The Letter Home: Jilly In Chicago
Since October of last year I have been living in the beautiful city of Chicago. I moved out here on my own to satisfy a long-standing desire to live in the US for longer than the period of a summer J1. As a recent graduate I had the opportunity to obtain a year visa on the IWT (Intern, Work and Travel) programme offered by USIT. I mainly wanted to live here to gain some relevant experience in my field however since getting here that has proven to be more difficult than I had expected thus resulting in me ‘taking the year out’.
A lot of people who emigrate due to a lack of job prospects in Ireland but my reasons were simply to live the American Dream and see if I could do so independently of any of my friends. I left a great job behind to face the unknown. After three months of a disorganised and highly unstructured internship I turned my sights on working in a restaurant (The Cheesecake Factory) to earn some cash. Although it was never what I had intended I have met some great American people from all over the States and have made some really great friends just by being there. I have still tried to pursue an internship during this time but not being a Chicago native or a college student I have had little success as I am not allowed to take an American person’s job; an internship is my only option.
Just recently I took a trip to a small town in Wisconsin where they hold an Irish Festival each year. I went with a group of six other girls, three live here in Chicago and Wisconsin and the other three were over visiting. If I were one to get home sick, this would be the place that would have brought it on, although the corned beef and cabbage obsession can get a bit much. Being one of the few genuine Irish people at this festival we were treated like celebrities, it came to the point where people were following us around just to hear our accents. I am amused every time an American asks if I’m 100% Irish. So many Americans have varying backgrounds that to meet an ‘authentic’ Irish person is refreshing to them, as is our accents as I’m told so often – I wouldn’t even have a strong accent! Since getting here I find that the few Irish that I do come in contact with, while working in the Cheesecake Factory, don’t pick up on it that I am one of them.
There are of course many things I miss about home: family and friends and a good job. It’s hard to find stability when your hours change from week to week and having the weekend off is almost unheard of! It makes me appreciate even more how well I had it before leaving. The biggest thing I miss in terms of food is the bread and milk from home. An odd one perhaps but everything else here is so good. Skype has become a regular feature in my life whether I like it or not; my parents like to call every so often to tell me that I can come home at any time. They visited back in January and I’m sure my dad thought that I was going to be getting on that plane home with them. Friends are also regularly going online so as to hear of what amazing things I’ve been up to. If I had arrived here at the beginning of summer last year I’m not sure I would have stayed much longer after that, it’s the thoughts of missing a Chicago summer is what’s keeping me here right now. I can’t have endured the winter just to go home before all the big events of the summer begin. I am looking forward to getting back to Ireland once the year is up; I look forward to settling back into a routine-d sort of life.
My time here has definitely helped shape me as a person. I’ve become more independent and have toughened up for sure which was one of my goals. I know I’ll miss the big city lifestyle once I get back home; it’s such a different life to that of being in Dublin. Anyone I have met while here has always been so welcoming and kind, and that positive energy will definitely be missed. I am proud of myself for having moved here by myself and it’s something that I now know isn’t such a big deal. If I can walk these streets alone at late hours of the night and think little of it I can see how far I’ve come from the person I was before.
Jilly McDonough, 24, is from Carlow and has a MA in Public Relations.