Friday 30 September 2016

'I remember the kindness of the Americans...'

My J1 adventure: Claudia Carroll

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

Claudia Carroll
Claudia Carroll

The Meet Me in Manhattan author studied commerce at UCD, and went to Boston in 1987 aged 20 with a gang from her class.

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'A huge gang of 40 of us went to the east coast for the summer. There were about 10 of us in Boston, and we arrived with nothing lined up and stayed in a hostel. Boston was lovely and much more accessible than New York, and we found an unfurnished house in a suburban area through the small ads. There wasn't a stick of furniture but we didn't care. The six girls shared a room, and the four boys shared another, and then there was a "couples" room for anyone who had a partner, or friends passing through.

"The friendships made there were life-long. To this day, my friend Susan McHugh and I are as thick as thieves, as we really bonded over there. We had boyfriends here when we went over, but we came back single. We didn't want to be tied down when we were off for the summer, and it wasn't so much that we were all dating, but there were a lot of 'bromances' going on and we were having so much fun with the gang.

"We signed up to an agency for temp work, even though we had no secretarial skills. We had to wear t-shirts with 'Flexible, Available Reliable Temporaries Incorporated' on them so we were known as the farties! I got a job answering phones in an office, sending telexes and making coffee because the boss liked my Irish accent.

"In the evening, we all worked at Faneuil Hall food market, and Susan and I worked in A La Carte takeaway. We were living off takeaways and I came home two stone heavier.

"What I remember was the extraordinary kindness of the Americans towards students who were just there to lark around and mess and make a few quid. One woman gave us a kitchen table and chairs when she heard we had no furniture, for example.

"One weekend, we made a trip to Salem in Massachusetts, where you follow the path of the witch trials. It was so spooky it has stayed with me until this day. It was a fabulous summer, and the J1 is such a rite of passage for young people. We were privileged college kids, and it did us good to be sleeping on floors and working two jobs per day. It really knocked the corners off us and helped us to grow up."

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