There’s a conversation I regularly have with the other people I meet who are also abroad that goes something like this:
“Where else have you traveled or going to?”
“I think I’m actually going to stay here until I go home.”
“In Ireland? Doesn’t that sound...boring?”
Perhaps it does. Five months, from January to May, in one small country can probably bore most people. But for me, it feels like the perfect amount of time.
I feel like you can’t just use it as a launchpad for touring other places to really understand a new country. You have to dig in a bit and really take your time exploring.
Ireland isn’t just Galway. It isn’t just Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher. Ireland is so much more complex. Despite its small size, it is filled with so much diversity, both geographically and socially.
I decided not to visit other countries while abroad for two reasons.
One was, admittedly, financial. Despite it being much cheaper to fly to Great Britain or continental Europe from Ireland than from the U.S., it still made more sense for my budget to tour the country rather than an entire continent.
It was also personal preference. After a long deliberation, I decided I was doing a disservice to myself, Ireland and whatever other countries I would hypothetically visit by just doing constant weekend trips here and there to other places.
Italy, for example, could never fully be understood by a weekend in Rome. It is similar to how Britain can’t be grasped by a weekend in London. If I were to visit other places, I would want to do it for a week or more. That just isn’t an option either financially or with the time I had left after my studies.
Instead, I decided that getting the most in-depth experience of Ireland was my goal. I think, for the most part, I accomplished that.
I saw the mountains of Connemara and hiked 17 miles around the peninsula of Clifden, where I saw the ruins of a 18th-century castle and indescribable coastal views.
In Dublin, I watched buskers play for change and watched the youth climate change protests on Grafton Street.
I rang church bells in a chapel in Cork and explored the battlements of Elizabeth Fort, which still contains an air raid bunker from WWII.
I spent a weekend in a small town called Westport, where I biked to Croagh Patrick, a Catholic pilgrimage site where traditionally you are supposed to climb the mountain barefoot until you reach the small chapel at the peak. I didn’t do the hike that day. But I plan on going one day, and I’ll be wearing hiking boots.
I went to an organic farm in Loughrea, where it made all its food using farm-to-table ingredients. It was one of my best meals here so far.
In Galway, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and explored its weekend street market and ate ice cream on the shore of the bay.
Soon, I will be going to the Aran Islands off the west coast, which is famous for its wool production.
In between, there have been bus rides and train rides crisscrossing the entire country, giving me glimpses into the towns I haven’t had enough time to formally see and giving me the joy of passing fields of adorable little lambs.
I’ve also met some of the kindest people here in Ireland, whom I believe I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t decided to stay.
There was the woman on the train to Dublin who told me how to get to where I was going, and who sat with me on the train ride back to Galway and even tried to buy me a tea.
There was the U.S. woman I met in a cafe, also new to Galway, who is now a good friend. There was the girl I met in study abroad orientation, who is now a best friend.
There was also the myriad of shop owners, locals, travelers and everyone in between who always was willing to give me the time of day. Everyone here, no matter where they’re from, are always willing to talk and to help if you let them.
People may warn you before you go abroad that you’re going to get homesick. Some days, I did, a little bit. But Ireland is such a welcoming place that I never once have ever felt truly alone.
So if you’re considering going abroad during the spring semester, and you’re worried about being alone because no one else you know is going abroad then, don’t be. If you go to Ireland – and you choose to spend most of your time there and really get to know it – you never will be.
Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at firstname.lastname@example.org.