Grad Visa Stories: The Wexford Native Making Laughs And Making Waves In NYC

Grad Visa Stories: The Wexford Native Making Laughs And Making Waves In NYC

12 min read

We like to think we’re a pretty funny sort. For the most part our sense of humour travels incredibly well. For Wexford native and Communications graduate, David Atkinson it’s taken him all the way to interviews with Will Ferrell and published works on FunnyOrDie and CNN.

His Grad Visa experience and it’s well worth a read (especially if you’re keen to avoid a feet smelling apartment):

Congratulations, you’ve decided to move to America, pop the champagne! Even though there isn’t a famine you’re leaving the homeland. You are essentially Christopher Columbus now, good for you.

I moved to New York earlier this year and it’s been a pretty interesting year, working with two different internships and meeting many, many great people. If you’re thinking about going, there are some parts of the move and experience that I wish I had known. From finding a house that doesn’t smell like feet (one service daft.ie doesn’t offer) to knowing when not to say “what’s the craic” (that one really came back to bite me in the ass).

Deciding to go to New York City

When you decide to leave you’ll feel a little nauseous, probably because you’ve just been drained of money like you’re at a blood bank. Look at the positives, you’re going to the USA. It’s going to be amazing! You could meet a real-life Kardashian (that’s a good metric for enjoying emigration, right?). If you’re like me and you’ve chosen New York, remember that you are probably going to become super famous nearly instantly. So you can deal with that dread feeling for a little bit, DiCaprio.

“Once you’ve made the decision and you’ve signed up with USIT, get to work reaching out to people”.

Facebook message second cousins of ex-girlfriends if you have to. I once found a business card on the floor and emailed the person (he was part of a pyramid scheme, weird guy actually…anyway). Tell lots of people, it was incredible how many folks reached out to me when they heard I was heading over. It’s great to know you’re not going it alone so make contact and you never know what’ll happen.

Getting ready to leave

Packing for a year is always going to be a bit tricky. But ask yourself first; do I really need 20 pairs of underpants? If you’re like me and leaving in September, you’ll probably need some sort of jacket for the winter, but maybe put a few shorts and t-shirts in there too. Think about shoes, honestly, you will be walking a lot more than you think, picture Olympic level 10,000 metre fast walking. The biggest shock to my calf muscles came on day three of New York. I’m pretty sure they were one block away from dissolving into my ankles.

Just think practically, bring a spread of clothes and remember it goes above 30 degrees C in the summer and below 0 degrees C in the winter. One of your favourite salmon (pink) polo shirts is enough, maybe leave the rest on the tennis court roysh?

“When it comes to literally anything other than clothes (bed linen, Yankee candles and other millennial crap we crave), I would recommend getting them after you arrive”.

Target, the store, will become your future partner, real love is dead folks, all that remains is a desire for scented candles and a lust for one night stands.

Finding a job

Getting employed is tough, but definitely not impossible. If you think you’re gonna be handed an amazing job on arrival, think again. It’s gonna take a little more work than that. 

Internships.com is where I eventually found my job and there are a hundred other websites that are exactly alike (ask the Grad Visa team about these). Be sure to check them every day from the minute you decide to go. If you can get something lined up before you arrive you’ll be doing great. If you don’t have something before going over that’s all good too. I went over and didn’t find something for a while.

Unemployment abroad can take its toll on you financially and mentally, but you’ll find yourself in situations where you can only laugh. I remember one morning going to a “shared office space” (one desk) with three Chinese women designing “affordable” (cheap) silverware. They offered no pay, no benefits and wanted me to work 40-hour weeks making Facebook posts to their audience of 375 likes. Yeah, I was distraught when I couldn’t do that one, that’s the American dream right?

“Stick at it when searching, don’t become disheartened. There are lots of internship programmes you can sign up for; it’s all just a numbers game”.

You should also be aware that there are internships that don’t pay, so be sure you search for the paid ones or be prepared to dance on the subway for tips. 

Be Aware Of The Process with CIEE!

With the visa you can’t work until you get your training plan filled in by your employer and CIEE has it approved. It can take up to 3 weeks (15 business day) so stay on top of that because a lot of companies want you to start immediately but CIEE need to make sure that it’s a safe place to work (it wouldn’t be a “quality experience” if there was no functioning toilet I’m sure). Stay in constant communication with CIEE and your employer throughout this process as every day counts.

I actually had the misfortune (or fortune) to switch internships. I’m working with a great company now that own signage around New York and I’m producing videos for them. It’s really fun and I love the team, however when starting out I needed to wait nearly two weeks to begin work.  Don’t underestimate how important the process with CIEE is and make sure to be transparent to yuor employer about it.

Meet people, it’s when big things can happen

When you get over here, sign up to this app called “Meetup”. It’s brilliant. I signed up to that and I made loads of friends at a film & TV group. It was really interesting. They liked me too, so much so they invited me to talk at HBO about digital content production. I got many meetings out of this lecture and met a lot of really cool producers.

I am also interested in comedy so I started going to stand up nights. After each night I tried to make one friend. I met a few comics but one guy Dan has remained a very close friend. So far, we’ve produced videos together that have been featured on Will Ferrell’s website “FunnyOrDie”, twice.

“He’s now writing and submitting packages for HBO, Hulu and Comedy Central. Really interesting guy and it all started from a handshake”.

The best meeting by far happened on St Patricks Day. A comic I met a few times invited me to a studio to do a podcast with him about the Irish in New York. We did the show and it went great. Turns out, the owner of the studio shares the space with the co-founder of Venmo, an app that transfers billions of dollars in small transactions every year. He liked my contribution to the podcast, now we’re friends and I help him on his new app, Ense, that’s taking on social media giants and trying to make audio as cool as photo apps like Instagram. He’s a really nice guy doing amazing work and someone I wouldn’t have met in Ireland.

One of the best things I did in 2016 came from reaching out to some students in NYU Democratic and Republican Party. I decided to lock 5 students all in a room for the night of the election of Donald Trump and video their first reaction to the news. I took their phones off them and they played board games and chatted while I was in the other room looking at the results. The final video I edited that night and released in the morning was featured on CNN. All of that began with reaching out to some strangers. People in New York have a very can-do attitude to film and tv so it has definitely worked in my favour.

 Finding an apartment

This was ridiculously easy for us and it seems that once you overcome the minor heart attack of a bloated price range you’ll do good kid. We signed up to Zillow and found this amazing building, newly built, with a patio roof and gym. It costs over 1000 dollars a month (twice the cost of my Dublin house) but believe me if you spend more money on you apartment you’ll have a much better year.

You may be asked to get credit checked, you probably don’t have a credit score as it’s an American thing. There are ways around it most of the time and it just involves sometimes a little coercion from you. Be sure to have digital copies of your bank account, passport details and visa clearance. This should help your case if the credit score situation comes up!

Oh and also, when you fork over nearly 2500 dollars to a rude, probably angry landlord you’re probably getting nothing with that. You won’t have a bed, or locker you probably won’t even have light bulbs, but honestly, this isn’t as jarring as you’d think. One word: “Craigslist”. Oh baby, I get excited just thinking of it. It’s like a zoo for inanimate objects. I bought my nightstand in Brooklyn from three Australians leaving the country, my bed frame from a Romanian selling it out of his shed in Queens. I carried a chest of drawers two miles and after the initial misery faded away into the past I have never loved a random, second-hand object more. Dragging a matrice up a 4-story stairwell is why you moved to America, right? PIVOT!!

One of the best…

It has been one of the best years of my life, even though it’s been really difficult and I spent most of my savings. I’m really happy that I’m experiencing US culture (and the good weather doesn’t hurt too). Also, if you do come over don’t be that person that posts non-stop on Instagram. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last here, keep it cordial.  

Massive thanks to Dave for sharing his story so far. Definitely worth a follow on Twitter and a visit to his site. We can’t wait to see more interviews, sketches and seeing an Irish grad’s hard work paying off handsomely in the Big Apple.

Got a question about your own Grad Visa? That’s why we’re here, especially as there’s less than 400 places left in 2017. Email Melanie.Young@usit.ie or call us on (01) 602 1747.