Rachel’s Story: How to make the most of your graduate VISA

From saying goodbye to apartment hunting and everything in between, read Rachel’s story on how to prepare yourself for your American summer.


When you’re in college you have a goal and a purpose, you’re safe in a bubble where your daily routine is set. Once you graduate, the panic can start, because this is when real life choices are going to dictate your future. You’re nearing the ‘quarter-life crisis’.

There’s this awkward period between college and your first real job where you’ll still be working in your part-time job while interning or dedicating all of your free time to job applications.

No one wants a 22-year-old with little experience but all you need is a way in. Once you’re in, the quarter-life crisis worsens and you think “Is this what I want?”. Well, don’t stress because everyone in my circle of friends are going through the same thing.

This isn’t why I chose to move to New York but when you don’t have a specific direction, a year away in a city like New York is an experience in itself. Every day comes with new opportunities, you grow in confidence and become self-reliant. You just have to give yourself time to get over the hurdles along the way…

Step One: Securing My Graduate Visa

I went on the J1 Summer Work and Travel program with USIT back in 2013 so I was familiar with them. They’re very easy to work with because you’re given a clear list of what you need to do to apply for the visa and they also take care of a lot of the paperwork for you. Also, they’re always at hand to answer any questions.

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If you’re a worrier like me, it might suit you to go into their offices and speak with a member of the team. I remember being really anxious about leaving information out and missing dates that could jeopardise my travel plans. It’s reassuring to have them there and they can go through everything with you, giving you peace of mind.

Saying Goodbye Will Be Hard

I moved back to Clonmel for a full month before departing for the US. I figured if I annoyed my family enough, they might just be relieved to see me go and I wouldn’t have to deal with tears (as if that would happen, I’m the favourite every day)!

I knew my granny would be emotional so I tried to avoid that goodbye with her as long as I could. I definitely got the vibe that she was trying to make it quick so she didn’t upset me. Everyone hates to see their family members cry but when it’s sort of your fault, it’s so much worse. My parents were fine at the airport until I looked at my mother and her lips were clenched together, she was trying not to cry in front of me, which brought me to tears. That was the worst.

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You know you have to go through security and leave them, all it takes is turning a corner and that’s it, you don’t know when you’ll see them next. That sounds dramatic but I think deep down I knew that this might not just be a year away. Once I get the travel bug, I’ll never want to stop. It’s just the start of flying the coop.

Starting the apartment hunt

I had tried looking up apartments while I was at home but unless you’ve been to NYC before, it’s hard to get an understanding of every area. The Facebook page ‘Gypsy Housing NYC’ was very helpful and where you’ll find most young people looking for rooms. Every apartment I wanted was crazy expensive (especially the areas I wanted) But when you’re new to the city, it takes a while to get used to the idea of making more money here, so you can go higher with rent. This was the problem I had with my friends moving over, trying to convince them to up the budget. I knew once they got here and started searching themselves, they would agree. I knew that didn’t want to live in an Irish community, figuring that I didn’t come all this way to have Ireland at my doorstep.

You could get a nice three-bed apartment an hour out of the city for $2,000 a month, or for $2,500 a little closer in an Irish community. However, I was determined to find something in either Williamsburg or Manhattan. For a three bed, we had our budget at $3,200. I set up so much viewings for when Maire, Sean and Dara arrived. Some were tiny (and I mean shoebox), some had hardly any windows, 5 floor walk-ups, railroad apartments (which basically means you walk through someone’s bedroom to get to your own) or the worst- a flex three bed. Some realtors didn’t mention the fact that it’s a two bed and when you view it, they explain how you can put up a temporary wall between the kitchen and another bedroom- eh, nah.

“You’re going to have to come to a compromise and sacrifice something, so we decided that walk-ups are fine until the 4th floor, no air-conditioning just means buying our own unit and as long as we’re not more than a 25 minute subway ride from midtown, we’re good.”

The Final Hurdles Before Having a New York Home

When you’re new to the US, you’re not going to have the essential criteria you need to apply for an apartment. No social security number yet, no US bank account, no proof of making x40 rent because we’re interns! All of that is manageable if you have a guarantor, which we also didn’t have. A guarantor must prove that they make x80 rent and that’s just to cover one tenant! They also have to fill out a lot of paperwork including pay stubs, how much they earn annually, identification etc. As you can imagine, a guarantor was difficult to find. Luckily enough, Sean’s uncle was able to help us out.

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Once we had a guarantor, we were a bit more hopeful. We viewed this apartment on the Upper West Side and it was perfect. It’s funny because Sean and I kept saying to each other “this is the one” on our way to the viewing, like we knew. So spacious (for Manhattan), newly refurbished and the heating was included. The downsides really weren’t that bad. It was a walk-up but only to the third floor, there was no air-conditioning so we had to buy separate units and for the time being, the gas was cut off because of a fault.  We moved in a week later and I honestly couldn’t be happier with the apartment and the location. The next hurdle was filling it with furniture, but we won’t go down that rabbit hole.

USIT are delighted and excited to announce that the ‘One Year Graduate Visa USA’ programme is open for 2018! They are now accepting applications from Irish students and recent graduates to spend a life-changing year, living and working in some of the world’s biggest and best cities! For more information visit: http://www.usavisa.ie/1-year-graduate-visa

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