Heading into my final year this time last year, I had a lot of things on my mind. One was that I had not yet gone away on a summer J1 visa, and this was my last chance to do it. I was also worried because I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to come with me – friends had either graduated, or had other plans in mind for the summer.
So, I found myself considering doing the J1 alone. There were a lot of moments where I thought I couldn’t possibly do it, that going by yourself isn’t the right way to do your J1 (upon reflection, there is no right or wrong way, just your way). At times, it wasn’t easy, but I knew if I didn’t go for it I would always regret not taking this opportunity during my college years. So, I went alone.
If you find yourself in a similar situation to me but feel like you won’t be able to make it happen, just know that it is possible, because I did it. Having been through the experience, here is the advice I would give to anyone else planning on heading stateside for the summer solo.
Decide where you want to go, and find other people going there
One benefit of going alone is that it is up to you where you go without having to negotiate and compromise with other people. Once you decide on a destination, look for other people going there! As J1 application time rolls around, a lot of Facebook groups will pop up for each location. I went to New York, so I searched ‘J1 New York 2016’ and joined all of the groups that came up. These groups are going to become flooded with people asking questions about the application process, accommodation, things to do, etc. You can let people know you’re going alone and find out if there’s anyone who would be up for teaming up for accommodation or hanging out, and you never know, the whole problem could be solved right here if someone who you think you’ll get along with replies!
Accommodation – living with loads of people, or having your own space?
Accommodation is the biggest concern for every J1 student, whether they are going in a group or alone. As I mentioned, the Facebook groups you joined will have plenty of posts of people looking for extra roomies and even if you can’t find a group to stay with before you head to the US, you could find somewhere within the first week or two just by keeping an eye on these pages. This will most likely be perfect for people who are looking to experience all the craic that goes along with sharing a house with more people than there are rooms.
However, if you are more like me, this kind of set-up just isn’t going to work for you. You need to decide before you go what sort of living situation is best for you. I had the opportunity to live with some really great people (who I met at the jobs fair, another place you might meet people), but in the end I knew that if I wasn’t able to have my own space to be alone from time to time, it could end up being a really stressful situation for me, and it might not have been worth it. So, I decided I was going to look for a room on my own. I ended up finding my room through craigslist, but it took a lot of searching, and it’s stressful, but I would recommend finding an airbnb for the first 3 or 4 weeks where you can settle in and start looking. This can be a difficult decision to make, but be honest with yourself and appreciate the time and space that you will have to yourself.
Get out and explore
When you first arrive, you might find yourself feeling a little lonely and homesick. This is only natural, and as much as it feels like it will never go away, it will. It’s really important that you get out and start experiencing this new place you’re living in! If you can, try to go to some J1-specific events, but don’t be afraid to go out by yourself. Places like museums, parks bookstores, cinemas and markets are all good spots that you can visit by yourself but still get a lot of enjoyment out of. Every evening, you should try make some sort of plan for the next day, and reach out to people you work with or you meet along the way and see if they want to join you for anything. The first week or two might be hard, but if you go out every day and work on making some new J1 friends, by the end you will have had so many amazing experiences!
Keep in touch with home, but don’t get too caught up
Most likely since you’ve gone so far away by yourself, you will probably have people at home who will be worried about you even if they are excited for you. Make sure to check in with a text every now and then and give an update on where you are and what you’re doing. Take the time to sit down and call/skype/facetime your friends and family. It can make you feel a lot better to speak to someone you love, but also remember not to get too caught up in what’s going on at home. Find a balance so that you’re keeping up those connections, but still experiencing the place you’re in.
Heading on a J1 by yourself can be a scary but exciting experience. You will have moments where you feel like doing all of this alone was the craziest decision you could have ever made, but ultimately you are going to learn so much about yourself and have so many great experiences along the way.
Hannah blogs at byrnewithme.wordpress.com