If I took a quiz on which fictional fantasy character I would be, based on personality, I am at least 80% sure I would end up as Bilbo Baggins. Specifically, pre-dwarven company Bilbo Baggins; the Bilbo Baggins who sits in his aesthetically-pleasing hobbit hole, drinking tea, and by firelight reading in a plush armchair. Maybe I’d take a stroll through the safe woodlands of the Shire, but that would be the extent of my excursions, and I’d be quick back to my comfortable rustic home before I’d run the chance of seeing someone I knew.
Okay so this is a slight exaggeration, but first and foremost I am a creature of comfort, and once I find my safe spot it would take more than Thorin Oakenshield and Co. to get me out of it. I crave comfort the way I crave a good story; the tragedy of this is that good stories rarely happen when one is comfortable.
On the first day of my Irish Communal Identity class, our professor, Darren Kelly- a man with the fashion sense of a Trinity College lecturer but an accent reminiscent of a West Cork fisherman- told us that “habit is a great denner.” As in, habit dens us into small restricted spaces where we feel complacent, infusing us with a sense of satisfaction while effectively trapping us in a static self. Applying this to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the residents of Hobbiton live out an idyllic routine every day of their lives, and this means their worldview is never challenged, their sense of self never pushed beyond a limited horizon. Of course, there are exceptions, and of course every hobbit- and human- varies; some of us are the Tooks and Brandybucks of the world, and constantly seek out thrills. Others are more like the Bagginses, and need some encouragement. And others still are like the Gamgees, who need the company of friends to push themselves further.
Ever since my first minute in Dublin, I have been searching out the habit in this brand-new lifestyle. And habit isn’t completely a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. I’ve made a habit of cooking meals more than eating out. I’ve made a habit of journaling every night before I go to bed. I’ve made a habit of acknowledging the amazing gift I’ve been given of studying creative writing in Dublin on a daily basis. The practice of habit isn’t bad; in fact, it can be quite beneficial when done for the right reasons. It’s when this practice nears the border of obsession that it can be a problem (aka, if Gandalf has to force you out on a journey to find a horde of dwarven gold then you know you’ve gone off the deep end).
It can be a little tricky, finding the easy medium between having enough habit in your life to function while also taking advantage of your time abroad to do some truly amazing things. Constant stimulation isn’t good for anyone, and for many people (including me) it’s hard to really enjoy an experience if I’m not somehow grounded in a secure rhythm. This is difficult in Dublin, a city whose very foundation is shaky at best. She’s gone through too many changes in the last several hundred years to count, and doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. I’ve almost given up checking the weather before I step outside. I know the weather will do what it will, giving an eternal middle finger to the Dublin meteorologists as it proves them wrong, time and time again. Getting used to Dublin really means getting used to not being used to anything except umbrella-breaking winds and rain. There’s also nothing quite so beautiful as dreary old Dublin shimmering under a mystical veil of cloudy water.
Studying abroad is actually a rather curious practice, I’ve realized, as it folds the euphoric unpredictability of traveling into a regimented schedule of classes, tests, and papers. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it could very well be a recipe for success. They key to life may be finding the calm in the middle of the storm, and at the same time finding the right uncomfortable adventure that will kick you out of Bag End and onto the road that goes ever on.
While I’m here in Ireland, I’m making a commitment to finding that happy medium. I told myself that every day, I would do something that scares me. Something that makes me hesitate before I leave my room, and consequently leads to a moment where I steel myself and open the door. While I’m abroad, I want to stretch myself in directions I didn’t know I could go. If I want this semester to be a transformational experience, I have to break down the walls my mind has built around me.
I’ve realized that “doing something that terrifies me” mostly equates to “doing things by myself.” I had an overwhelming amount of luck when it came to housing. I was placed in an apartment with four writers who have become my main team, and most exploring of Dublin I’ve done has been with them. However, this has opened up another crevice that habit can sneak into my life through. Already I can feel the desire growing to only travel and do things with friends, as opposed to by myself. Honestly, this is probably the best “problem” I could have while abroad. I acknowledge that, and am grateful for it all the time. However, my largest aspiration for Ireland was to find its heartbeat, to come to intimately know a country I have loved for so long. And that can only occur through solitude.
When you consider your own aspirations for studying abroad, maybe they align to mine or maybe they’re completely different. Everyone’s dreams for studying abroad are entirely valid and worthy of the hard work it will take to achieve them. But whether or not you’re here to make friends, or find your independence, or learn a language, or trace your heritage, most likely habit will get in the way. Like the Mirkwood rising in front of your path to the Lonely Mountain. Regardless of what form your obstacles will take, you will have to, like Bilbo, find your way through it to come out a changed person. I guarantee you will face some struggles that will make you feel sick to your stomach. But I also guarantee that you will be surprised by what you can accomplish.
Tolkien may have written these words in the 1930s, but they still hold true today;
“There is always more about you than anyone expects!”