“I love your accent, where are you from?”

This week it was announced that it is becoming more difficult for Irish students to go on a J1 visa due to the clause of having a job sorted before you head over. In this blog post, I will give you an insight into my last J1, Chicago ’15. This blog post I hope will be the one stop shop for all students considering a J1, with Chicago a fantastic option.

Chicago has for a long time been a popular choice destination for J1 students however before travelling over I felt it could be seen as a cheap man’s New York City. I went over with the expectation of Chicago having the second best of everything compared to New York. After all, the big apple appears to have the wow factor, even though i’v never been. Over the next couple of minutes reading I will outline why I was so, so, so wrong. Chicago has it all, from music, sport, culture, museums, beaches to city skyline – Chicago.Has.It.All.

Chicago - 2

Ok, so you’ve arrived in Chicago. The first thing on the agenda is accommodation, right? I mean you need a place to stay!? You have a few options, Greek town is popular short-term but a little out of town. WrigleyField and surrounding neighbourhoods are the most popular spots for J1 students and arguably where the best summer nightlife is. Finding houses can be difficult with a good lease, so be careful.


My Accommodation: 777 South State Street

You’re straight off the plane and all you have to do is jump on the red and blue line into town to get here (roughly 40 mins). This place is CENTRAL CHICAGO. You cannot ask for a better location for your J1. This place will be packed with Irish students over the summer and there will be house parties in a different apartment every night, because ironically, the party room does not live up to it’s name. 100% safe, security on the door 24/7. Pool room, laundry room, Gym, Swimming Pool, it has it all. Downsides, there was a lot of building maintenance over the summer, we would actually wake up to a man outside the window 20 odd floors up drilling into the wall! The big one is the price, you’re looking at $2000+ for your 11 week lease. This might sound like a crazy price but when you compare it to paying $600-800 to sleep on the floor in a house in the middle of no-where,  it might seem reasonable enough.

Job: Navy Pier

Navy Pier is mainly where it’s at. Your research would have directed you here. Good news – it is within walking distance of the city and 777. Downside – there isn’t a lot to do on the pier! I mean it’s no comparison to spending your summer in Courtown or Mosney but for one of the most tourist attractions in America, I Harry Caraysfelt it was lacking. On the pier you can find work in
Bubba Gump Shrimp, Harry Caray’s Tavern, Giordano’s or any of the ice-cream shops. Event management companies are also quite popular and pay excellent for easy work. Problem is the work does not come too often. Whatever job you do get, those who get a job based mainly on tips are winning.

Not 21? Forget about getting a legit job serving alcohol, because it isn’t happening. One of the main reasons why I suggest Chicago to those >21.

Tourist Stuff: My top 5


(1) Lollapalooza: best part of both my J1 experiences. I got a Sunday ticket which arguably had the best line-up. Tried to catch James Bay first but Grant Park got evacuated due to a storm. Once let back in, I saw my main act, The Chainsmokers. I basically paid $130 to see them but it was worth the entire 1 hour of their set. We all watch YouTube videos of music festivals in America and it is the real deal. Please don’t tell me your summer adventure of seeing an Irish band in a field in the middle of Ireland was better, because we both know it wasn’t. Marina and the Diamonds, The Chainsmokers and Florence and the machine were the main acts I caught but the line-up was incredible. You should have your ticket for this before you buy your plane ticket over.

Sears Tower

(2) Sears (Willis) Tower: SkyDeck is the most famous attraction here but the views are incredible. Try go at sunset to catch Chicago at day and at night. The views will do the rest of the talking here….

Field Museum

(3) Field Museum: The only place I went to twice. I loved the field museum. Whats so special about it? It has everything. I could kill 5-6 hours here on every visit. History and 1.5 million artefacts. The history of everything is covered, with some special exhibitions depending on the time of the year. Go with an open-mind, leave wanting to go back.


(4) The City: One of my favourite things about the summer was walking around the city. For my first few days in Chicago I went out with the intention of getting lost, its a great experience. You build a navigation that will stand to you during your J1. I never got the Bus in Chicago and limited CTA travel. I loved walking in-between the skyscrapers, beside the buskers and through the crowds, skipping from block to block.

Art Museum

(5) The Art Institute of Chicago: Voted the best Museum in the world in 2015 I believe and I can see why. Spread across 8 buildings and 3 floors, a vast array of history is covered. You need a couple of hours to get around, the building is vast. I know it does not sound very J1ish, going to a Art Museum, but if you are interested in Art, this place has it all.

Travel: Route 66

Although I never did any travelling myself Chicago is perfectly placed for those that want to travel before or after their J1. New York is a 2 hour flight away coming in at around $250 return. Package deals to Vegas will be thrown at you once over in Chicago. From there, the west coast may beckon. More interesting, New Orleans and central mainland were also suggested.

If all else fails, rent a car and jump on Route 66, after all, Chicago is where it all starts.


  • Tip: We’re European, we don’t tip? No. You are European in America, you tip. Your waiter/waitress is getting paid $2 max an hour, the least you can do is throw them 15-20% of the bill total. If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip. I have experience first hand of serving and trust me, it is not as easy as taking the tables order and running it through the system.
  • Arrive Early: The good jobs (waitress/waiter/bar) are gone by early June. Mid-May: Arrive June: Party July: Vegas August: Travel/Home. Plan.
  • Wrap-up Early: You can wrap up all activities in Chicago before August. After Lollapalooza, everything calms down.
  • Spring Awaking: Love my dance music and minus the addition of Calvin Harris, this was the best of the best DJ’s in the world.
  • CityPass 5 tourist spots, express lines, access all areas, $96. Thank me later.
  • John Hancock Building: 360 degree experience they sell it as. Just go two floors higher, for FREE, and buy a drink, if you want, for the same view.
  • Cubs or Sox’s: You support the Cubs.
  • Haircut: Don’t get your haircut at a student barbers. I know it’s only $7 but its not worth the two hours in the chair.
  • Irish: If your pale skin and ginger hair isn’t enough of a tell, your accent sure as hell will be. Be prepared to sell your accent all summer long.
  • Spending Money: “Best summer of my life” says the Facebook post at the end of August as Jane uploads 158 pictures from her adventures. What Jane should have said was “Most expensive summer of my life, i’m broke, but here’s a few pictures”. Chicago isn’t cheap. Go out for a meal, $15 burger, $8 drink. $23 bill right? No, 10% tax, 15-20% tip.
  • Deep Dish Pizza: The home of the best pizza you will ever taste. Giordano pizza would be my personal recommendation.
  • 4th July Fireworks: Go on the Lake Front Trail at the Shedd Aquarium for the best view. Away from the mass crowds and you’ll grab some fantastic pics.
  • Jazz Bar: Buddy Guy’s Legends. Spot. The rolling stones even rocked up one evening after a U2 gig.

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