Spotlight on The US Graduate Visa

When you’re in college you have a goal and a purpose, you’re safe in a bubble where your daily routine is set. Once you graduate, the panic starts because this is when real life choices are going to dictate your future. You’re nearing the quarter-life crisis. Yes, it’s a thing (my parents are definitely reading this now and Dad looks at Mam and throws his eyes up to heaven “drama queen”). There’s this awkward period between college and your first real job where you’ll still be working in your part-time job while interning or dedicating all of your free time to job applications. No one wants a 22 year-old with little experience but all you need is a way in. Once you’re in, the quarter-life crisis worsens and you think “Is this what I want?”. Well don’t stress because everyone in my circle of friends are going through the same thing. This isn’t why I chose to move to New York but when you don’t have a specific direction, a year away in a city like New York is experience in itself. Everyday comes with new opportunities, you grow in confidence and become self-reliant. You just have to give yourself time to get over the hurdles along the way..

I went on the J1 Summer Work and Travel program with USIT back in 2013 so I was familiar with them. They’re very easy to work with because you’re given a clear list of what you need to do to apply for the visa and take care of a lot of the paperwork for you. Also, they’re always at hand to answer any questions. There’s a limited number of visas given every year but once you have your deposit paid, it’s booked and you’re given a certain time period to pay the next installment. Then it’s just up to you to lock in the date you’re leaving, get your paperwork together and book your embassy interview. If you’re a worrier like me, it might suit you to go into their offices and speak with a member of the team. I remember being really anxious about leaving information out and missing dates that could jeopardize my travel plans. It’s reassuring to have them there and they can go through everything with you, giving you piece of mind.

Sad Goodbyes

I’ve always been a home bird. I went home every weekend during my college years and it took having my first job to make me stay in Dublin most weekends. During that year, I got used to the idea of being away from my family and friends (that and my friends stopped going home too). I handed in my notice at AA Roadwatch with enough time to move back to Clonmel for a full month before departing for the US. I figured if I annoyed my family enough, they might just be relieved to see me go and I wouldn’t have to deal with tears (as if that would happen, I’m the favorite every day). I knew my granny would be emotional so I tried to avoid that goodbye with her as long as I could. I definitely got the vibe that she was trying to make it quick so she didn’t upset me.

Everyone hates to see their family members cry but when it’s sort of your fault, it’s so much worse. My parents were fine at the airport until I looked at my mother and her lips were clenched together, she was trying not to cry in front of me, which brought me to tears. That was the worst. You know you have to go through security and leave them, all it takes is turning a corner and that’s it, you don’t know when you’ll see them next. That sounds dramatic but I think deep down I knew that this might not just be a year away. Once I get the travel bug, I’ll never want to stop. It’s just the start of flying the coupe.

 

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Apartment Hunting

My first week was pretty hectic, I got to Roisin’s apartment at about 5pm, but no one was home until 10pm so I was a little disorientated. The following days were filled with searching and searching for accommodation and meeting The Gram List team (my first internship). I had tried looking up apartments while I was at home but unless you’ve been to NYC before, it’s hard to get an understanding of every area. The Facebook page ‘Gypsy Housing NYC’ was very helpful and where you’ll find most young people looking for rooms. Every apartment I wanted was crazy expensive (especially the areas I wanted) But when you’re new to the city, it takes a while to get used to the idea of making more money here, so you can go higher with rent. This was the problem I had with my friends moving over, trying to convince them to up the budget. I knew once they got here and started searching themselves, they would agree.

I didn’t want to live in an Irish community, I didn’t come here to have Ireland at my doorstep. I wanted to adapt to a different culture and meet new people but I just didn’t think I would find anything in common with any potential roommates I came across. I decided to sublet for a month and in the meantime, look for an apartment for my college friends and I. As long as we didn’t choose an Irish neighborhood, at least we would have each other if we ever felt homesick. Obviously on the Grad Visa, you can’t take a labor need and most internships don’t pay well, or don’t pay at all. You could get a nice three bed apartment an hour out of the city for $2,000 a month, or for $2,500 a little closer in an Irish community. However, I was determined to find something in either Williamsburg or Manhattan. For a three bed, we had our budget at $3,200.

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I set up so much viewings for when Maire, Sean and Dara arrived. Some were tiny (and I mean shoebox), some had hardly any windows, 5 floor walk-ups, railroad apartments (which basically means you walk through someones bedroom to get to your own) or the worst- a flex three bed. Some realtors didn’t mention the fact that it’s a two bed and when you view it, they explain how you can put up a temporary wall between the kitchen and another bedroom- eh, nah. You’re going to have to come to a compromise and sacrifice something, so we decided that walk-ups are fine until the 4th floor, no air-conditioning just means buying our own unit and as long as we’re not more than a 25 minute subway ride from midtown, we’re good. I found a place in the Financial District right by Fulton Station and it took us a while, but we got our paperwork together and submitted our application only to discover another realtor got in there before us.

The real killer is, when you’re international and new to the US, you’re not going to have the essential criteria you need to apply for an apartment. No social security number yet, no US bank account, no proof of making x40 rent because we’re interns! All of that is manageable if you have a guarantor, which we also didn’t have. A guarantor must prove that they make x80 rent and that’s just to cover one tenant! They also have to fill out a lot of paperwork including pay stubs, how much they earn annually, identification etc. As you can imagine, a guarantor was difficult to find. Luckily enough, Sean’s uncle was able to help us out. Once we had a guarantor, we were a bit more hopeful.

We viewed this apartment on the Upper West Side and it was perfect. It’s funny because Sean and I kept saying to each other “this is the one” on our way to the viewing, like we knew. So spacious (for Manhattan), newly refurbished and the heating was included. The downsides really weren’t that bad. It was a walk-up but only to the third floor, there was no air-conditioning so we had to buy separate units and for the time being, the gas was cut off because of a fault by Con Edison. Okay, so that still hasn’t been fixed but at least they supplied us with portable hobbs. We don’t cook much anyway. We moved in a week later and I honestly couldn’t be happier with the apartment and the location. The next hurdle was filling it with furniture, but we won’t go down that rabbit hole.

Locking Down an Internship

Where do I start. This wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Film and Broadcasting, a 6 month internship in content creation under my belt and 6 months experience broadcasting on live radio. Surely an experienced graduate would be considered over a 19-year old college student? Wrong. This is the media capital of the world, yet somehow it’s one of the most difficult industries to break into on a temporary visa. I made so much contacts while I was out and about in the city, young people working at NBC, CBS, AMC and Viacom. I set my goals extremely high. Everyone was more than willing to forward my resume but the visa issue came back to bite me every single time. Most companies won’t even let you complete your application when you click ‘Yes’ for ‘Do you now or will you in the future require sponsorship to work in the United States?’. Other than that, 90% of internship applications will have ‘Must be currently enrolled in a college or university’ in the job description. This is there way of making it okay to not pay interns because they use college credit as a bargaining tool. It also means bad news for graduates. During my short-lived time at The Gram List (it was great but I was a little over-experienced, after one week I had learned enough), I met who was to be my next employer.

Michael worked for The Gram List and once he heard I had left, he told me that himself and his wife have a company that sell women’s shoes and they could really use a helping hand with social media. It takes a while for CIEE to approve your internship so I was lucky that Michael was so patient. They take their time getting back to you so you have to keep on them. They also insist on an office visit, which would make any employer think you’re more hassle then you’re worth. Once I was approved, a huge weight was taken off my shoulders and I started working at fibi & clo. My advice is keep applying for your dream internships and take anything along the road. You can always change workplace and you never know who you might meet during your time in one company.

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I’m Like, Soooo American Now

I knew that if I started my year away hanging out in Irish bars and just mixing with Irish, I’d never break that habit. I’m somewhat of an explorer anyway and I don’t like to return to the same bars or restaurants unless they were exceptional, so naturally I’ll always branch out. You have to learn to adapt to a different way of doing things. Speaking of restaurants, tipping is obviously something somewhat alien to Irish people. At home you might just leave a little extra on the table when you leave but in America, tips make up a large percentage of a bartenders wages so it’s only right to give 20%. Something that shocked me was how safe the city is. I can get the train home at any time of night and walk to my apartment without a care in the world. Okay, maybe if I lived in one of the boroughs it would be different but the city is always busy. You’ll always find people walking around any time of the day or night, cars still fill the streets and lights are always shining. I do miss driving anywhere I want but the public transport is excellent too.

The phrases you use change without even realizing it. You say ‘liquor store’, ‘sidewalk’, ‘eight thirty AM’, ‘laundromat’ and ’shopping cart’. Americans look at me like I have 5 heads every time I say ’What’s the craic?’, ‘a bag of crisps’ or ‘doing the hoovering’. I’ve become so accustomed to using my American vocabulary over my Irish, that I just know when I return home my entire family are not going to let it go. Funnily enough, sometimes I hide my Irish accent. You sort of get sick of telling every American your life story once they find out you’re Irish. They LOVE Irish people and will always claim Irish heritage (it’s always 29% Irish). I’m constantly asked where I’m from in Ireland and when I follow with “You won’t be familiar with it, it’s mainly farmland”, they insist I tell them. Tipperary- nope, they were expecting County Cork, what is Tiperara? This is then followed by “I’ve been to Dublin”. Cool, that’s great Susan. Every time. I don’t get it as much from true New Yorkers because they’re surrounded by us. Every corner has an Irish bar and you’ve got Irish communities in Queens and Woodlawn.

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Homesickness comes and goes. This is a very hectic city so most of the time, I’m too busy to think about being homesick. But then it’ll come over me all of a sudden when I’m alone in the apartment on a Tuesday night and my brother sends me a Snapchat of our cat dressed up as Santa Claus or my dad will send me a picture of himself and Mam walking around the mountains at home. My favorite thing to do with my dad besides long car journeys. Usually, this is solved by a lengthy FaceTime and as more months pass by, you get used to the idea of being on your own.

I’ve met some life-long friends and made memories that will keep me smiling when I’m reminiscing on the glory days of less responsibility (lol). The nightlife in the city is crazy good, the restaurants are endless and you’re never left twiddling your thumbs. If you’re serious about taking the leap, use everyday wisely. Explore what the city has to offer, visit a new neighborhood, have a drink on a rooftop bar or chill out at Bryant Park, don’t waste a moment. I can’t stress just how much this year has changed me and opened my eyes. With the highs and the lows, I would 100% recommend it to everyone fresh out of college.

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