Studying abroad has been the most difficult and rewarding experience of my life. I felt like I had to go abroad to get out of my comfort zone.
I chose University College Dublin in Ireland as my study abroad location because I felt that the green grass, many sheep, the Dropkick Murphys, and historical literature were calling my name.
It was only on the plane ride over that I realized that I was really leaving everything I know to go to a place where I know nothing and no one.
On the plane ride over I watched P.S. I Love You and cried my eyes out with the absurdity of leaving behind everyone and everything I loved, by choice.
I landed in Dublin, extremely sleep deprived and fatigued, got on a bus, and realized that I couldn’t understand the bus driver.
Over time, I learned that although Ireland is about the size of Minnesota geographically, depending on the area, the accents can differ quite drastically, and it does not always sound like people are speaking the same language.
There is even a northern Dublin and a southern Dublin accent, and they differ with British and Celtic influences.
After I arrived at my dorm building, I couldn’t figure out how to get the heat on, and even though Ireland was warmer than Minnesota, it felt a lot chillier to me because it’s a wet cold that seeps through to your bones no matter how many layers you wear.
I didn’t have any food, any blankets, and I had no idea how to take transportation to get to the places I needed to go.
I was filled with regret for the entire day, and I wanted to get on a plane and come straight home.
The next day I got up, refreshed and determined to make the most of my situation. I instantly made a friend in a soft-spoken, contemplative, multilingual study-abroad student from Portugal.
Together, we navigated the city of Dublin, and suddenly the world seemed bright and full of possibility again.
We wandered along the River Liffey glowing with lights from pubs and rainbow-colored bridges; music drifted out to us from countless musicians and clubs, and we took pictures of street art, found tragically deserted children’s clothing in the oddest places, and escaped from the rain with a hot cup of Irish coffee.
Since my first days in Dublin, I have gotten to know Dublin well.
My favorite place in Dublin is unquestionably St. Stephen’s Green. It’s a giant park with ponds full of friendly ducks, swans, and many other fowl, the greenest grass you’ve ever seen, and hundreds of bright flowers in the spring.
The park is full of statues that commemorate important moments in Ireland’s and Dublin’s history.
It’s hard to fathom that the beautiful park that stars in stereotypically Irish films, like Leap Year, is also the location that the blood of British and Irish soldiers was spilled in the Easter Rising of 1916.
During the Rising, British soldiers stayed in the still-standing Irish hotel, and shot Irish soldiers in St. Stephen’s Green from the upstairs hotel windows.
On a brighter note, both countries agreed to a ceasefire so that a man could feed the ducks like he did every day.
The tortured history of Ireland has captivated me; it reminds me that life can be horrible and beautiful all at once.
The best parts of studying abroad have been the people I’ve met, the food I’ve ate, non-stereotypical Irish folklore, and the way that I’ve had the space and time to reflect on what it means to be an American in the world we live in today.
I met an Australian, a couple Indian girls, and a girl from Maryland across the hall, and I feel like I have known them for a lifetime even though it has only been a semester.
We have had so much fun getting lunch from a food truck every Thursday by the campus pond full of swans and ducks, playing outside like children the rare week that Ireland got a couple inches of snow or a “snow emergency” as the Irish called it, and traveling.
We went to Galway, and we walked along the gorgeous, windy canal, went to a tea house, visited some crowded pubs with traditional music, and took a tour to the cliffs of Moher.
If there is one thing that you should do in Ireland, it is to see the cliffs.
Standing on top of the cliffs with the waves crashing below me, I knew that I would be annihilated if a gust of wind were to sweep me off the edge into the ocean below.
It was an exhilarating feeling to see and hear the power of nature that makes human issues so insignificant.
Besides all of the wonderful places I’ve traveled, I have been able to appreciate all of the small things while I’m here.
There are far too many to list, but here are a few: Irish butter could be a tourist attraction in itself; I was told that the secret behind it is that the cows here eat seaweed.
You can J-walk safely here without too much fear of being hit because people will always stop for you, everybody says “thank you” to the bus driver, “fairy circles” or “fairy homes” made of trees or other plants are still respected by Irish people today, to the extent that people will mow around them to avoid being cursed by the fairies.
Everybody here is a “lad,” “cheers” is a more emphatic “thank you,” Georgian style doors, and most people are just out for a “craic” (pronounced crack) meaning a fun, social time, which there is an abundance of here.
As scary as it was to leave everything I was comfortable with at home, not having innumerable experiences abroad would have been worse.
I strongly encourage everyone to study abroad if they’re considering it. It’ll be a good craic.