My J1 Visa Experience 2014

Last Summer I was lucky enough to take part in the J1 visa programme which has maintained an extremely strong link between Ireland and America for at least the past fifty years. In light of the recent tragedy that took place in Berkeley, California and the following New York Times article which cast a negative light over the entire programme and those who take part in it which I feel is a gross injustice.

One of our first nights in Santa Barbara was spent strolling around the Marina and Pier
One of our first nights in Santa Barbara was spent strolling around the Marina and Pier

My J1 summer changed my entire outlook on life and cemented friendships which will last a lifetime. I even have great friends in America now which I could never have even dreamed of having before. It’s a full year on and we still catch ourselves reminiscing over “the time when…” and giggling at the memories of our care free selves.

A lot of YogurtLand was consumed last summer as we deemed it to be healthy compared to the usual J1 fodder we consumed on our tight budgets!
A lot of YogurtLand was consumed last summer as we deemed it to be healthy compared to the usual J1 fodder we consumed on our tight budgets!

Yes, going on a J1 summer is extremely expensive but once you are prepared for this its a decision that you will never regret! My advice is go with your friends and you will have an absolute blast. In my case we decided on Santa Barbara in Southern California and we lived in the town of Ilse Vista which is about 20/25 minutes outside Santa Barbara. IV is home to University College Santa Barbara and so settling in and maintaining a great social life is much easier in this laid back, young and care free environment.

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IV at Sunset, we hung out outside Starbucks and IV Drip, which bakes the best cookies every day, most evenings when we had nothing major planned
IV at Sunset, we hung out outside Starbucks and IV Drip, which bakes the best cookies every day, most evenings when we had nothing major planned
I had friends working in an Irish Pub called Dargans Downtown. One day I was walking to have lunch with them there and I found a $100 bill lying in the street!
I had friends working in an Irish Pub called Dargans Downtown. One day I was walking to have lunch with them there and I found a $100 bill lying in the street!

I was lucky enough to get a job working in Downtown Santa Barbara and so commuted to work everyday on the bus. Strangely I liked going into town for work every day as it meant that those two sections of my life stayed separate which sometimes dose not occur on J1s.

We traveled often throughout the summer instead of leaving seeing all of California to the end like many other J1ers chose to do. In doing this we were able to explore the East Coast at the end which I will cover in another blog post as it was a whole other experience in itself!

One of my favorite trips we did was to Yosemite National Park in Upstate California. I always pride myself on being from an area of natural beauty but Yosemite was in an entire league of its own!

The View from the top of Glacier Point- Yosemite National Park
The View from the top of Glacier Point- Yosemite National Park
Part of our massive J1 family at the top of Glacier Point, Yosemite
Part of our massive J1 family at the top of Glacier Point, Yosemite
Roadtrippin' to Yosemite, the sunsets in California are breath taking!
Roadtrippin’ to Yosemite, the sunsets in California are breath taking!

Before leaving California we also got to see Los Angles which I regret not going to more because we were only a hour and half away from it in Santa Barbara. We also visited Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Santa Monica is without a doubt one of the nicest towns I have ever been to!

The Grove Los Angeles
The Grove Los Angeles
The Hollywood Walk of Fame was one of the most peculiar places I have ever been!
The Hollywood Walk of Fame was one of the most peculiar places I have ever been!
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Tired but still happy and excited faces at Santa Monica Pier. My love for Santa Monica was ever more strengthened at the fact of there being a Brandy Melville here!

I was also lucky enough to turn 21 while on my J1 Visa and so was treated with a night out American style. To be honest I would take a night out in Ireland with proper Irish banter over it any day! The social scene in America is just so different to home!

The girls surprised my with an Oreo Cake (my favorite American junk food) at one of our weekly BBQs for my birthday
The girls surprised my with an Oreo Cake (my favorite American junk food) at one of our weekly BBQs for my birthday
My first legal drink in America was enjoyed in Eureka in Downtown Santa Barbara which we ate in a tonne! The staff surprised me with a cake and sang happy birthday which I was totally not expecting!
My first legal drink in America was enjoyed in Eureka in Downtown Santa Barbara which we ate in a tonne! The staff surprised me with a cake and sang happy birthday which I was totally not expecting!

Another great highlight which came with being in Santa Barbara was Fiesta which happens every year. Fiesta celebrates the founding of the city of Santa Barbara and its Spanish/Mexican roots. The four day event is amazing and I strongly advise any one to take advantage of the atmosphere if they are able to!

Thousands of these colourful eggs are painted and sold during Fiesta. They are filled with confetti and are cracked over peoples' heads and soon confetti covers the streets of Santa Barbara during the festival adding to the Carnival atmosphere!
Thousands of these colourful eggs are painted and sold during Fiesta. They are filled with confetti and are cracked over peoples’ heads and soon confetti covers the streets of Santa Barbara during the festival adding to the Carnival atmosphere!
I had feathers put into my hair during Fiesta that lasted all summer and into my new college year
I had feathers put into my hair during Fiesta that lasted all summer and into my new college year

In essence my J1 Summer was outstanding and remains unforgettable. I got to see the most incredible things, meet the most wonderful people and I am now lucky to have such good friends that I shared my travels and experiences with. The J1 visa is a great programme and an experience that everyone should be able to partake in. It is my memories that gave me very little cause to regard the New York Times article with. The tragedy that befell those poor souls in Berkeley can only be deemed as thus a tragedy. They like so many others who took off to the States for a Summer of growth and new, exciting experiences. It is all a part of maturing and figuring out who we are as people. Their Summer did not end as it should but that those not mean that the whole programme was at fault and therefore should not deter other students from partaking in future years. The Berkeley Students shall never be forgotten and their memories shall live on in every student that partakes in the programme in the future. It is for all of my experiences combined that I feel that the New York Times article over stepped its boundaries and therefore shows no true reflection on what it really means to be a J1er.

To anyone out there who is on the fence about doing a J1 summer I say Do It! It will change your life and give you the most fantastic experiences ever. When will you ever get to travel America with your friends so carefree again? I promise it will be a decision you will never regret nor forget.

XO Laura

AmTrak Train Station, Santa Barbara California
AmTrak Train Station, Santa Barbara California

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