It’s soon approaching three years since I packed up my life in Ireland and moved to the US for my job so I thought what better time to write my honest opinion about what its like as an Irish person to move here, practically on my own.
I’d like to start by saying these past three years have probably been the best of my life. Near three years ago was the first time I had ever set foot into the states but it had always been somewhere I was fascinated by. I was completely green to everything that I perceive as so normal now, the skyscrapers, the food, the diversity of the people within the city. It forced me out of my comfort zone, made me a more independent person and has given me experiences and opportunities I never thought I would get.
Here are some of the things which I find the most different to back home (the good and the bad):
- Everything is bigger
The cities, my apartment, the houses, the highways, the cars, schools, the hotels you name it, it is likely bigger here.
- The country is so diverse
In comparison to tiny Ireland, the USA has a far bigger population and with that you get so many different people from all walks of life, cultures, nationalities, races. This really stood out to me in the beginning. When it comes to travel, the USA as a country is so vast, every state has its own stamp or feel. You can travel on the same day from Miami’s sandy beaches in Florida and hot climate to Mineappolis where you have freezing temperatures to Arizona known for its completely different red-rocked landscape. A 6 hour drive will only get you across one side of Illinois to the other versus that same drive with get you from north to south of the country of Ireland.
- Chicago is so open to the LGBT community
Boystown in Lakeview, the neighbourhood which I lived in when I first moved here was the first officially recognised gay village in the US. Honestly, it was refreshing to see people so accepting of this community and that it is so normal. Although, Ireland is getting there on these things, it’s still a little behind.
- The cities are built for cars
Back in Cork, Ireland where I am from it is an easy walk 20 minute walk from one side of the city centre to the other. You won’t get very far on that same 20 minute walk in Chicago. You either have to drive or take public transport to navigate the city.
Everything is so much more convenient than back home.
You can pay for “gas” or petrol at a station by credit card at the pump, if you don’t have change for a vending machine you can use your card. I remember landing back in Dublin Airport last Christmas and trying to get a bottle of water from a machine, I literally had no euros on me and I could not use my card as the machine would not allow. That small incident made me start to think about how convenient it is to live in the US. Basically, you can use your credit card for pretty much anything, so much so that I can’t remember the last time I carried or used cash.
There’s an app for everything. Uber and Lyft, car sharing apps are available in majority of US cities and quite honestly it hard to think of living in this city without them. So much cheaper than a taxi fare and they pull up right to your door within 10 minutes or less of ordering.
Venmo is another good app. Ever have trouble dividing the bill when the tab comes after enjoying dinner with friends? You simply sign up to this app, enter your banking details, add your friends and you can pay anyone with the app from your account.
There is a drive thru for pretty much any known fast food chain and a Starbucks nearly every 5 blocks or less.
- People are fascinated with Ireland and Europe
I guess the grass is always greener. When Americans initially find out that I’m from Ireland, (it’s generally the irish accent that will give it away) a lot of the time they tell me that they are from Ireland too. When I first got here, my response to these people was “no way, when did you move here?” or “when were you last home?” and they would respond with something like “Oh, I’ve never actually been to Ireland but my great grandfather’s uncle was born there” or “do you know the O’ Donnelly family?”. It’s really interesting to me as a lot of people I have met here are quick to associate themselves with being from other parts of the world and they will have exact percentages of their ancestry, for example 15% english, 33.3% Irish and the remainder German. I would just say I’m Irish but rarely do they say they are American. It’s just really flattering that people here think so highly of Ireland. It’s crazy how many Irish bars there are in the city alone, I would have difficulty counting them!
- It’s expensive and wasteful
One of the very first things that struck me about Chicago was the cost of everything. EVERYTHING apart from “gas” or petrol is cheaper in Ireland. I pay double in rent what I ever would have paid in Ireland, if you eat out you’ll be luckily to find a salad under $20 and people seem perfectly happy to pay $15 – $17 on a cocktail. I have acclimatized to the cost of living now but anytime I go back to Ireland I am reminded about how reasonable it is there.
I find America as a whole quite materialistic still. Everyone has or needs the biggest or newest model of everything, be it a car, iphone, clothing etc. It’s all unnecessary in my eyes. People pay a lot on their monthly bills such as electricity, gas and parking that can be cut down. Sometimes I wonder how people afford the things that they have. To my horror, I learned that bakeries and cafes throw out baked goods every couple of hours due to US food, health and safety regulations. Instead of offering these at a discounted price or to local charity, some establishments simply throw it all in the “garbage” or bin.
- Taxes & tips
The tipping culture took me a while to get used to. It is considered appropriate to tip your server in a restaurant bar, hair stylists, nail salon, delivery guy, Uber driver, basically anything offering you a service at least 15%- 20% of the total bill, any less and it is considered rude. Honestly, you can earn a lot in the hospitality industry, think $90 K upwards a year in some establishments.
Tax is also an additional add on to your bill or price tag, the tax rate in Chicago happens to be one of the highest in the US. It frustrates me the most when buying clothing. For example, one of my favourite stores would be ZARA however I rarely shop there anymore as the tax added at the till makes it so expensive. I don’t go to Topshop here either as the currency conversion of the english sterling pound does not translate accurately into the US Dollar, making it more expensive. I generally stick to US based stores or online shopping to find the best deals.
- Everyone is paying off loans
This one has made me feel grateful that the cost of going to college in Ireland wasn’t extortionate. College fees here are some of the highest in the world and the majority of my american friends in their late 20’s are still paying off their loans. People in Ireland complain about the cost of college fees but they are nowhere near the cost to study here.
- It’s hard to meet people initially
When I first moved all I had were my Irish roommates who I met a month prior, I thought big city there will be loads of people to meet and get to know. But in fact, I didn’t make my first real american friends who I would consider my some of my best friends now until 5 months into living here, and they introduced me to their friends. You really have to put yourself out there, join that volleyball team or meetup group. There is plenty in the city.
- Land of opportunity
Despite the bad, it’s true there is so much opportunity for a career and a good quality of life here. My friends earn far more in their occupations here than they would ever earn back home. From what I have gathered, it’s also far easier and faster to climb the employment ladder also. Quite frankly, I would be lying if I said I’m not enjoying my time here!