Working Holidays: Discover a World of Opportunities
Three weeks into my working holiday in Dublin, I was still living in a 48-bed hostel room, homeless and jobless after 20 apartment viewings and countless online and on-site job applications.
I was living the dream.
Seriously. It was everything I envisioned and more. I had recently finished my undergraduate studies and I had no desire of starting the career grind. A native New Yorker, I moved down south to Atlanta for college. During college, I was fortunate enough to spend a summer abroad on a faculty-led program in Oxford, UK. That experience didn’t satiate my hunger for travel. No, it exacerbated it. It just wasn’t enough. A faculty-led program is an awesome academic experience. However, it’s still a bit oriented towards tourism. I wanted more.
I wanted cultural immersion.
That’s why I chose to do a semester abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland later on in my college years.
Having gotten a taste of life abroad, the natural next step for me was to live abroad for an extended amount of time after college. In a fury of Googling – with search terms like “show me the world, shining, shimmering, splendid,” “take me wonder by wonder, over, sideways and under,” and “just tell me how to go abroad already” – I found out that, as a US citizen, I was eligible for a US-Ireland working holiday authorization which allows university students or recent graduates to work in Ireland for up to 12 months.
Without hesitation, I applied.
Soon enough, I found myself in Dublin. The first few weeks in the hostel flew by quickly, an enchanted dream from another lifetime. The thing was, when I finally moved out of that hostel, I still had 11 months to go in my “holiday.”
With a working holiday, you have more time to travel, thus, unearthing possibilities you would’ve never imagined.
There are two parts to a working holiday (clue: the devil is in the details). You work. You travel. A working holiday is a means to an end. That end is travel.
Personally, I don’t like traditional holidays that much. They’re too short. They’re over before you know it. They’re stressful. Too often you try to pack in way too much and you only scratch the surface of a place.
I’ve always had a rosy view of road trips, backpacking trips, and the like. My dream, post-graduation, was to backpack Europe. Unfortunately, for most of my life, backpacking seemed like a dream to me. How do you get the money to sustain yourself for months at a time? Sure, there are options like Wwoof-ing, but you still need money. Luckily, I stumbled upon the idea of working holidays during my senior year of college.
A working holiday was a game changer. Now, I could fund my travels. Authentic cultural immersion in a foreign place, here I come!
In the end, it actually opened up even more possibilities than I anticipated. I made plans to backpack Europe for a few months with the money I would save during my working holiday. I had the option to Wwoof around Europe. Couchsurfing from city to city was an option. I could camp out or embark on a walking pilgrimage. Just being present in Europe gave me a world of options.
The ability to work sustains your travels. Side effect: It builds character.
The second part of a working holiday is the work. The work (the means) is how you fund your travels (the end). Usually how much work you engage in is up to you. Some people save up loads of money before they embark on their working holiday so they’re under less pressure to find work immediately. Others will work a month, travel a month, work another month, travel again, and so on. I had planned to work the full twelve months, making sure to see as much of Ireland as I could on my off days, before backpacking Europe until the funds ran dry.
Usually, the work won’t be glamorous. You’ll be serving coffee, doing admin work in an office, working retail, that kind of stuff.
However, your experience is a matter of your attitude and approach. Being weird, I knew since I was a teenager that I wanted to work some random full-time job to build character and understand what it means to earn my keep. I wanted to experience earning minimum wage as a waiter or a bartender.
I ended up working as a waiter at a brand new American BBQ joint, Pitt Bros, in the city centre. Besides learning more about the ins and outs of “smokin’ low and slow” than I ever did when I went to college in Atlanta, I also learned to budget effectively with my €9/hr wage. I’ve had part time jobs before, but this was the first time I’ve had to work full-time (that’s not an unpaid internship) and support myself completely. It was a learning experience but a lot less difficult than I imagined.
Life is cheap when you downgrade to a brick phone, make your own meals, and get rid of luxuries like Netflix and Spotify.
It’s also amazing how much you can save if you simply keep track of how you’re spending your money. I was living comfortably in the city centre, making regular weekend trips, and still able to save money towards my epic European backpacking trip that I had planned to cap off my working holiday experience.
I assure you it can be done, and at the very least you’ll be able to travel around Ireland on the weekends.
A working holiday not only teaches you about living abroad, but also about living life in general.
When I was in Scotland, I made a point to make friends with locals. Usually, it’s relatively easy to hang out with other international and study abroad students as you’re on the same boat. However, I wanted to learn about other cultures. I had to step outside my comfort zone and make a point to introduce myself with the non-Americans.
Even then, it wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. First of all, I was speaking in my native tongue: English. Secondly, college is still a bubble. It’s easy to make friends as everyone is doing the same things: classes, societies, clubs, and parties. There are so many opportunities to meet like-minded people.
In the “real world,” things are a lot different. You have to make an effort to meet locals, to make friends. It’s something that every young graduate experiences, not only those who go overseas.
After the glamor of exploring the whole of Dublin and the main attractions of Ireland in the first couple of months, you’ll start to feel tired. You’ll start to miss home, your family, your friends, and your college lifestyle.
A working holiday is a marathon. It’s about mental perseverance. You have to power through the dog days. It’ll be tempting to want to go straight to your room after work and go on a Netflix binge. Don’t do that (well… do that every so often, but don’t make it a habit).
Make it a point to keep doing new things.
I’ve found that volunteering at events and festivals is a great way to meet locals and engage in the community. So far, I’ve volunteered at film festivals, music festivals, the fringe festival, and a literature festival. It’s perfect for someone who loves arts & culture like myself. If that’s not your thing, try Meetup (clubs for adults, basically). Alternatively, you can take a class in something that you’ve always wanted to try but never got around to doing.
What do you get with a working holiday? Life experiences.
As an aspiring writer, I take every new experience and stick it in my back pocket, ready to use for some tale in the future. You don’t have to be a writer to do this. Living abroad and traveling could just give you fodder for telling stories at dinner parties and for entertaining your grandchildren in the very distant future.
You might be a life-long accountant who surprises everyone by suddenly recalling your days as an au pair for triplets in Dublin. Or you could turn out to be a elementary school teacher who spent a gap year pulling pints at a traditional Irish pub in Dublin to fund a backpacking trip through Europe.
From those wild and scary initial three weeks to settling down in Dublin – it is now home – it was, simply put, an experience.
I loved it all. And the situations I lived through were so varied and diverse.
Life in the hostel was amazing. You have the opportunity to meet all sorts of people. Solo backpackers on their way to take on the Camino pilgrimage. Semester abroad students from Belgium searching for accommodation at the start of their semester. Old professors from New Zealand passing through to give lectures at Trinity. Fellow working holiday goers with whom you could whine about the struggles of job-hunting and apartment-searching. It was a revolving door of characters, from all walks of life. Every day, you’re guaranteed to meet someone different, from somewhere different, with their own purpose in life.
You might have a brief five-minute conversation with them or perhaps a few pints. With some people, you might hang out, inseparable, for the few days they’re in the city, wandering, exploring, and sharing laughs. Then, they move on. You may or may not ever see (or talk) to them again.
Then, there’s the period when you settle into your new city. It’s a whole ‘nother adventure!
You work your job. Maybe that’s being a barista at a local coffee shop, busting your ass as a waiter in a restaurant, or checking in to a different office every week as a temp. You work. You make money.
Then, once the weekend rolls around, you’re off!
To kiss the Blarney Stone.
To surf the waves on the Sligo coast.
To hit up every music festival in Ireland (and there are a lot)!
To anywhere in Europe as tickets are dirt cheap, thanks to budget airlines like Ryan Air!
After a working holiday, you’ll never be the same again.
It’s a weird phenomenon, abroad experiences. Whenever your experience ends, you’ll feel like you lived someone else’s life.
You’ll have learned so much, but you’ll still continue to go through the successes and struggles of life.
You’ll have made so many friends. They’ll stay with you forever, but it’ll be hard to stay in touch with everyone.
You’ll remember the young and naive individual that you were before your journey. Was that really you? Who are you now?
The gravity of what you have achieved won’t hit you immediately either, but perhaps one day you’ll realize what a feat living abroad was. You’ll process everything you learned. You’ll close that chapter of your life, an epic story that no one can ever take away from you, that’ll inspire you (and others) for the rest of your life.
And there’s always time for a sequel…