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Chicago – A Summer on the Southside – Sean McCormack

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“A Summer on the Southside”.

Sean McCormack


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!


Sean McCormack

Chicago – Booking J1Accom made our summer in Chicago – Patrick Ryan

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Booking J1Accom made our summer in Chicago.

Patrick Ryan


A common problem that almost every J1 student suffers year after year, is waiting to arrive at their chosen destination before looking for accommodation. The problem with this, especially in Chicago is that accommodation is extremely difficult to come across. With J1Accom.Com, you can have accommodation sorted before you even leave Dublin Airport. I myself chose to wait and was on the verge of homelessness, running out of money etc. Simply to the low supply of accommodation and I decided to bite the bullet and go to the J1Accom.com accommodation, it was the best decision I made.

J1Accom is home to around 100 other Irish students, making it a home away from home. Where you will have your own room, kitchen, common area etc. Unlike vast amounts of students cramming into one-bedroom apartments across the city, living in horrible discomfort for the summer.

J1Accom is in a prime location in the city, on the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology, a 10 minute journey from downtown Chicago, and less than 2 minutes of a walk to the CTA Green-Line station at 35th-Bronzeville-IIT.

As mentioned before, there is a homely feel to J1Accom due to the large number of Irish students. And as always the case with the Irish, a good sesh is a common occurrence!! As well as the Irish vibe, there is plenty of amenities across the area of IIT, like going to the college gym, basketball and tennis courts, Astroturf football, and just a 5 minute walk from Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.



Another bonus to staying with J1Accom, is that you can start work immediately after you arrive in Chicago, and earn money from the get go.

And finally, one of the big reasons for staying in j1Accom, is that you will make great friends that you will remain in touch with long after you arrive home.

If I was to recommend one thing for any J1 student headed to Chicago over the summer of 2019, it would be to go to J1Accom for your summer accommodation. It really is the foundation of a great summer and will really set you up for the best summer of your life.

Chicago – Chica-GO with J1Accom – Laura Fahy

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Chica-GO with J1Accom!


By Laura Fahy

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,

Chica-GO with J1Accom.

Chicago – How It Went Down in Chi-Town – Harriet Bejeryd

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How It Went Down in Chi-Town Harriet Bejeryd


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.

Chicago – J1Accom #1 – John Cassidy

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J1Accom #1. By John Cassidy


Ah America – Land of the free, home of the landlords with twenty J1 students per room, if you don’t know where to look. You don’t need to fall prey to this “inevitable part of a J1” however, and you might just have the best summer of your life.

After finishing with what seemed like a lifetime’s worth of paperwork and stress getting my job and visa, I was looking forward to what many had told me would be the trip of a lifetime to America, more specifically Chicago, for the summer. Listening to advice from people who had gone to various places in the summers before me, I decided that I would stay in a hostel with two friends from home for the first few nights, while we would search for accommodation. The lads, however, were working too far away from the city to live with, so I was faced with the daunting task of finding people sound enough to live with, while still being close enough to work in the city.

After looking at *another* house that was wall-to-wall of sleeping bags and blow up mattresses I came across my saviour on Facebook – J1Accom.Com. My initial thoughts were that this was too good to be true, but with my new American sim card and a feeling that I’d be on the next plane home if this didn’t work out, I rang Paul and was filled with relief. An Irish voice that knew what I was going through calmed my mind and he told me I could call by whenever I was free, for a tour of the accommodation located on the grounds of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I made the short journey on the “L” (the best parts of the DART and Luas rolled into one) from town. I was surprised at how little time it took as Chicago is so vast (bear in mind I’m coming from thinking Galway is difficult to navigate at times), and J1Accom was already looking promising. I got there and was shown around. It was amazing. Gone were the overcrowded sitting rooms being used as bedrooms. Here was a modern, comfortable, affordable place to live, where I would be sharing a kitchen and bathroom with only two others and would have my own bedroom. Needless to say, I went back to the hostel for my bags and had moved in by that night.

But even all the comforts of the place (pool table, ping-pong table, sky deck, laundry, common rooms, a 2-minute walk to the nearest tram stop and shops just across the road) while nice can’t compare with what you can’t see from any pictures – the atmosphere in the building. I genuinely couldn’t have hoped for a sounder bunch of people to move in with. From being an outsider not knowing anyone, they took me in as one of their own straight away. Living with 100 other Irish J1ers it really did feel like (pardon the cliché) home away from home. You now have all the Irish brothers and sisters you could want in this foreign land (and of course there’ll be enough Irish mammies to offer the world’s best advice at a minute’s notice too). From our newfound base we went to the nearby beach or explored the city, generally just having a ball.

Now, these 3 months in Chi-Town will be the best summer of your life…. if done right. Legally you don’t need to sort your accommodation before travelling over the pond, but save yourself the stress and blistered feet from miles walked, looking at overcrowded houses and book your stay in J1Accom located in IIT. It’ll give you more time to look around in those awestruck first few days, you wont have to worry about leaving work early on your second day to move your bags to the next hostel/Airbnb and you can go out to your hearts content knowing you can stumble in the door at whatever hour and not have to get up early to go house hunting. You’ll also benefit from the 24 -hour security on campus, so you can relax while enjoying your new surroundings. Just writing this piece has me thinking back on all the craic we had in J1Accom and nothing would give me better pleasure than to be back. Chicago is the ideal place for a J1 with everything you can ask for. Beaches resembling the West Coast, a bustling city that takes your breath away both day and night and a nightlife that can tire out even us Irish. The J1 is all about experiencing different culture. I found Chicago to be perfect and introduced me to so many different things and for the launchpad to your adventure I cannot recommend J1Accom enough!

John Cassidy