Finding an empty couch in UCD during the first week of the semester is impossible. Conversation flows as rapidly as the coffee; eager ears await snippets of summer scandal. Oisinn’s J1 jaunt to Boston remains blurry, but still he and the boys had the “bant”. Shona and the girls gush about their amazing time in San Francisco.
Of course not everyone has a summer that reaches the standards of that now notorious “Gap Yah”. For those who stayed in Ireland there’s generally a half-hearted enquiry; “so you stayed at home this summer?” But do you need to go on a J1 to escape boredom? Can you not spend an equally enjoyable summer on the Emerald Isle?
Commerce student Orla Mullins tested that theory, trading Belfield for Inisboffin this summer. It was there that she claims she experienced the “work hard, play hard mentality” at its purest.
“Every other night there was something going on,” Mullins reminisces, “and it made no difference if you went to the pub after only finishing work at one in the morning.” Concerts in tiny laid back venues made every gig “a session with the musicians”. Her Inisboffin summer was far from boring: it was akin to “an extended chilled out festival”. “Besides,” she smiles, “where other than Ireland would I have sunburn and a cold in the same week?”
Third year Arts student Ethan Kiernan did head stateside, but he doesn’t believe his J1 was as exciting as others may have found their’s. Having spent four months in New York, he describes his J1 as “short” but “definitely long enough to give you a real taste of what life is like”. A steady job and accommodation with family assured him a secure summer.
However, his experience also had its downsides. Kiernan found it tough going anywhere at night, deeming the experience “nerve-wracking”, thanks to some menacing subway stations. Making new friends wasn’t that easy for him, as he found most New Yorkers to be of two extremes: they were either “super friendly or super ignorant”. Kiernan stresses that his J1 summer was enjoyable, but for him “it just wasn’t the same” as a summer at home.
For Arts student Emma Alken, “a summer spent in the place you call home will never be the most exciting experience”. However, she suspects that it also “depends on your mindset”. Alken maintains that “if you don’t make the effort to find things to do, then you should expect boredom”.
The Taste of Dublin Food Festival and Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures were two of the distractions she enjoyed. Yet she still feels that her summer “doesn’t compare” to that of her friends who travelled Thailand. However, Alken says she can identify one advantage to staying at home; a steady and admittedly unglamorous summer job selling fish has secured her savings for next year.
Indeed those all-important summer savings can prove pivotal. Everyone wants to secure ample funds, and not just for an unforgettable Freshers’ Week. For many, it seems the choice between the J1 and Irish summer depends on balancing financial stability and life experience.
Kiernan found a job instantly and had no problems with accommodation, but not everyone who heads abroad on a J1 is as fortunate. For many, it can become an expensive extended holiday. Final year student Conor Sharkey firmly believes that had he gone on a J1, he would “be broke going back to college”. That isn’t all that concerns him. “I would have had to watch the World Cup with a bunch of Yanks,” he adds dryly.
So can the Irish summer compete with the J1? For Alken it can’t. She believes that going abroad would have made for a more exciting summer “but it simply wasn’t feasible”. Mullins, on the other hand, seems to truly treasure her Irish summer.
“If I’d done a J1,” she muses, “I wouldn’t have the savings I do now, wouldn’t have the same mates and wouldn’t have had the irreparable liver damage.” Kiernan relished his J1, but also believes that it was the time abroad that helped him realise how much he loves home. Though doubtless it will never be the same as an American adventure, it seems that for some an Irish summer isn’t so lackluster.