Last January, I hugged and kissed my family goodbye and headed off to wait in the extremely long security line in JFK Airport. I was finally going to Ireland! After a mildly embarrassing moment (Mr. Penguin, my stuffed penguin, decided to make a harrowing and dangerous escape from my carry-on bag) and subsequently suffering the silent judgments of the people around me, I managed to board my plane. “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “The Princess & the Frog,” and an attempted nap later, I landed in Dublin.
The next few days seemed like a whirlwind. I was in the capital city for three days, during which I learned some of the basics of living in Ireland (don’t say fanny-pack because it means something dirty, learn to walk faster or get run over, and register with the police so I wouldn’t get deported, just to name a few). I spent some time with my aforementioned boyfriend, who was doing an internship with the Irish parliament. But mainly, I just explored. Dublin is an amazing city, filled with spectacular sights and rich in history. I was fortunate enough to be able to return to Dublin numerous times throughout my four-month stay and explore to my heart’s content.
When my three days were up, my fellow study-abroad students and I traveled by “coach” (bus) across the country to the University of Limerick, where I’d chosen to study for the next semester. During my time there, I learned more than just academics. I learned how to step-dance (don’t ask me for a demonstration; I ‘conveniently’ forgot it all). I now know that cider is significantly better than beer. I learned how to get out of headlocks because that’s apparently how drunk Irishmen try to seduce you (at least in my personal experience). I found out that I cannot, for the life of me, understand accents; it’s a miracle I even made friends over there.
But what I think was the most important lesson was how to deal with being the odd one out. I was perpetually known as “the American.” Whenever the United States was brought up in my economics class, I had to pretend I actually knew what I was talking about. People stared at me whenever I spoke. I was bombarded by questions and always asked to explain my life in America. I was the one who didn’t fit in, who spoke funny, who dressed differently. I was the strange one there, not them, and that was nerve-wracking. After developing friendships and learning to adapt, however, I began embracing those very differences that I was originally stressing out over. There’s no reason why I should fit in, so why worry? Who wants to be just another face in the crowd? I learned to love and embrace who I am while ignoring any of my previous misgivings.
I miss Ireland, but I’m glad I’m home. I’m now able to see my family and friends whenever I want, instead of having to wait for them to sign on to Skype. My boyfriend and I no longer have to travel cross-country to see each other. I can have my tasty treats again! (Europe is very health-conscious, so dealing with that was a bit difficult). But I’ll never forget my time in Ireland. Studying abroad there was something I had always dreamed of doing, and I’m so happy I was given that opportunity. I changed for the better, and for that, I will always be grateful.
Photo Credit: Nicole Sowinski