Having the best summer of their student lives

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 01:00

With their JI visas in their pockets, two students ventured to the US for summer jobs and found a new world of experiences

AOIBHEANN HODGINS has just finished her second year studying music in DIT’s Conservatory of Music and Drama. She’s working in Disney World, Florida

“I’m working in Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom. I’m pretty lucky as I get to be indoors, with the air conditioning, greeting guests. My job involves welcoming them to the castle and calling their names when their table is ready, although soon I’m hoping to audition for as a character performer.

“All the guests love that I’m from Ireland and of course, many of them claim to be from Ireland too.

“Ever since I was three years old I’ve wanted to work for Disney and I love the US so I decided to give it a go this year. It becomes so much harder to get a visa after you leave college so why waste a summer in rainy Ireland?

“I applied to do this through a company called Yummy Jobs and I was just delighted when the email came telling me I got the job. It’s unusual for a J1 and I travelled by myself though I ended up bumping in to other participants on my connecting flight from Gatwick.

“I live in Vista Way apartments, which are provided for all Disney’s college programme participants, for $83 a week. Six of us are sharing. The apartment complex includes two pools, a basketball court, volleyball court, tennis court, a gym, internet clubhouse, a place where you can rent DVDs free of charge and a lounge where you can watch TV. Not bad.

“It’s so well-equipped and there’s always something going on from grocery bingo to free breakfasts with the characters. We also have free buses to all four of the Disney theme parks and two of the local malls and the local supermarket, all run by Disney.

“I’ve spent my days off heading to the theme parks or to the mall or I’ve just chilled out at the pool with all of the friends that I have made here. Next week I am going on a trip to Miami which should be a lot of fun.

“They are quite strict on underage drinking and if you are under 21 they will put you in an “under 21” apartment which should be free of drink at all times. You can still go to clubs though and the night life is great as everything is so much cheaper.

“I’ve had so many great experiences. My favourite moment was probably when I saw a little American girl wearing a birthday badge with her name “Aoife” on it. In Disney we have to acknowledge when it’s someone’s birthday so I said, “Happy Birthday Aoife!” She was so shocked and happy that I could say her name properly because she told me that no one could ever say her name right.

“I also enjoyed my first night here when I got my pass to enter the parks for free. Lots of us went to view the fireworks in Magic Kingdom, it was really cool.

“I suppose that was when it hit us that we were all lucky enough to be working here for the summer.”

DEBORAH GIBBONS is about to start her third year studying physiotherapy in UCD. She’s spending the summer in Montauk.

“Last summer I was in a nightclub back home in Letterkenny and there were so many 16 and 17 year-olds there that I couldn’t enjoy myself. I felt I had outgrown my summer job as well so I decided to go away and see some of the world.

“I arrived in America on May 20th with two friends but our lease in the cottage where we were going to stay didn’t start until the 24th so we were stuck for somewhere to live for a couple of days. Obviously we were short on cash so unbeknownst to my parents we found a couch surfing website and decided to give it a go. We found a lovely family who collected us from a train station and put us up for four nights – no charge.

“Day two in Montauk was spent job hunting. Because we were there before Memorial Day weekend, we were hired in the first restaurant we went to. I was hired as a hostess and my friends were hired as waitresses.

“My first weekend working there was crazy as it was Memorial Day weekend and hundreds of people came. The new money Hamptons children can be very vocal when they don’t get what they want. I honestly thought after my first night working that I’d never go back, but my need for food outweighed my bruised ego and I dusted myself off and returned the next day. After that weekend, things calmed down and as I settled in I began to enjoy it.

“I was paid $13 an hour for a job I enjoyed that was only a two- minute walk from my house – not bad when you can get it. I met Billy Joel there one night. I didn’t recognise him and told him he couldn’t eat out on the patio. I was mortified when I found out who I’d spoken to. The coach of the Yankees ate there along with Jimmy Kimmel and other American celebrities I didn’t recognise.

“After a week of being in Montauk, the three of us ventured into New York. Excited wasn’t the word. You could spot the tourists a mile away. Our necks were in pain from looking up all the time, it certainly is a million miles from Fanad, Co Donegal. We wanted to stop and take everything in but there were people everywhere and we knew if we stopped at all we’d be stepped on. We wanted to do all the touristy things: we climbed to the top of the Empire State Building; we went to Times Square and queued for hours for Broadway tickets; we went to the Statue of Liberty; sunbathed in Central Park, visited St Patrick’s Cathedral and of course, hit the shops.

“Trying to work out the subway system nearly required some sort of a degree and I am the worst at directions. I was just happy I wasn’t there in my own.

“That night we stayed with my cousin in New Jersey and the next morning went to see Memphis on Broadway. It was fantastic.

“I live in a cottage with five other girls, two of whom we met on Facebook. We were a wee bit worried about not getting on with them but I can honestly say I’ve made two new best friends. Our house is tiny. There isn’t room to swing a cat and at times moods can become fraught with the confined area.We’re living out of our suitcases but I think you have to be easygoing about things like that if you’re on a J1.

“We’re well settled in now, and the other cottages nearby have filled up with more J1 students. There are so many Irish here now it’s nearly like being at the Gaeltacht down in Kerry. We all get on so well. Everyone is there with one common goal – to have the best summer of our lives.

“Most people go out five nights a week to the three local night clubs. If you’re not 21 you quickly have to make friends with the people who are.

“I’ve done so much this summer. I even jumped out of a plane. I’m petrified of heights but decided to conquer my fear. I was strapped to this really hot South African who calmed me down, as I jumped out of the plane. Just to make things more dramatic, my parachute failed so we had to use the reserve. I thought I was finished. We landed in a field, 20 minutes from where we were supposed to be. It was such an experience.”