The term "J1", may be somewhat unfamiliar to many, but to thousands of Irish University students and graduates each year, it is an opportunity to live, work and travel in the USA for a period of time (once you get by the U.S. Embassy interviews and the man with the rubber glove at JFK arrivals of course).
Ireland in 2008, like so many nations affected by economic turmoil, left the immigration door wide open, and for some, it has been a sad, but almost necessary step to secure employment or to gain experience, in terms of an internship. For me it was the latter, but also, it was a chance to return to a place that had been so good to me with the previous summer being one of a lifetime.
2013 brought about a new opportunity for me - to join The Wave's newspaper team, to travel to the U.S. and intern for one year. Since then, and like the previous summer, the experience has been nothing short of surreal. From witnessing the Sandy recovery, to the brighter days spent under the Rockaway beach sun, it has been one unforgettable journey...so far.
Upon returning to Rockaway, my first thought was to never again complain about the Irish weather, having never experienced the cold and snow that New York was throwing at me. Another cold eye-opener was the Sandy recovery. Returning to ravaged homes and businesses was beyond belief. Although meeting those home and business owners, through duties with The Wave, gave me an insight into the hardship locals had faced, it also gave me a firsthand look at the amazing community spirit this place truly has.
That very community spirit was echoed when meeting members of the Rockaway Surf Club. In an interview with the club’s founders, they explained their desire to help others, before themselves, and how their premises became a focal point for the Sandy recovery. The distribution of supplies also came from their makeshift aid center to those in need. Their tireless work and attitude in helping others to find their feet, I found to be simply courageous on their behalf.
Irish television naturally covered the disaster, but to meet the people it affect- ed was something I'll never forget. The scars are dotted around Rockaway, but the popular term "Rockaway Strong" is clearly a motto for the community and its spirit.
St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Rockaway brought about some interesting questions for fellow Irish friends and me. 1 - Why is it a bigger spectacle here than in Ireland and 2 - why is it called "Patty's Day" instead of "Paddy's Day"? Clearly there was a mix up. Nevertheless, I experienced my first St. Patrick's day away from the Emerald Isle, and thanks to the Irish Circle (and some peer pressuring Rockaway friends) it is one I can't remember.
The summer then brought about a chance to explore Rockaway, and the activities the sunshine allows.
My first surfing lesson with the Local Surf School was nothing short of epic. Although I spent most of the time not being able to stand up on the board, I would recommend it, and the school, to anyone. The same recommendations go to Thai Rock and their Jet Ski tour. To see the various bridges, attractions and Manhattan skyline, tourist or local, from the seat of a jet ski, is simply a must. When you take on the Brooklyn Bridge’s arches at 50mph, you'll know what I'm talking about. When you’re holding on for dear life to someone who wants to do 70mph, you will know even more so what I'm talking about!
The days on the beach, the block parties, the Rockaway Taco cravings, the Connolly's frozen drinks hangover, the sunburnt Irish skin, the Wednesday volleyball (as a spectator of course), the new friends and new adventures (not to mention a chance to venture to Vegas, but of course what happens in Vegas…you know the rest), all in all made for another unforgettable summer for one Dublin lad.
Looking forward, the future only seems bright. Working with The Wave has brought some new opportunities for me to continue the American adventure I’m currently on. The great people and friends of Rockaway, who I’ve met on this journey have given me, not only a place to stay, but have made moving from home feel like I've found a new one.
The writer of this piece, Dean Hickey, is a Wave intern from Dublin, Ireland.