Meadbh Mac CarthyMeadbh Mac Carthy

Hear the first-hand experience of young Irish people living and working in the US in IrishCentral’s latest series on the J-1 graduate visa. We speak to recent Irish graduates working across a range of industries on their careers, motivations, and the highs and lows of their stateside adventure.

The next entry in our series looks at careers in the non-profit sector with DCU graduate Meadbh Mac Carthy.

Meadbh is 28 from Rathfarnham in Dublin and studied International Relations in DCU before moving to New York.

She currently works as the Administrative & Events Associate with Self Help Africa.

Gaining prior experience in Ireland

I decided to come to America for a few reasons – I wanted to live abroad, I have some friends living in New York and I wanted to gain great work experience. I could travel within Europe at any stage but it’s difficult to get a working visa for the US. I wanted to avail of that opportunity while I had the option.

I didn’t travel to the US until I was 5 days away from the one-year anniversary of graduation! (J-1 students must travel to the US within 12 months of graduating.) I wanted to get experience at home first that would improve opportunities here.

I interned with Oxfam Ireland on two of their campaigns, and then they offered me a temporary contract. When that contract ran out, I worked for the civil service. I’m really glad I had that experience before coming out here, I felt more confident in applying for positions.

My family and friends were really supportive although my mom did briefly try to turn me off coming here by claiming that after winter, when all the snow and ice in New York melts, the footpaths are covered in dog poo! Needless to say, that did not dissuade me.

The visa process wasn’t especially difficult, just long and paperwork heavy.

Battling through the disheartening job-hunt

The job-hunting process for me was quite long.

I don’t know if that’s because I came at an awkward time of year, November, with all the holidays, or if my resume wasn’t quite up to scratch. I feel like I changed, adapted and updated it at least 6.14 million times. I was very disheartened until January because I wasn’t even getting rejection emails. It was very difficult to stay positive and keep applying without any sort of feedback or even acknowledgment of previous applications.

I got one interview before Christmas but in the third week of January things really picked up for me and I had five interviews. I interned at a consultancy for non-profits for a week before being offered this position.

I feel like there are absolutely more opportunities in New York than Ireland but it’s also a lot more competitive. It’s a mixed bag!

Networking is crucial

I would advise that people trying to find an internship here start applying for positions a month before they leave, just to get a feel for what’s out there.

I can wholeheartedly recommend networking as soon as you get over here, whether it’s an alumni group, an Irish network, an industry specific network or even casual social networks.

I’ve found that people are really helpful and will look out for you and try to link you up with opportunities once you’ve connected with them. My resume was passed onto my employer by three different people before I even applied for the position.

The social part of networking is also fantastic – it's great to meet new people, make friends and even go to different places in the city.

I would also advise persistence. As my Dad has always told me (much as I hate for him to know I agree), it’s a numbers game so don’t give up!

Working in a US office

I work in the US office of an Irish-based organization so I’m lucky enough to get the same annual leave as the Irish office. Otherwise, I was surprised by the work culture here, especially how little annual leave people are entitled to.

I don’t know if the opportunities in the US are better, but they’re different, which is good. I think it’s important to get different experiences and working in a different culture is always going to be a good thing – to become more adaptable, more experienced and better-rounded.

Setting up a new life in the US

I think I was pretty well informed about what to expect from my friends who are living over here. They definitely put me on the right path when I was getting set up.

What I hadn’t realized was that you need good credit/a high credit score to lease a room. I obviously had no credit coming from Ireland so I just sublet. I think subletting can be more expensive and there are fewer options.

However, living with new people is a fantastic way to make friends, and I've been so lucky with all my roommates, I've made great friends. The cost of living is also more expensive over here but I knew that before I came.

There’s endless variety in New York, there’s just so much more to do – shows, museums, bars, restaurants, the list goes on! I love meeting friends in Brooklyn, going for food and drinks and walking around the neighborhoods.

I also love that moment every morning when I get off my subway and cross Fifth Ave to get to work and look up and see the Empire State building. That is my surreal “I'm living in New York!” moment.

A downside is being so far away from my family, but with Whatsapp and Skype it’s not too bad.

New York is very fast paced, and it's not an easy city. I have become more independent. I have more confidence and belief in my opinions, having completely set myself up in a new country.

Have you taken the plunge and moved to the US on the J-1 Graduate visa? Tackled the visa process, the job and apartment hunt and lived to tell the tale? IrishCentral wants to hear from you! Share your J-1 Graduate visa story with [email protected] to take part in our series and advise the next batch of US recruits.