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.

New York is not all fun and games - moving there, finding a job and finding a place to live can be stressful, discouraging and ultimately, might not be right for you at that particular time of your life.

This week, Aaron Sweeney tells us of his sometimes difficult experience in New York and how it has set his life on a different track since he decided to return to Ireland.

Aaron Sweeney is 25, from Trim in Co. Meath, and studied Physics with Astronomy & Space Science in University College Dublin (UCD) before leaving on a J-1.

Deciding to go to America

If I remember correctly, I think I just stumbled across a USIT J-1 Graduate Visa ad about working in the US which was only valid up until 12 months after you had graduated. It was about six or seven months after I had graduated, so it was now or never. I didn't have a whole lot of time to make the decision - but once I did, I was fully committed.

None of my friends seemed keen on the idea, but that didn't deter me at all. I wanted to do it, I was excited to do it. I wasn't doing anything else bar working in a finance job that didn't interest me - so I applied.

The visa application process was a breeze, there were no major difficulties that I can recall. Before I knew it, I was all set to head to New York City.

Attempting to break into a new industry

The job hunt was incredibly difficult for me.

First of all, I wasn't looking for, nor was I interested in finding anything Physics, Astronomy or Space Science related. My degree course had left me with the distinct notion that that area of expertise was not for me. The pop-culture side of that field is unbelievably interesting for sure, but the mathematical and theoretical side of it was for a different type of mind. Plus, NASA is in Florida, not New York.

So I thought, “the tech industry”. At least I could in some way relate a tech job to physics, satisfying the condition of the visa that my job/internship is related to my degree. There was one huge stumbling block though – I was in no way proficient in computer programming. That left me looking for non-programming jobs within tech companies.

Difficult restrictions of the J-1 visa

I noticed a lot (if not all) of the job applications I completed asked if I would require sponsorship for a visa at any point. After 12 months, yes, I would require sponsorship, so I answered the question truthfully.

This is one huge problem with the visa program; I felt that companies didn’t want to hire people that couldn’t work more than 12 months with them. Intern positions were largely either unpaid, or for current students/recent graduates.

You need to know what you want

On top of all this, I believe my application screamed “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” and in New York City, you’re competing with the best. If employers have any doubt that you’re not perfect for the job, they’ll find somebody who is.

I think the main issue in the job hunt, was that I shouldn’t have studies something as obscure as Astrophysics. In the end, I never got a job.

First experiences of New York

I had actually done a summer J-1 in New York before, and was there for a week with my family maybe two months before I moved over (which was organized before I had decided to do the J-1 at all, it was purely coincidental), so I was familiar with the city.

There’s a real hard-working grind to life in New York City. Everyone is working all the time, rising up to the energy and buzz of the city. It’s very different to anything in Ireland.

Difficulties with the New York rental market

Without a job or a guarantor, I couldn’t rent an apartment – so my only option was to sublet rooms. I lived in 6 different places in 4 months!

I stayed in an Airbnb when I arrived, with old friends who gave me their couch for two weeks (I’m not sure they know how grateful I am for that. Ellen, Tara & Rebekah, you are life savers!) and four different sublets. I’m a pro at navigating Craigslist and finding a short-term place to live now.

To my own demise, I wanted to live in the hip areas of Brooklyn; Williamsburg, Bushwick or Greenpoint and rent was insane. I paid between $1,000 and $1,300 per month, depending on the sublet. It was no wonder I broke by the end of it.

Moving back to Ireland

I was going home for Christmas anyway, so when I got home, I just couldn’t afford to go back again.

I have absolutely no regrets about the time I spent there. I miss it all the time and will do my best to go back again.

Taking the good with the bad

Despite the discouraging job hunt and constant stress of finding places to live, I had the time of my life.

I met so many great people and had so many crazy experiences – I’ve been bored ever since.

The path I'm on now was born completely out of my experience in New York. I was exposed to the tech / startup scene which I was so ignorant to before, but now I’m pursuing a formal education in computer programming so hopefully, maybe, one day I’ll get another chance to make it in NYC.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to move to the US?

Don’t think twice, just do it.

Have you taken the plunge and moved to the US on the J1 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 J1 Graduate visa story with [email protected] to take part in our series and advise the next batch of US recruits.