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I’m Coming Home!

Traveling Solo Quote

The past year has been quite an amazing adventure. It has always been a dream of mine to live in the United States and this year I got to fulfill that dream. A friend recently asked me was I glad I did the graduate visa, without hesitation I responded ‘I’d do it again in a heartbeat’.

It is the pity the graduate visa is only 12 months (14 months if you include the 2 months you’re not eligible to work). I would have loved to do another stent in a different State, perhaps New York or take a trip back to Chicago. While my bags may be packed and I get ready to go to the airport I am not ready to leave, there is still so much left for me to discover.

As all my friends know I am obsessed with quotes and sayings. It is amazing how a small phrase can motivate or cause the reader to reflect. With this in mind I have picked out three sayings that pretty much sum up my year and how I am feeling about returning home.

When I told a childhood friend I was going away he gave me smirk as if to say ‘Are you serious?’. As you can imagine this was not well received. He followed up with, ‘I’ve known you forever, there is no way you will last in a hostel never mind alone’. Now I’m the type of person if you tell me I can’t achieve something I will do damn sure to prove you wrong. A week in I had found myself an apartment and had assembled my bed (granted it was IKEA).

One thing that I have discovered this year is that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. Although there was times throughout the year that I wished I was a home curled up in front of the fire or sitting down to one of my Dad’s Irish breakfasts, I remained determined to make the most of my year!

Traveling solo makes you step out of your comfort zone, try to do things you would not normally do. During my first couple of days in SF I was invited to a house party with another Irish girl, I suspected that there might be some awkward lingering until everyone had a couple of drinks. How I was wrong! As people arrived at the party they said hello to people they were familiar with and introduced themselves to people they did not know. As the weeks went on I found that I had no problem introducing myself to people with a handshake and a ‘nice to meet you’.

While growing up my gran would often tell me to always trust my gut instinct. I don’t think I understood quite what she meant until this year! Having ignored my gut and finding myself in a pretty shitty situation I have learnt what she meant the hard way.

I have learnt so much about myself (as cliché as it sounds). I have learnt what I want to achieve in my career over the next few years, where my strengths and weaknesses lie and finally, I have learnt to do things for myself without seeking approval from others.

I no longer fear being seen alone in a coffee shop and would gladly go for a drink alone if I found myself with time to spare. This is something I use to overwhelm me. I do not find myself getting embarrassed as easily as I use to by fear of what others may think.

A Year in San Francisco

Returning home is a bitter-sweet! I am looking forward to a nice healthy home cooked meal, no longer living out of a suitcase and of course seeing my family and friends. Although I know more of me wishes that it was just for a visit and not for ‘the foreseeable future’.

I will miss the pace of life in San Francisco, the work hard play hard attitude with everyone working on ‘the next best thing’. Yet at the same time people remain ‘chilled out’. I was engrossed by the tech industry, using mobile apps for practically everything. I will miss all the different cultural norms that the United States has to offer. Those are only the touch of the iceberg.

Is there anything I would change about the past year? No! Everything that happened over the past year, both good and bad has been a learning experience and I am better off for it. So yes, I would like to go back to page one and do it all again! I have met a great group of friends, inspirational people and fantastic mentors.

I leave with the resounding thought that… What is meant to be will be! Hopefully, that means I’ll be back some day 😉

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The 6 month mark

Last Sunday marked the 6 month anniversary since I moved State side and I have loved every minute of it so far. I’m not going to lie, I do occasionally get quite homesick. In fact if my parents hadn’t paid a visit this month, there is a very good chance I would have booked a ticket home.

To mark the occasion here are 6 of my biggest highlights/accomplishments over the past 6 months…

1. Moving into my own apartment… and surviving!

Growing up in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, allowed me to live at home throughout my education and the years that followed. Although I really hate being referred to as spoilt, I did however live very comfortably at home. Growing up my Mum would go to the moon and back for each of us (and still does), we would wake up to breakfast, return from school to food on the table, received  help with our homework and we always had freshly cleaned clothes.

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Moving into my own apartment was going to be accomplishment of its own, never mind the fact the apartment was located in a totally different country. I am happy to say my clothes remain clean (although rarely ironed), home cooked meals still occur, and I am still alive (always a bonus).

2. Christmas

Having moved over at the end of September going home for Christmas was not feasible. As my family pointed out, I had just said goodbye to all my friends and family, was I really going to return 3 months later for a visit. With this in mind I accepted an invitation to spend Christmas in Philadelphia with my friend Erin and her family. I was a little apprehensive about going as I see Christmas as a very family orientated time of year, this concern quickly disappeared on entering her home and saw a stocking hanging at the fireplace with my name on it.

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The whole experience was better than I ever could have imagined. After celebrating the new year together we took a trip to New York to spend the night with some friends. It was a brilliant ending to a fantastic Christmas, that being said, I don’t intend in spending next Christmas without my family.

3. Weekend Brunch

This is a weird one but there are so many nice (mostly healthy) places to eat. Having a reservation is not a thing here… however, standing in line for two hours is! I know for Irish people we do not like waiting around and certainly don’t like standing in a line for hours in order to be fed. So if you feel like you’ll be hungry at 11am, grab your place in line at least an hour before that.

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Ok, so i’ve made brunch sound like an awful thing, but trust me it’s not! There is lots of places to choose from so you never get bored of the same food or run out of places to try.

4. Spending time with my parents 

I always knew my mum would come to visit, however, I was unsure about my dad. Now don’t get me wrong I know he would want to, however, when working in a family business taking holidays is not always an option. Shortly after I arrived in SF my mum told me she was planning a visit in the new year, to which my dad replied that she was not going without him. March 11th, they both arrived!

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To say we did a lot during their visit is an understatement, we packed everything in. So much so my dad teased about why would he visit again as he has seen it all. The highlights of their visit for me where little things, Dad trying to pay cash in an Uber, Mum’s face when I brought her to Mixt Greens, Dad’s dancing on St. Patrick’s Day and then Mum threatening to stay up night cause she didn’t want to go home!

5. Discovering California

It took a while but I finally started to tick off the tourist attractions one by one. I’ve cycled the bridge, climbed up Coit Tower, Baker’s Beach, Pier 39 and the likes. I still have a lot to do such as Alcatraz at night, Japanese Tea Garden’s and much more. But what I like the most is discovering the hidden gems outside of the city. Point Bonita Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods and Napa are all short drives out of the city and are all equally breathtaking. Another bonus point for most of the places out of the city is that the weather is a lot better, it’s really a win win!

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6. Passing my driving test

Although I have absolutely no need for an american driving license I thought it would be fun to do the test and get myself another card for my wallet. I sat the test on the 23rd of March without any lessons and am glad to say I passed first time round (something I haven’t been able to say before). Once passing the test I quickly realized it has its benefits, I now can rent a car at an hourly rate from ZipCar, which will make my weekly grocery shop that little bit easier

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A short drive from San Francisco

Photo taken at Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Work was closed for Presidents Day (16th February) so a road trip was a must. It was all very last minute and to be honest there wasn’t really much of a plan, other than to get a car and drive.

Sorting Transport 

As I am under 25 years and without a credit card I did not have many options when it came to hiring a car. I ended up going with Hertz and got a Toyota Yaris. With full coverage insurance it cost us $136.

Things to note:

  • Hertz accepts debit cards
  • The card you use must belong to the main driver
  • They will take a $200 deposit from your card
  • If you are under 25 there is discount codes available online
  • You will be asked do you want them to refuel your car or will you do it yourself – do it yourself, its cheaper!                                                                          

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   Route  

  1. Point Reyes National Seashore

   2.  Petaluma (overnight)

   3.   Bodega Bay

 

 

Point Reyes National Seashore

On arrival we found a large cabin that is home to the Point Reyes park rangers and the information centre. It was here we received a map of the area and were recommended the 8 mile (4 there & 4 back) Bear Valley Trail. This is a vey flat trail with a breath-taking view at the end. The walk took 4 hours, walking at a leisurely pace. It was a warm day so we found ourselves gulling through water.

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I was suggest bringing a few snacks for when you reach the edge of the cliff. Sit down and enjoy the view! There is a small but beautiful beach down a rather steep climb. Please note that this is not a recommended climb and I have been told people have been injured during the climb. In saying that, if you would like the adventure I would recommend climbing down onto the beach and enjoying your snacks there.

Point Reyes National Seashore is somewhere I plan to bring all my visitors. A place not known to all travelers but without a doubt worth a visit.

Petaluma

This small town has a lot to offer, from the lovely restaurants to the talented Petaluma Pete who plays his piano on the a street corner. Looking for a quite weekend away or just an evening out of the city I would highly recommend checking out Petaluma.

Accommodation – This was quite a random find and a good one at that. I was checking out google maps and saw it was a town close by. We booked into Motel 6, an absolute steal! $75 for one room, with two queen beds and onsite parking. Remember this was over valentines weekend and a long weekend.

Food – We were very lucky and got a table at Risibisi Restaurant, a busy little Italian restaurant in the center of the town. There was a special Valentines Day set menu which had some lovely dishes. Unfortunately it lacked a choice of good desserts 😦 , which sent us off in search of a supplement, this is where we came across Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Every wall was covered with a section of sweets/candy to choose from, we were like two kids in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

On Sunday morning after a quick Yelp search we found ourselves at Hallie’s Diner. I would advise you get down early as the place fills up fast. We were very lucky to get seated straight away. We both devoured the Cinnamon French Toast, a breakfast I would definitely go back for.

Shopping – Another lucky find was Petaluma Village Premium Outlets. After breakfast on Sunday morning we stopped by for what we had intended to be a ‘quick look around’, three hours later we hit the road again. Some great deals can be found in Nike, Ann Taylor and Levis.

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Bodega Bay

It around 2pm by the time we arrived at Bodega Bay. We had sat in a good bit of traffic on the way from Petaluma, I put this down to the fact the sun was beaming and everyone wanted to get out in the fresh air. We didn’t mind too much as the views were breathtaking. We drove all the way up a windy quite narrow hill were we parked the car and walked to the cliff side. There wasn’t much of a walk, more like a stroll along the cliff, this suited us fine as our legs were tired from the previous day.

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Bodega Bay is considered a prime spot for whale watching (especially between the last weeks of April & start of May), but we were hopeful we would catch a glimpse. After a half an hour or so of patiently looking out we began to give up hope. We wandered over to a group that had gathered at the point of one of the cliffs, it was there we caught a glimpse of a group of gray whales. Due to the time of year (February) the whales were quite far off the coast.

Overall our trip was a great success. Although we started out without much of a plan, only a car and a place to sleep, we packed a lot it. When living in a city you can easily forget that there is more than concrete buildings and the hustle and bustle of city life. Some of the most spectacular views are only an hour out of San Francisco.

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North of San Francisco

Work was closed for Presidents Day (16th February) so a road trip was a must. It was all very last minute and to be honest there wasn’t really much of a plan, other than to get a car and drive.

Sorting Transport 

As I am under 25 years and without a credit card I did not have many options when it came to hiring a car. I ended up going with Hertz and got a Toyota Yaris. With full coverage insurance it cost us $136.

Things to note:

  • Hertz accepts debit cards
  • The card you use must belong to the main driver
  • They will take a $200 deposit from your card
  • If you are under 25 there is discount codes available online
  • You will be asked do you want them to refuel your car or will you do it yourself – do it yourself, its cheaper!                                                                          

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.13.27 AM

   Route  

  1. Point Reyes National Seashore

   2.  Petaluma (overnight)

   3.   Bodega Bay

 

 

Point Reyes National Seashore

On arrival we found a large cabin that is home to the Point Reyes park rangers and the information centre. It was here we received a map of the area and were recommended the 8 mile (4 there & 4 back) Bear Valley Trail. This is a vey flat trail with a breath-taking view at the end. The walk took 4 hours, walking at a leisurely pace. It was a warm day so we found ourselves gulling through water.

IMG_2574

I was suggest bringing a few snacks for when you reach the edge of the cliff. Sit down and enjoy the view! There is a small but beautiful beach down a rather steep climb. Please note that this is not a recommended climb and I have been told people have been injured during the climb. In saying that, if you would like the adventure I would recommend climbing down onto the beach and enjoying your snacks there.

Point Reyes National Seashore is somewhere I plan to bring all my visitors. A place not known to all travelers but without a doubt worth a visit.

Petaluma

This small town has a lot to offer, from the lovely restaurants to the talented Petaluma Pete who plays his piano on the a street corner. Looking for a quite weekend away or just an evening out of the city I would highly recommend checking out Petaluma.

Accommodation – This was quite a random find and a good one at that. I was checking out google maps and saw it was a town close by. We booked into Motel 6, an absolute steal! $75 for one room, with two queen beds and onsite parking. Remember this was over valentines weekend and a long weekend.

Food – We were very lucky and got a table at Risibisi Restaurant, a busy little Italian restaurant in the center of the town. There was a special Valentines Day set menu which had some lovely dishes. Unfortunately it lacked a choice of good desserts 😦 , which sent us off in search of a supplement, this is where we came across Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Every wall was covered with a section of sweets/candy to choose from, we were like two kids in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

On Sunday morning after a quick Yelp search we found ourselves at Hallie’s Diner. I would advise you get down early as the place fills up fast. We were very lucky to get seated straight away. We both devoured the Cinnamon French Toast, a breakfast I would definitely go back for.

Shopping – Another lucky find was Petaluma Village Premium Outlets. After breakfast on Sunday morning we stopped by for what we had intended to be a ‘quick look around’, three hours later we hit the road again. Some great deals can be found in Nike, Ann Taylor and Levis.

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Bodega Bay

It around 2pm by the time we arrived at Bodega Bay. We had sat in a good bit of traffic on the way from Petaluma, I put this down to the fact the sun was beaming and everyone wanted to get out in the fresh air. We didn’t mind too much as the views were breathtaking. We drove all the way up a windy quite narrow hill were we parked the car and walked to the cliff side. There wasn’t much of a walk, more like a stroll along the cliff, this suited us fine as our legs were tired from the previous day.

IMG_2676

Bodega Bay is considered a prime spot for whale watching (especially between the last weeks of April & start of May), but we were hopeful we would catch a glimpse. After a half an hour or so of patiently looking out we began to give up hope. We wandered over to a group that had gathered at the point of one of the cliffs, it was there we caught a glimpse of a group of gray whales. Due to the time of year (February) the whales were quite far off the coast.

Overall our trip was a great success. Although we started out without much of a plan, only a car and a place to sleep, we packed a lot it. When living in a city you can easily forget that there is more than concrete buildings and the hustle and bustle of city life. Some of the most spectacular views are only an hour out of San Francisco.

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Take the Leap

So only about four people know what it was like for me moving away and as I sit on my bed this evening reading my cards and letters that everyone was so kind to give me before I left, I find it only fitting that I write this. Side note – YAY no more writers block!!

I was never scared about moving away and when everyone told me I was very brave, I just kind of thought ‘hey, it’s an adventure’. I got up that morning, stripped my bed (wouldn’t be like me to leave without being a little dramatic), went down for breakfast and set off with my family on my merry way to the airport. First stop was to drop our little ‘teacher in training’ off at the bus stop, which would bring her to teaching practice. It was quick and easy, like ripping a bandaid off, almost like I was going to see her later that day (ignoring the fact it was going to be 14 months).

Then there were three (Dad, Mum & the youngest)! We all lined up to check in, Dad making friends with the people in the line, hoping they’d look after me and Mum making sure I had everything I needed. Bag checked, ticket in hand, it was time to go through security. We walked upstairs in terminal two, making small talk, acting like I was heading away for the weekend. All of a sudden it was time to say goodbye..

I can’t remember who I hugged first but they all got their hugs and kiss goodbye. I remained strong, no tears!! I started to walk up to security… I looked around and in that moment I decided I was no longer going, I was staying at home! I ran back into Mum’s arms with tears in my eyes, I can’t remember saying much, but instead listening to my Mum’s encouraging words. After another big group hug I decided I was going to do this! Dried my eyes, bag on shoulder and off I went, this time without looking back!

Now don’t get me wrong, the water works started straight away once I got on the plane, sat in my lovely middle seat and began to read the letters my family had sent me away with. Now thinking back that wasn’t my smartest move, but sure I’m known to not always make the smartest of moves.

The point I suppose I am trying to make is, although things may seem scary, daunting or a little out of your reach, if it is something you want, what is the harm in trying! Nothing comes easy but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

Finding THAT Job

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I was very active throughout university, always getting involved with extra-curricular activities even in my final year. As a result I have met some inspiring, dedicated, successful individuals and I continue to do so. Little did I know all these extra-curricular activities were building a foundation for my professional career. These experiences have proven to be invaluable! On graduating I was approached (via: LinkedIn) about a marketing position in Microsoft. This particular position was advertised for someone with 3+ years’ experience. Several interviews later an offer was extended to me and I started work the following week. I will be forever grateful to my manager who did not label me as ‘just graduated’, but saw beyond that to all the experience and knowledge I had gained through my involvement in extra-curricular activities. All this made moving to America more daunting for me, as I was going to have to enter into a very competitive job market, something I had not done before.

Starting out on your job search you can be faced with filling out hundreds of job applications/screening questions and on average only 10% of the them may make it to a recruiter. The best advice I have received was… step away from the computer and go network!! Ever hear the phrase ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’well it’s true! Here are some tips I found to be useful:

  • EventBrite -Register yourself and look for networking events in your area.
  • Meetup.com is also a good site to check out for meeting locals.
  • LinkedIn – Study your connections, who knows who, ask for introductions to people in companies/industries you’re interested in working. Ask them for a 15min coffee.
  • Referrals –  Know someone working where you are interested in applying to? Ask for a referral. Most time it’s a win win, you get moved to the top of the pile and they receive compensation if you’re hired!

I have always believed in finding a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. While I know finding a job is tough I still stand by this! You may not absolutely love every aspect of you job you should love about 80% of it. Keep that in mind throughout your search.

A few more tips to help you along your job search…

  1. LinkedIn – upgrade your account to the Job Seeker Premium, you get the first 30 days free. However, there is no point in doing this unless your profile is up-to-date. The thing to remember is LinkedIn is a platform to advertise yourself, only put up experience that is relevant to the job you’re looking for.
  2. Business Cards – get personal cards made. If you’re Irish you’re guaranteed to feel like a twat, but get use to it! There is a different format for American business cards so if you’re getting them made overseas make sure they are the correct dimensions, otherwise you’ll stand out… and not in a good way. Moo.com and Vista Print are 2 good sites to check out.
  3. Alumni Network – most universities have an alumni network, connecting past and present students. It is a fantastic facility, make use of it! Meet others that attended your university, you can even share war stories. Dublin City University (DCU) have a fantastic network with Chapters all over the world, including San Francisco.
  4. Glassdoor – not only can you get an overview of salaries in different companies, this is also a good platform for finding jobs.

Good luck 🙂

San Francisco I have arrived!

         Photo taken at Bakers Beach, San Francisco, California

As mentioned in a previous post I had been getting ready to relocate to the States… I have now well and truly arrived! This is my first time living away from my friends and family for a prolonged period of time and I am happy to say, ‘so far, so good’.

I arrived on the 30th of September and checked myself into USA Hotels on Polk and Jones. I stayed in a four-bed female dorm. I had booked myself in for just under 2 weeks knowing it would be tough to find accommodation, so this gave me plenty of time. The hostel provided you with bath towels and breakfast (pancakes, bananas, ‘oatmeal’), and wi-fi. This hostel is close to Union Square but also the Tenderloin, it’s safe once you do not go wander a few blocks over (walking away from Unions Sq.).

Day two – I checked out the Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre (IIPC). This is a wonderful facility and I would advise everyone relocating to check it out. The Irish community is very close and I have found everyone is willing to help you out. They run workshops, meet ups, have a list of possibly accommodation options (short-term & long-term) and career options (mostly laboring, hospitality & personal care). Since arriving I have attended their LinkedIn workshop, graduate meet-ups, networking mixer and their November Irish remembrance mass.

Coming over here I was determined to live with different nationalities and immerse myself in American culture, this is easier said than done! I had spent weeks on Craigslist before coming over and continued the hunt when I arrived… I was getting nowhere (literally no responses). Through the IIPC I met Emma*, she had been on the hunt longer than I had and knew her way around. We found an apartment together in Central Richmond. Here a week and I could finally stop living out of my suitcase (& obviously check out of the hostel early)! The apartment came unfurnished but that was easily sorted with an overwhelming trip to Ikea. I now live with 3 Irish girls and could not be happier!

Advice when looking for an apartment :

  1. Craigslist is where it is at – instead of applying to ads place your own ad, say where you want to live, your budget and a little about yourself.
  2. Arrange private viewings if possible, there is less competition this way as you get to spend 1:1 time with the renter.
  3. Go to viewings equipped with a statement of income, a reference and most importantly the DEPOSIT! We had no credit rating so this was important.

We are now fully set up and taking advantage of all San Francisco has to offer. Before I sign off I am going to leave you with some tips I wish someone had shared with me when setting up.

  1. Internet – we decided to go with Comcast as it was already operational in the apartment block. You can pay an additional charge for someone to come set it up, to be honest if its common sense, save the $. So far so good the services has been reliable.
  2. Mattress –  Aladdin Rugs is where it is at. I got a Queen mattress (spring & memory foam) for $225. Albert (the owner) is helpful, honest and such a character.
  3. Mobile Phone – this is something you should set up the day you arrive! Make sure googlemaps is both compatible and reliable on your phone, especially if you are travelling alone. When I first arrived I set up a pay monthly plan with Metro PCS, I quickly changed over to T-Mobile to the $85 per/mo plan. Its expensive but I get 5BG Data, unlimited international calls & texts (to mobiles & landlines).
  4. Google Express – when you sign up you get 4 months free delivery. They have a number of retailers on board (Target, WholeFoods, Costco, etc.). If you order before 1pm you can get that day delivery. My only compliant is that the delivery windows are quite wide but the door to door delivery makes up for it.
  5. Uber & Lyft & Sidecar – too late for public transport or sometimes its just quicker in a cab, check out these apps. When setting up an account get a friends code (or use mine) and it means your first ride is free and they also get a free ride.
    1. Lyft – ciara738507 – personally this is my favorite. If you are a party of 2 or it is just yourself I suggest you use LyftLine, this means you share the cab with people going the same direction as you and your cab turns out to be super cheap!
    2. Uber – ciarae7 – Uberpool is the same as LyftLine but I’ve found it slightly more expensive.
    3. Sidecar -the cheapest of the three, but not as well known. Haven’t used it enough to have much of an opinion.