The prospect of studying in a foreign country for an entire semester carries lofty ideals along with it such as: experience, integration, discovery, etc. I haven’t been in Ireland for very long, but my experiences here have been slightly different than I expected. I don’t mean for this to sound in any way negative because it is not; my time here has been quite grand (the Irish love to use this word). To better articulate what I am attempting to say, here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been here:
1) Expectation is limiting – I don’t mean expectation in the sense of expecting a package to be delivered on time or expecting a friend to show up for a coffee date. I mean expectation on a much larger scale, as in the expectations I had for my time abroad or the expectations one might hold for the direction of his/her life. I think I expected some kind of incredible adventure to ensue as soon as I stepped foot in Ireland, one that wouldn’t end until I boarded a plane back to Philly in May. My ambitious expectations didn’t include things like: jetlag, homesickness, homework (crazy, right?), and other challenges along the same lines. Expectation, at least the kind that I had for this trip, tends to dull the good moments and amplify the challenging ones. So, I’ve decided to shed any bit of expectation I have left for my time abroad and to live each moment as it comes.
2) People are people – This statement seems a bit obvious and redundant, but what I mean is that people are not all that different, regardless of what country you come from. Sure there are slight (and sometimes not so slight) cultural differences and there may some degree of a language barrier, but I’ve made friends from all over the world in the past week or so since I’ve been here (Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Ireland). A smile and a few friendly vibes can break down most barriers and dispel any weirdness that might be present due to perceived differences or shyness.
3) Class is boring in any country - Although I do love listening to the brogue (Irish accent), two hour lectures on managing operation systems or html are still challenging to sit through. I catch myself in a day dream more often than not.
4) It’s not a bad thing to be from America - I find that I feel somewhat apologetic when I meet someone from a different country and it gets to the point in the conversation where I tell them that I come from America. I know that I am not alone in this because at one of UCD’s orientation events, the room (filled with study abroad business students primarily from America) was divided into groups and each group was asked to come up with a list of descriptions for how we think Americans are perceived by the rest of the world. Without fail, each group mentioned things like “lazy, greedy, fat, entitled, rude, etc”. Not one group came up with anything positive. As it turns out, the whole world does not hate Americans; many of us just think they do. In fact, most of the people I’ve asked have told me that they think Americans are quite friendly and hospitable. Side note – I do love where I am from; I just had it in my head that nobody outside the country likes Americans very much.
5) Laugh with yourself – I was walking back to campus by myself the other night, and I saw this sign outside of a small church. I laughed all the way back to my room.
In summary, my experience thus far in Ireland has reminded of something my father often used to say to my siblings and I, “Never let the highs get too high or the lows too low”. I realize now that he was trying to teach us to remain grounded; resist gluttony and understand that there cannot be triumph and joy without strife and hardship. With this in mind, I continue on this journey, thirsty for more adventure.