Why You Should Spend Your J1 Summer in Chicago

Amtrak Train Chicago- Loco Steve (Flickr)
Amtrak Train Chicago- Loco Steve (Flickr)

Lake Michigan Coastline - Photo Credit, Roman Boed - FlickrLake Michigan Coastline – Photo Credit, Roman Boed – Flickr

With summer fast approaching, Irish students across the country begin to scurry about, hoping to spend their J1 holidays stateside.

There is a host of destinations across America which have proved popular for the nomadic Irish student, from the world famous Big Apple, to the liberal haven of California. It’s not an easy decision to make, “Where will I spend the next 3 months of my life?” is quite the existential question. Well, I shall be your sherpa.

As an American citizen who moved to Ireland when I was twelve years old, I have been to a number of states in America. I’ve been to Texas, Florida, New York, and many more. Nothing, however, quite captures American spirit like the modern metropolis that is Chicago.

The lakeside city in Illinois is one of Americas biggest and most progressive cities, continually being dubbed as America’s second city, second to only the fabled New York. After spending a summer there it’s not hard to see why.


The first thing any Irish travelling away wants is good weather. There is a supreme amount of grey in the Emerald isle and come summer time, we become rather sick of the ominous shade. Understandably the rays of sun and fun in America directly appeal to our warmth deprived youth.

The weather in Chicago can be both a plus and a negative in this regard. It will be astoundingly warm and sunny for most of the summer, at least it was for my time there. The only negative from this being that you will burn, and you will sweat like you’ve never sweat before.

Your new best friend when planning a day out is SPF 4000 suncream and a daily check of the day’s UV index.  The humidity of Illinois was also of special discomfort. As a larger member of the human race, I spent more time than I care to admit rather…. moist, for lack of a better word.

The positives, however, far outweighed the negatives. The sunshine and pure heat, as uncomfortable as it could be, was a welcome change from the monotony of rain and wind.


To be frank, the scenery in Chicago is nothing short of stunning. The wide-reaching streets and the beautiful urban architecture will take your breath away at times. The combination of buildings from the industrial revolution, tied in with modern marvels of glass and steel are simply awe-inspiring.

In comparison to the crowded hustle and bustle that is New York, there is no comparison. The walk down the Magnificent Mile through the cities centre is a must and an absolute pleasure.


The city also has a number of parks in which you can spend a couple of hours to unwind away from the views of late stage capitalism.  Millennium park being my personal favourite.

The park, located on the eastern edge of Chicago’s ‘loop’, is wonderful. Most evenings during the summer if you popped down there would be some kind of free activity on. Ranging from Spanish music festivals to screenings of films, it’s a great time. Also a very good idea for that budding summer romance most of you will experience.

My favourite feature in Millennium Park is the little garden located slightly hidden in its back entrance. With a wide variety of plants and shrubbery, most of the flowery persuasion, it’s a pleasant experience. What I loved most about it, however, were the little waterfalls you could dip your feet into and relax. On a hot day, this was an ideal way to kill a half an hour.


A big factor for most Irish students heading abroad is the nightlife. Chicago has more than enough to offer, both in terms of scale and in terms of affordability.

Your best friend for a J1 in Chicago is a website smalltabs.com. The people at smalltabs have taken out the time to give you the best nightly deals to aid in your decision for a pint-filled night.

If you’re looking for a night of bar-hopping and absolute madness, then look no further than Wrigleyville. Wrigleyville, built around the White Sox’s stadium Wrigley Field, is the ideal location for bar crawls and nights filled with mistakes and patches of black.

You will find yourself on Clark St. which has about three blocks filled with bars and places to get some quick grub, anyone’s dream really. Be careful, however, unlike the utopia of smalltabs a night in Wrigley will not come cheap. Usually averaging around $9 for a mixed drink and tip.

There is also a fairly large house music scene in Chicago, as Chicago based DJs such as Frankie Knuckles gave birth to the genre in the 1970s. Clubs like the Mid and Sound Bar have resident house and techno DJs if that’s your scene, as well as very good light and sound systems.

If you just want a few beers and good conversation, head up towards DePaul university. As it’s a college area, there is an excess of bars and entertainment for people of the J1 age. With bars such as Kelly’s having dollar beers on a Thursday and a beer pong table out back.


As a J1er it is very important to find a job that can A) Let you survive the summer without having to call mammy and daddy and B) Give you excess money to spend on nighttime activities such as Jack Daniels and coke.

Luckily for you, there is a high amount of seasonal work available in Chicago, most of this being at the historic Navy Pier. The pier which stretches out about half a mile to sea, contains restaurants, shops, and tours. Most of these seasonal.

They are also more than accommodating towards the Irish, as they are the world over. This due to our wit, charm and broguish accents yanks die over. Drop in there with a CV when you arrive (If possible with Visa constraints) or e-mail them. Some of the places even offer training, and some of the tips are mental.

Tips will be the bread and butter for most people working in America this coming summer. For those unfamiliar to the custom, it’s basically free money, untaxed, given to you as an extra by customers who you’ve impressed with your service. Make sure you’re at your most charming, the more charming, the more money, it’s that simple.

Also, I personally worked for an event staffing company known as Arete events, and I would highly recommend them. It’s a very simple format, you work whenever you want, first come first served. Most of the events you work at pay around 10-15 dollars an hour and this isn’t taxed. The extra 3-400 dollars a month makes a big difference. I also got to work at a Coldplay concert and ended up catching the last 45 minutes of the show.


Now you’re probably wondering, what do I do in between work and boozing? Luckily for you, Chicago again comes up trumps when it comes to things to do and see.

As mentioned earlier, Millenium Park has midweek screenings of films along with a whole range of other events that are all free. You’re allowed to drink at all of these as well, so if you’re bored on a Wednesday evening, check what’s playing and roll up with a blanket and a few beers.

One thing is true about any college-age student, we all love a good festival. Mamby on the Beach is a massive hit for J1ers for its fair prices and notable line-ups. The two-day festival, located in Oakwood Beach,  has three separate stages, a DJ tent, a silent disco, and much much more. The price for a two-day ticket ranges from $80-100, and for the calibre of this festival, it is very reasonable.

The be all and end all of Chicago summer events isn’t Mamby on the Beach, however. The biggest event of the summer comes in the place of the massive 4-day festival Lollapalooza. The 4-day music festival happens right in the heart of the city and brings with it an electric buzz. With some of the biggest names in music such as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Radiohead, and Disclosure, it’s a must. Tickets are fairly pricey, however, with it costing $335 for a 4-day pass last year.

The Rest is Up to You

The reason we go away to different countries for the summer is for something different, something exciting and exotic to help us escape from the monotony and stress of student life. We want to experience things we haven’t before, see things we haven’t seen before, grow as people. Chicago isn’t just some party town where the to-do list ranges from get drunk to getting drunker, it’s a high-functioning city. In all my years I have never experienced anything quite like the architecture, the craic, and the sunsets from my time there. It slowly became my personal Shangri-la, and will slowly become yours.

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