Being Irish is a huge commodity when travelling. People naturally preconceive us as friendly, beer-guzzling socialites that love to party and have absolutely no desire to take life seriously. I mean, I don’t think many other nationalities get that reaction. Of course, we know these stereotypes aren’t true (to a large extent), but regardless, being an Irish person abroad is truly a unique buzz. The focus of this series will be to reveal my own personal experience, and that of fellow Irish people I have contacted, on spending time in other countries for prolonged periods of time. As you can imagine, life is quite different outside of Éire’s coastal shores… With the famous J1 experience being this week’s choice. Remember, everything documented here is from an Irish perspective, culturally and socially. Therefore, it may not necessarily reflect the views of other nationalities towards a place.

It’s no secret that America has always been a popular destination for young travel-hungry Irish people, going back through the centuries. Approximately 10.5% of the total U.S. population boasts Irish ancestry because of this, a pretty staggering statistic considering there’s only around 6 million of us back home at the minute. Whilst many still move Stateside to start a new life, a more common approach for students these days is to attain the coveted J1 working visa, allowing you to reside and ‘work’ anywhere across the 50 states for a 3 month period. A certain sub-culture has emerged as result of these developments, with the prospect of sunny weather, month long parties and beach sessions attracting thousands of Irish during the summer months. Of course, where you’re based is going to have a huge effect on your overall experience, so for the purpose of gaining a more general, I’ve contacted four people who’ve spent their J1s in San Diego, Chicago, New York and Newport respectively.

In terms of J1ers getting on with the local populace, there have been a few horror stories. Although everyone wants to get along with Irish people, owing to our formidably friendly reputation, we certainly don’t always make it easy for ourselves. From drunken chants on public transport to weekly evictions, sometimes we just got that step too far. In any case, the true ‘American Dream’ is evident in how easy we find it to get jobs over there. You might be working 5 days a week laying bricks on a downtown construction site, or maybe even bullsh*ting your way through a bike tour to a load of Asian tourists. There’s seemingly nothing we won’t try, and this is a trait many Americans admire about us.

All of my contacts reported meeting tens, if not hundreds, of Irish people whilst on a J1. Admittedly, many went over with a huge posse from their home-town or college, but they still couldn’t get enough of the Irish buzz over the 3 month period. That’s not even mentioning the Americans who consider themselves as having a distant heritage in the Emerald Isle. Some will be more forceful (cringy) about this, at times referring to Ireland as the ‘Motherland’, whilst others might just throw it in in passing. Either way, it’s usually helpful when searching for accommodation and trying to get your bearings in a new city. Hotspots for Irish people tend to be beaches, pubs (shock horror) and sporting events, like catching a baseball game or some NFL action. Basically anywhere you can have a good time.

In terms of trying new things on a J1, extensive travelling seems to be the big thing. Road trips to Vegas or the Grand Canyon are usually very popular, and we’re certainly not used to that much driving back home. On top of this, I’ve heard tons of stories of people who’ve done some surfing, sky-diving, cliff-jumping and actually started playing volleyball. A common ‘outdoors’ theme is pretty obvious here, as to be expected.

Finally, the biggest tips I’ve gathered for those planning on doing a J1 in the future are as follows; save as much money as possible (it’s a long summer), get a fake ID if you’re under 21 and try not to spend all your time partying. Although this will naturally make up about 90% of your J1, you should definitely try and fit some travelling in while you can. That’s where the real memories are made.

Special thanks to Cormac Nugent, Anne-Marie Byrne and TJ Carroll for their contributions to this piece.


Kevin O’Neill