January 8th (first day of orientation),
I woke up not exactly remembering where I was. Squinting out my window into a powerful gray sky, and listening to the harsh calls of seagulls reminded me: oh yeah, I’m in Dublin.
There are far more seagulls in Dublin than I expected, as I didn’t even think there would be any. But they’re far more numerous than pigeons or crows, and are treated with the same general disdain as other city birds. The guide for our tour of “The Liberties,” a run-down yet noteworthy section of the city just on the edges of Viking/Medieval Dublin, referred to them as “flying death” and guaranteed they would peck your fingers off for a sandwich. I only really understood a third of what he was saying as his information was rapid and coated in a thick Irish accent. However, this caught my attention.
Waking up, I had a tight knot in my stomach, comprised of stress from the other day that hadn’t worn off yet and of uncertainty for the day to come. My first full day in Ireland. Laying there, the realization of waking up IN IRELAND wasn’t even stimulating enough to force me out of bed. Just like at Hope, I had to weigh the costs and benefits of going back to sleep, and realize that I would have to face the day at some point so why not now. Some things never change I suppose, no matter what country you’re in.
After our tour, a few of us study abroaders -on the search for SIM cards and groceries- wandered the city of Dublin. And despite my innate desire to put everything I see to words, some things simply defy description. I’m sure other Hope bloggers are running into the same problem. Walking down Grafton Street, passing by a guitarist playing the Game of Thrones theme song, surrounded by locals and tourists and beautiful shop windows with the lush of St. Steven’s Green in the distance, I couldn’t believe I had made it that far in such little time.
This semester snuck up on me faster and far more abruptly than I had anticipated. The majority of my packing was completed in the two days before I left for Chicago (I do not recommend this). When I think of “packing for a trip,” my first thought is clothing. What comes incrementally after is the multitude of small things such as portable chargers, waterproof bags, adapters for charging phones/laptops, an under-your-clothes bag for passports and credit cards, etc. My first word of advice is to pack early. And this doesn’t mean lay out folded clothes on your bed and leave it at that. Create a detailed list of everything you might possibly lead, brainstorm any possible tool or gadget that would help you on your semester abroad. Find out if your housing offers towels and sheets. Find out if the airline will allow you to take your violin as a carry-on (thankfully it did). And do this at least a few days before you leave, if you can force yourself to then do it the first day of break. This will allow you to 1) be 100% certain that you have what you absolutely need, and 2) give you the chance to seriously contemplate your study abroad experience.
No matter how excited I was to head to Ireland for a few months, I refused to think about it until suddenly it was January 3rd and I had no choice. The anxiety around studying abroad stopped me from legitimately visualizing it as a very real and fast-approaching reality. My second word of advice is to put yourself in a regular routine of envisioning your study abroad experience. Whatever step you are at in your planning, whether you’re just now considering studying abroad or you’re about to hop on a plane, dedicate a portion of your day to it. For fifteen, thirty, or even sixty minutes a day, dip your feet in the water and recognize how it feels. Read what other students have said and experienced. Go through those “10 best things to do in Madrid” or “20 smart tips to saving money abroad” lists that are everywhere on the internet. Allow yourself to feel those premature nerves, and come to peace with them because you will feel them no matter what. Don’t just immerse yourself in the country when you’re there; immerse yourself in it now, and take your seat on the plane in relative control of your worries and emotions.
That being said, the road to Dublin was pleasantly less rocky than I had feared it to be. Mandatory airport procedures are easy to stress about beforehand, but in the moment they held no struggles. What did prove to be a struggle was catching sleep on the plane. My third tip would be don’t count on getting some sleep on the plane. No matter how tired you may think you’ll be, it is quite an effort to fall asleep when you’re surrounded by people, light, noise, and the elation/terror felt when you think, when this plane lands, I will be in a different country. Especially if your flight is less than eight hours long, it could be impossible to get a full-night’s sleep in, and you will have to plan for that. Of course, many of you will have experience traveling, and will already know much of what I say. But if you’re a bit more like me, whose only been out of the country twice before now, learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to learn from your own.
Arriving in Dublin at 9:35 am their time but 3:35 am my time, I was shaking both from sleep deprivation and the uncertainties now standing directly in front of me. My first short glance out the airport windows showed planes, miles of runways, a horde of airplanes…and far beyond these, the greenest hills I have ever seen. Those hills sustained me through the rest of the ordeal of getting through the airport, getting a cab to my apartment with other study abroaders, and unpacking everything. Even now, after the first part of orientation is over, and after I’ve explored Dublin a little, I’m still just slightly shaking. With all the huge changes that have occurred since January 6th, I can’t exactly put my thoughts to word just yet. But seeing, those green Irish hills, walking down the cobblestone city streets, hearing the screeching of gulls, it all felt fundamentally right. As if these experiences fit like puzzle pieces into my life, putting faces to names that have been long-memorized. Exploring the side streets of Dublin (and trying not to trip over all the cobblestones), it is a pure thrill understanding that by the end of this semester, I will know this city more intimately than I’ve known any other.
I was nearly tired of the rocky road to Dublin. But now that I’m here, I don’t feel quite so weary.