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.

This week, we look at a career in set and costume design with Darren McGranaghan.

After studying for a BA in Set and Costume Design for Theatre in IT Sligo, Darren, 24 from Ballybofey, Co. Donegal, moved to New York on the J-1 visa.

He currently interns in the costume shop of The Public Theater.

Taking the plunge

I decided to move to New York for a year using the J-1 visa. I waited 11 months before coming here [after graduating]. First, I spent three months living in Hamburg [Germany] working in a theater. After that, I moved to Dublin and was lucky enough to get some work on a show that was touring there for the summer.

My friends and family had known that I was planning to move here for some time so weren’t shocked at all when I told them. They were all very supportive and excited for me. I’d lived here previously so there’s wasn’t much of a culture shock. It was like I never left.

The visa application process is pretty straight forward, as long as you have your paperwork. What can hold up the process is waiting to get paperwork from your college, such as transcripts and proof of graduation date. It’s best to start this process as soon as you can.

Job opportunities

I arrived in New York not having an internship. Finding one can seem daunting, but I was lucky enough to know some great people who were a help in assisting me with my search, and I got one in my dream theater.

Being on a J-1 didn’t affect my getting an internship. In fact, they thought it was really interesting. I didn’t have to go through an application process – I met a costume assistant via a contact and ended up getting hired by that assistant.

Contacts are very important in this profession and developing them is a skill that takes time to learn, but it is a skill which is essential if you want to advance your career. New York is the theater epicentre of America and it also does a lot of film and TV production. For a costume designer it’s the perfect place to be.

To get an internship in theater, you just have to be persistent and follow up on any leads and contacts you have. It would also be a good idea to email companies you know and admire and explain that you’re looking for an internship and give them some information about the J-1. Even if they don’t have any positions for you, they might be able to suggest a company that would.

Professional Experience

You could gain the same experience in Ireland, but it may take you longer to get into the industry because it’s so competitive, and also, there is more consistent work here.

Doing small internships in Ireland on summer breaks when doing your degree would help to introduce you to the industry and see if it’s for you, but it would also make you more appealing to employers stateside.

The work culture is similar to Ireland for freelance workers like myself who don’t enjoy the benefits of a full-time contract. I am, however, lucky to work in a workplace that respects its staff and wants to help them grow as practitioners.

There are definitely more opportunities in New York for people working in the arts. The theater and film industry operates pretty much year-round. I haven’t experienced being treated differently to US employees, unless you count people telling you about their Irish ancestry, but that’s definitely a universal experience!

Life experience

Living here has made me more confident in my own abilities and taught me to second guess myself less and follow my instincts.

The main difficulty with moving is start up cash. It’s not too difficult to find an apartment with websites such as Craigslist and it’s definitely easier to look for a job here than at home.

Mostly, I miss my family and friends (and bacon) but don’t regret my decision to move here nor do I regret when I made the move.

See more of Darren’s work at www.darrenmcgranaghan.com.

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.