'It was like going to Mars - it was just so different'
My J1 adventure: Rachael English
Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30
The Morning Ireland presenter and author went to Boston in 1988, while studying communications at DCU
'I went to Boston with six people from my class. We were fortunate because two of the guys went over first, and found us a two-bed unfurnished apartment in an area called Brighton, where tonnes of Irish students were staying. We had to sleep on the floor but we didn't care.
"What I remember was that it seemed so far away as most of us hadn't been further than England at that point. While kids today would have a fair idea of what to expect, we hadn't a clue because there was no internet or social media back then. The contrast between Dublin and Boston was huge, because Ireland in 1988 was a pretty drab place and in recession, while Boston was in the middle of the Massachusetts Miracle and was booming. It was like going to Mars, it was so different. We'd be in awe going to the supermarket as there was so much choice, such as 100 different flavours of ice cream and so many breakfast cereals. Going for a pizza was like going to Disneyland.
"It was party central there, and one day we had a party and loads of people we barely knew turned up. We discovered to our horror that one guy was dealing drugs in the hallway, and we were so worried that the police would come and we'd all be deported that one of the guys went down to the basement to shut the electricity off to try to break up the party.
"I had a day job in the Shermans Electrical store, and worked in Mrs Field's Cookies by night. Working two jobs was exhausting, and one night I came home and had forgotten my key, and when I couldn't wake any of the others up, I just slept in the hallway.
"I had a few little romantic dalliances that summer but nothing serious, but my pal Monica met an American guy and ended up going back and marrying him the following year when she finished college. They're still together.
"We wrote letters home and made the occasional phone call. It was during Euro 88, and I remember being sent to the phone box down the road with loads of quarters to get the result. I loved my time in Boston so much I based my book Going Back on a girl who spends the summer there on her J1 and goes back 20 years later when her daughter is there. I went back myself 20 years later, and couldn't believe how familiar it was and how fresh the memories were from that summer. Even the underground train smelled the same, which was a little freaky."