For many American college students, studying abroad during their undergraduate years has become a popular decision. The idea of residing in another country to learn about a new culture and to gain a new level of understanding and reflection is appealing.
I knew from the beginning of high school that I wanted to study abroad during college. It was important to me that the university I would attend had a solid study abroad program.
Fast-forward years later and here I am, studying abroad at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. It is difficult to express in words what living and studying in another country feels like — perhaps confusing, unnerving and exhilarating.
When I first arrived in Dublin with three suitcases in hand and saw the traffic coming at me from the other side of the road, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed at the idea that I had to learn a new method of transportation. I was overwhelmed at the fact that I would have to wait until the afternoon to talk to my friends and family back at home because it would be their morning.
Although I didn’t have a language barrier to worry about, I still had to adjust to my new environment and acclimate myself to the Irish customs. This has proven to be easier than I imagined, but I found that I was constantly worried about whether I stuck out as an American.
Even on a campus of 30,000 students, I still feel that my American-ness is showing through my layers of winter apparel. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I find that Irish people are very interested when they learn that I am from the United States. In fact, I have had more than a few good conversations with random Irish people on the bus simply because they heard my American accent and were curious as to what I was doing in Dublin. I even met the nicest Irish woman who returned my phone to me when I accidentally left it in a restaurant bathroom.
Occurrences such as these reassured me about my decision to study in Ireland and have led me to believe that the Irish are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Whether I’m at a pub, at a café or in class, I am always aware of this sense of cordiality. Perhaps this is because Ireland has faced many changes and challenges in the past few years, from distancing itself from the Catholic Church to legalizing abortion just this past year.
Although I was not in Ireland at the time of the decision, I was aware of the protests and petitions that ran widespread throughout the country. From what I could interpret, the abortion referendum got extensive support from the Irish citizens, which meant large populations of people were joining together for a similar cause.
Even though this was a time of high anxiety, the people seem to have come together in their process of learning to cope and adjust. Whatever the true cause may be, I am immediately aware of this hospitality and compassion anywhere I go.
Of course, I have gotten the occasional stare or laugh when my American friends and I say or do something out of line with typical Irish protocol. Those of us living outside of our home countries are going to make mistakes — we’re going to overpay for food, take the wrong bus or have at least one conversation where neither person understands what the other one is saying.
But that’s all right. We are all learning. And if we eventually want to live in a world where people are more tolerant and considerate of each other, we need to be willing to exchange aspects of our cultures.
I think we can all learn a lesson of curiosity and kindness from the Irish. We need to travel, meet new people and make a conscious effort to learn about somebody else’s world.
International writer Sydney Collins is currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Contact Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org.