‘Wow Air’ stopover with my friends (side note; pay the money and go with literally anyone else!) and it was only then that panic hit me; ‘would I like it?’ ‘What if our accommodation is overcrowded? My vision of the American dream stemmed predominantly from sitcoms and films and so, I expected the reality of American life to be true to this portrayal. When we touched down in O’Hare airport, my worries were quelled as the glorious grid of Chicago’s cityscape greeted us. Next problem, where in God’s name had we signed up to live?
No amount of research on the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in the south of Chicago could possibly have prepared us for the building that our Uber driver delivered us to. Every inch of the SSV building screamed sleek, spacious and student-friendly. The biggest attraction being the layout of the individual two and three person apartments complete with single rooms, kitchen, living area and bathrooms along with twin sinks, ideal for slapping on makeup to cover sunburnt skin before jumping in an Uber to Joe’s. Being somewhat older than some J1ers, there was no way I would have survived the summer sleeping on a mattress with ten plus others- life is too short for that people! Impressed as we were with the apartments, the pies de résistance lay ahead as we reached the fifth floor; the sky deck- a spot soon to become our safe haven in a hectic city. Blinding sun, loungers dotted along the decking and in the distance -the skyline of Chicago; a concrete jungle waiting to be concurred.
In the following days, we discovered that the buildings location was frequently serviced by CTA transport in the form of the red and green line ‘L’ trains and the CTA buses right outside the building bringing you to North Avenue beach which has great bar called Castaways and Navy Pier (go to both-thank me later). Aside from making the city centre readily accessible to us, it also saved us a fortune that would have been spent on Ubers to work and nights out.
While I wanted to explore and see Chicago, part of me always knew that I would experience some sort of homesickness and if you think that you’re immune to it my friends, then you’re mistaken. The best thing about J1 accom for me wasn’t the city of Chicago, the drunken nights, the days at the beach or the freedom of foreign travel, it was the group of people I would never have met if I hadn’t opted to stay with J1Accom. The group of people that came to be my J1 family. From day one, no matter who arrived in the building, instant and intense bonds were formed on the aforementioned sky deck, be it a person who opted to go solo for the summer or with friends. These people made Chicago my ‘home away from home’ in every way possible. From tough days at work, a need for home comforts or a hangover to sooth (7-eleven pizza does the job and it’s on campus) I was never short of someone to come to. At the head of our family were our ‘co-dads’-the CEO (Paul) and VP (Brian G). It was extremely evident from day one that J1Accom was more than just business for the Cork boys as any problems we had were readily resolved, personal or otherwise. We still meet up and reminisce over our carefree Chi-town days and that alone speaks volumes.
I could write all day about my experiences but what’s the point? Go see it for yourself, go have the summer of a lifetime, go and meet your own J1 family,
I started 2018 thinking a J1 wouldn’t be my thing. I love my own space, didn’t want to be away from all my friends and family for too long, and didn’t fancy the idea of spending my summer working. I was wrong. And if whoever is reading this is in the same mindset as I was, you’re wrong too (no offence). Spending the summer at J1Accom in Chicago was the best decision I ever made.
I met Paul a few months before my J1 through a mutual friend and straight away he sold Chicago to me. I planned on going there with two friends from home, but they pulled out last minute so I was kind of at a loss and didn’t think my J1 would go ahead. I got talking to three girls I know from college and they suggested I go with them. Sorted. Paul took everything we discussed into consideration and put us into two two-bedroom apartments in the SSV building. Having the peace of mind of knowing where I was going to be living before leaving for America was so handy, both for me and for the poor mother worrying at Dublin airport seeing me off. Booking and paying was so simple and Paul was always in contact. The money I spent on J1Accom was 100% worth it for everything we had (I didn’t have to share a bathroom, kitchen or mattress on the floor with fifteen others like most J1ers do).
When we arrived in the Windy City we got an Uber straight to the accommodation and we were in our beds within a few minutes of arriving. This was well-needed after our Wow-Air flight, which frankly had the opposite of the wow-factor. Me and one of the other girls had arranged to be in one apartment together because we’d lived with each other previously in college and we were the dinosaur-nugget-eating gals of the group, whereas the other two were more scrambled eggs and avocado people.
Side note: We discovered the Dino Nugs in Jewel Osco supermarkets. There was one about a ten minute walk from the accommodation or another one two stops away on the green line.
Which brings me to travel. For such a lazy person like myself, having the green train line directly behind the SSV building was a dream. It genuinely took about fifty steps to walk from the front door of our building to the platform, which had trains running every fifteen minutes or so straight into the city centre in less than twenty minutes. Then of course, the red line which was less than a five minute walk from SSV took us home many a night after Joe’s, Happies or McGee’s at 5am after a good feed of a footlong spicy Italian sub with southwest sauce (ask for Nick in the Subway up the street from Joe’s, he’ll sort you out). The red line also went straight to Michigan Avenue where you can waste your wages shopping in the best boutiques of Chi-Town.
If access to everything you’ll want to see in Chicago using the green and red lines won’t keep you happy enough, there’s a bus literally right in front of the building that takes you straight to Navy Pier, so you can eat some deep-dish pizza whilst watching the fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night.
All those nights out and days spent sight-seeing wouldn’t be the same without the odd friend or two to keep you entertained. The layout of the SSV building with a common area on each floor, a pool table on the top floor and two rooftop terraces meant that there was always someone to talk to. You could come home from work, go upstairs for a gander at who’s sitting out on the roof and within ten minutes someone you’d barely talked to before would’ve convinced you to go to Joe’s with them for their high quality $2 pitchers or $3 vodkas. I don’t think I ever came home to an empty rooftop. There was always a group up there who would welcome the chats and complaints about how many American customers commented on their accents in work today.
As the weeks went on, our group of friends expanded and I know for a fact that I’ve made amigos for life. My poor Snapchat memories is full to the brim of all the moments I captured over there, and still, over two months later I flick back and laugh at some of the nights we had. Best of all, if there was one night that I was too tired to socialise, I knew that I had my own room and bed to come home to (which came in handy when the boyfriend visited or when “dinosaur nugs girl” wanted a visitor over after a night of partying in Evil Olive, if you know what I mean).
So basically, if you’re considering going on a J1, chat to Paul and he can give you recommendations on which city to choose and how to go about planning your trip. Obviously I would recommend Chicago, but either way if you choose J1Accom you’re going to have a summer of meeting your future best friends, going out 24/7 and earning plenty of cash dolla whilst having the security and comfort that comes with their accommodation. So unless you’re a hermit or have a paralysing fear of long-haul flights, get yourself on that plane and have the summer of your life. #J1accomnumber1
* Go to Annette’s Italian Ice by Armitage Station and tell her you know Harriet she’ll sort you out with a free scoop or two.
* Eat in Vapiano on Wabash Ave. the pasta is unreal (there’s also a cheeky Nandos beside it if you’d prefer that).
* Jewel Osco do 1.75 litres of Smirnoff vodka for $16. You’re welcome.
The summer of 2018 in New York City was full of laughs, memories and a lot of Mean Fiddlers…
I made the courageous decision to travel solo to NYC in June 2018 (if you’re worried about it, don’t be, just do it!) and it was hands down the best experience and decision I have made to date.
After booking the early bird J1 back in November, I started thinking about where the hell I was going to live, I know right, early bird catches the worm.. I found J1Accom through the Facebook page and was in contact with a girl that had been there before. I contacted Paul in January, but sure enough I was a tad biteen early and was assured a place when they opened applications, which is sooo straight forward and simple, a monkey could understand it. With everything sorted before I sat my final year exams I was cruising and couldn’t wait to get over.
I cannot stress enough how much of a relieve it was knowing when I landed in JFK that I had everything sorted and a bed to fall into that night, and the night after that as well!! Trust me your parents wont be calling you every five seconds if you’ve this sorted, let me tell ya!
I was staying in the Conolly Building which is located right in the campus of LIU. I was so impressed it was gated and secure and central. You could nearly fall out of bed and into the subway within 4 minutes of waking up, or coming home, (ideal for work and the odd night out.) The Q train (its yellow I believe) is your way in and out of the city, and you’re in the middle of Manhattan in 20 mins, plus you cannot beat the view of the Brooklyn Bridge and downtown Manhattan when you cross the river (the Hudson btw).
What worried me about going over by myself was, shock, making friends. This was not a problem as nearly everyone you meet is Irish in the building. Funny story, I actually arrived at LIU with my bags and three lads arrived just in front of me and were from Dublin and had just come off the same flight as me. Small world as they say. You will make friends in no time. Plus, it’s New York there’s Irish everywhere! This makes it handy when you need to pop to 7/11 and grab some Four Locos for the night ahead. The nights out organised are one of the bests nights you will have. Can you imagine sailing on the Hudson river abroad a boat with a drink (or two) in your hands and looking out over the Manhattan skyline? Well Patrick Greene is the man that will sort you with everything you need, and caters for J1Accom students. Patrick is an Irish club promoter in NYC and is the guy that will get you into that night club(rooftop bar) VIP with free drink if you stay with J1Accom. What more could you (and your insta) ask for.
I have made friends for life while being apart of the J1Accom group and memories that I wont be sharing with the fam back home. What I will say is that if you’re flying solo or with a bunch of friends this is your one stop shop for a hassle free life.
Sarah Peppard. – J1Accom will make your summer in Chicago!
My journey begins with a group of four girls, trying to figure out where to go for our summer. All we knew was that we could not spend another wet miserable summer in Ireland. That’s for sure. So, we began researching the states for our J1’s. Where abouts would we go? Where would we live? Where would we work? And so on. It became very stressful very quickly, and because of this four soon became three, and before our eyes three become two. But you know what they say three is a crowd anyway.
Now the real journey begins, me and my best friend Luzma travelling to the other side of the world. Yes, the group was halved, yes we were terrified. This is when the real search began. We ended up getting what seemed like a great job with a catering company in Chicago. Good pay, good tips, flexible hours, the whole lot. And it sounded too good to be true… and it was. Shortly after speaking to some people I knew that went to Chicago the previous year, we found out that this company was a sham. Which was very lucky for us, but also sad as we had our hearts set on Chicago. It was getting later on in the year, and we just showed right back up at square one. We decided it would be best to try out all the jobs that our J1 sponsor was offering, do skype interviews the lot. They were all rotten. We set out on our own and emailed everywhere, found a nice little job in a pool side restaurant in Chicago(score) were the wage was reasonable and the owner was lovely. He also employed both of us (double score). From here we had two things ticked off the list where we are going and where we would work.
The next question is where we would live. This search began promptly. Because it was only the two of us, we were not able to afford our own place as rent was way to high. This meant that we were more than likely(defiantly) going to have to rent a room in someone’s house. The thought. Anything could happen here. We seemed to have about three choices when it came to choosing a room to rent, move in with a family, move in with a crazy cat lady or move in with a 50 single bachelor. Well that was a big nope. The stress levels grow as our flight date got closer. The thought of two 21 year old Irish girls showing up to the states with no where to live was very haunting. Very very haunting. One day we saw on post on the Chicago J1 Facebook group. Something along the lines of, over 100 beds for Irish J1’ers students in Chicago, student dorms, 1250 euro up front blah blah all about J1Accom. We looked into it and it seemed cool and also seemed really safe. Also had other Irish so we could make friends. As it was only the two of us. But 1250 euro. We did not have that money and we both knew our parents would laugh in our faces. They have already forked out so much. That went onto the backburner anyway. About a week later our search continues. Of course, I looked a bit further into J1Accom, it looked amazing it looked like the dream. Way better then Debby the cat lady, which was our first option at that moment in time. At this point I thought, sure what harm ill tell my mam about this place. To my surprise she turned around and said that it looks amazing, you’ll be safe, you’ll have your own room, you’re going to meet so many people your age. But then the question arose about the price. I told her 1250 up front then 500 in July than 250 back at the end. It worked out about 500 a month which is what we would have been paying anyway. Me and mum agreed that she would pay the upfront and that I would pay the 500 in July. So kind of like my mum as my landlord. But it worked. Luzma’s Mum got on bored and we were set. Luzma and I got so excited. But then we thought its been about a week since we saw the post on Facebook. It only had limited spaces, we thought we had defiantly missed it. We thought it was too late. We filled in the application anyways and with in two hours we had a place. Little did we know that this was going to unveil to be the best summer of our life’s.
This is where the real fun begins. We arrived about a month later to Chicago. Check in was easy with our American RA bringing us to our room and giving us our key cards. We were so tired, and jet lagged that as soon as we got there we crashed. When we woke up we were amazed. Not only did we have our own rooms we had our own apartment. While we looked around Luzma reminded me of our friend Iza. She was also in Chicago. The difference being she was in a two-bed apartment, same as us, but with 18 other people. Safe to say I didn’t envy her. That brings us to our first night in Chicago, we wanted to drink and see what the craic was with everyone living in the building. We got drink and headed to the forth floor where all the statuses on the residence page said to go (Yes the building has its own group chats!). Like sheep we followed. Here we met some people, we didn’t know it at the time, but these people were soon to become our best friends. There was a problem with our Wifi the first night so of coarse we were there giving out balls about how shite the wifi was in this place and those two ‘reps’ Brian and Paul didn’t do anything to help. But it was our first night, there was so many names to remember. Of course we didn’t realise we were giving out about Brian and Paul to… Brian and Paul. Well shite. Who would have known, our reps hang with us. They turned around and laughed. Thank god. Brian then informed us that he had been down three times that day and we were out. I guess they were a bit more useful after all. That’s when the fun really began who knew that our landlords were basically on a J1 with us. They brought us out, showed us the city, the clubs, anything you asked they did. Told us where to go and more importantly where not to go. They looked out for us. Not to mention they were gas. A pair of ejits. Very loveable ejits. They looked after us and introduced us to everyone in the accommodation. Showed everything great about the place, the best way to get into town. Which is by train and right outside the accom door. Just saying.
We soon made good friends with four girls. They had a six bedroom apartment upstairs and we had a three bedroom apartment down stairs. There was a chance that a random person could be moved into our apartment or that two random people could be moved into theirs. The girls offered for the two of us to move in with them, and then that would eliminate the chance of strangers moving in with us. We went to Paul and Brian with our idea, to see if this was even acceptable and the next day we were moved in. That was that, that’s how quick they were to help. Even in our times of most stress we would turn to Paul. Christie, one of the girls in our apartment, went to put tacos into the microwave. When I came out of my room to see what everyone was doing, I seen jess and Christie chatting away on the couch. But to my left, I seen a lot of smoke and sparks, the microwave was basically on fire. They didn’t even notice. I look at the girls and screamed ‘its gonna blow’ as I run into Elaine’s bedroom (not my best idea, would have been a goner) and the girls run out the door. In my desperate call for help I shout ‘call Paul’ ‘Call Paul’ as if he was magic and would come and save us. No. He was in New York in the J1Accom building there that day. All our screaming got Luzma out of the shower, yes a wet person stupid again, who turned off the microwave and shuck her head at us. This just shows that even in my most scared moments I would turn to Paul. Even if I knew he wasn’t there. This is just one of many many amazing stories I have from the summer. And I don’t even want to think how different my summer would have been if I ended up living with Debby the cat lady. It was the best summer of my life and I put that down to the people I met. Which I never would have met without J1Accom. To top it all off when we went travelling we hit New York. As Brian and Paul also had a J1Accom in New York we were put up for 3 days and also shown all around New York by Paul himself. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else if I was to do my J1 again.
If I’m honest with myself and with the gift of hindsight, a J1 summer in the USA always seemed a distant unreachable dream. Amidst the hustle and bustle of my final year in university, the J1 was a happy after-thought as the reality of multiple deadlines and ever looming exams cast a shadow over my final days as an undergraduate. I had heard many great things about Chicago and done a fair share of research. I had thought it over and with my girlfriend and friends, talked about it a million times, but I knew in my heart that the experience of spending the summer in America would be all kinds of different to what I had imagined. And it was.
Having gone through the J1 application process, it came to long discussions about budgeting, where to live and where to travel following our stay in Chicago. My initial thoughts after some lengthy research were “this is going to be expensive”, particularly if we all wanted to live together. My college pals had gone out before my girlfriend and I because I needed to stay and watch my younger brother play in the Kennedy Cup inter-county soccer tournament. The boys had gone with the aim of finding us all a place to live in Chicago that provided sound living conditions, cheap rent, safety and a place that wasn’t a million miles from “everything”. Despite their efforts, most didn’t want to let to college students, didn’t do short term rental or were complete scammers! Any places that did accept J1’ers were fully booked up or just too damn expensive. Anyone who has been on a J1 to Chicago will tell you Wicker Park, Wrigleyville, Logan Square or Evanston. And although these are nice areas with lots to offer, many of our fears were later confirmed when we heard stories of several people sleeping on floors in single rooms and hordes of people being cramped into small apartments or houses. And rents still weren’t that cheap! With two days until our arrival and our friends still held up in a hostel in Damen, things weren’t looking good, that is until we found J1Accom Chicago, which in truth set the stage for one of the best summers of my life.
Having spent a summer in Chicago it is easy to see why it is one of America’s most favourite cities. The Windy City is a treasure chest of modernity, futuristic excitement and fuels the imagination! The food, the sights and the sounds, Chicago has it all. Downtown is elegantly dotted with a century’s worth of towers and spires but also pays homage to great modern architectural marvels such as Willis and Trump tower. The Loop is a daily jostle of people from all walks of life and the thrill of riding the CTA elevated trains to almost anywhere in the city is something I have never experienced in any other place. The various theatres downtown and just the general feel of the place make the everyday seem like a movie scene. One thing that must be said is that there is always something to do or see in the city. If you like shopping there’s the Magnificent Mile and in terms of food that isn’t very expensive, Chicago’s famous pizza joints do more than satisfy. The river walk along the banks of the Chicago River is epic and even better, you can kayak it if you are brave enough to find yourself amidst the numerous tour boats zooming up and down the river. A cycle or a walk to Navy Pier and along the shore of the beautiful Lake Michigan to feed the geese are a must. Bikes are easily rented all over the city using a mobile app and can be retrieved and dropped off almost anywhere. Millennium Park is home to an open-air theatre which must be seen to be appreciated and has orchestras or open-air movie nights regularly. Lincoln Park hosts one of the most wonderful zoos I have ever visited, and my mind was blown when I realised it’s free entry! There are also numerous beautiful beaches around the city, my favourite being North Avenue, which also offers jet skis, paddle boarding and is swimmer friendly! The city is rich in history and there are loads of museums that pay homage to this, my favourite being the MSI. The Shedd Aquarium and the Planetarium are also worth a visit. The nightlife is terrific yet unpretentious with numerous clubs, late night bars and roof top bars spread throughout the city, my favourite being London House. If you are a sports fan, all of Chicago’s teams play in the city and are all roughly within 15 mins of the loop. The city is culturally very rich and hosts several festivals in the summer, perhaps most notably Lollapalooza. The streets are so clean and Chicagoans so modest. Everyone wants to know what Ireland is like and everyone has plans to come here someday if they already haven’t.
Looking back on the whole Chicago experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of the accommodation. Hostels are a good short-term solution but as my pals found out, they can eat through your money! To have a base of operation so to speak, is a key platform for any J1 to live up to the hype. It is hard to not to sound bias, but J1Accom Chicago provided so much to us as a group in comparison to what other places had to offer, and with no hidden surprises. The J1Accom building itself sat right in the middle of the IIT Chicago campus, literally a 50-yard walk from the nearest CTA station of 35th Bronzeville IIT, which itself was only a ten-minute ride from downtown Chicago. CTA buses also ran outside the door straight to the city centre and Navy Pier. Not only was it located in the middle of a modern college campus with loads of amenities, the building that housed us J1er’s was modern, comfortable and provided superior living conditions.
Our group got to live in the same apartment, each with our own bedrooms which had storage for our things and could be locked for safety. The apartment had a shared bathroom and a kitchen which came in handy when trying to save money as we cooked our own food from the nearby supermarket. There were washing machines and driers on every floor for use by everyone which was very helpful as it made laundry less of a task. The wi-fi was super quick and there was loads of common areas to chill out with tv’s, a pool table and ping-pong tables. The whole security of the building itself was second to none as key cards were used to gain access to get inside and again to get into our apartments and bedrooms. Not only this but the front desk of the J1Accom building was manned all night and campus security patrolled the area 24/7. Moreover, the buzz around the building was top class as over 100 Irish J1’ers from all over Ireland mingled, partied and hung out together. Everyone was so friendly and there was always someone to go do something with or just hang out on the roof-top deck and chill with in the sun. Groups were heading out for pints in town every night so all we had to do was pick nights of convenience, especially when work was early the next day! Most importantly the accommodation was value for money at the price, considering all the facilities! You can easily pay the rent online too with no worries. A deposit of €150 didn’t break the bank either and was sent back to us as soon as we left. Paul and Brian were great to keep everyone updated on what was going on in terms of nightlife and what was happening around the campus. I must hand it to them, they never saw anyone left out and were great to invite people along on nights out and even organised trips to the nearby White Sox stadium to see a ball game for everyone in the building. The lads even ran a fantastic competition to give J1 residents the chance to win Lollapalooza tickets. They were also very accommodating when it came to my brother coming to stay with us for a few weeks. For me it was the little things that put J1Accom above all other lodgings. For example, one morning our toilet was on the fritz, so I informed the lads about it and within an hour or, so they had organised an engineer to come up and fix it. It’s something so small when you consider others were sleeping on the floor in rooms wedged with people in other parts of the city, but I must say the lads were always so helpful, informative and most importantly approachable. It was a bonus to get to work with my friends every day and after a tough day or night at work it was always so reassuring to know that we had a place to call home that we could easily get back to on the CTA and were safe, comfortable and happy in.
The end of our trip saw us travel to Las Vegas, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco with a pit stop in Denver along the way. These places were also unforgettable as one could imagine but if I am honest it is the time and the craic I had in Chicago that I will remember most. The J1 turned out to be everything I thought it would be and more. It shaped my outlook on life if I am honest and fuelled my sense of adventure. It taught me about the vast world that exists beyond the realms of my small home town in Cork. It was also a privilege to meet so many interesting characters not only in my time at J1Accom, but also in my work as a banquet server. I worked at and visited places that I could never have honestly imagined. Meeting people from all walks of life each day made me appreciate other cultures and ways of living but also made me proud to be Irish. Being away from home for so long helped me grow as a person and depending on myself taught me more about the way the world works. It might not be for everyone, but I guess you will never know until you try. It was the best decision I ever made and now I have the travel bug so hopefully I can make it back to the states next summer again for a visit.
My advice to anyone would be to get a group or a few friends together and just go for it. Life is to short not to and I can guarantee it will be an adventure to remember. I would also take advantage of the J1Accom pre-booking system and have a place for yourself and your friends before going out to Chicago as it takes a lot of pressure off once you get there. Trust me you will not be disappointed! Starting a job immediately can be nerve wrecking and looking for accommodation at the same time while living out of a suitcase full of your worn clothes is not a nice experience! Take advantage of what is a real community vibe! I can safely say with J1Accom, what you see is what you get, a top class living space for the summer of a life time. Living with other Irish people made me more at ease and it was easier to have the craic. The J1Accom experience not only made living in Chicago a wonderful experience, but also allowed me to make lifelong memories and lots of new friends!