Published in the Spring 2008 edition of Globetrotter.
I was bitten by the travel bug long before I ever stepped on an airplane. Growing up, my mother frequently pulled out her photo albums of her three month trip to Greece when she was in college. Those discolored 1970’s snapshots of the scenic Mediterranean and the ancient ruins captivated me. She always said that the pictures couldn’t possibly serve it justice. “You have no idea how great it was to have actually lived there.”
Greece was unfortunately the first and last of my mother’s greatadventures. Somewhere between college and motherhood she developed an irrational fear of flying, and therefore never traveled anywhere out of a road trip’s reach. Subsequently, neither did my family. By high school, I realized that I epitomized the cliché country mouse that never traveled anywhere or did anything. The need to study abroad was firmly cemented in my mind.
I had idealistic expectations for my arrival in Dublin. I had hoped to step off the plane and onto cobblestone sidewalks with fields of shamrocks in the distance and local boys in the pubs singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” over a pint of Guinness. We were instead dropped off at our apartments, jet lagged, lost, hungry, and above everything, cold. It was snowing that day in January. Bear in mind that it never snows in Ireland. I should have known it was going to be a rough night. We were moving in under apocalyptic conditions.
By nightfall, our group was famished. I personally would have settled for Chinese food from across the street, but I followed the crowd of Americans through the chilly roads to find a restaurant that served an authentic Irish meal. When we arrived at the only pub serving food after 9 pm, I found that pasta was the most appetizing meal on the menu. However, after much nagging I was peer pressured into getting something “Irish.” I reluctantly ordered the fish and chips with a Guinness. I don’t even like fish that much, but I thought, when in Dublin…
We came home to find our electricity out. Our new home was dark and unbearably cold. My overwhelming exhaustion defeated any fear of hypothermia, so I snuggled up in my new bed hoping to fall asleep quickly and deal with our lack of electricity in the morning.
Then I woke up with food poisoning. Peer pressure is never good. Not with cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and most certainly not when it comes to fish and chips. This was not going according to plan at all. All my romantic notions of studying abroad were swept away as I sat there alone in a pitch black, ice cold, foreign apartment, sick and crying.
Eventually morning came. There was no sunlight and the snow had turned to a light rain. Despite being physically drained and numb to the chilly air, I was surprisingly okay. I rationalized that there was no possible way for my trip to get any worse than this. Later that day I found a phone to make my third collect call home over a span of less than two days. My mother asked how everything was going. I’m too stubborn to admit that I had a miserable night and was slightly regretting my ill planned trip. In an effort not to lose face, I choked back tears and said, “It’s great, I love it.”
I didn’t have to eat my words. After a week or two of assimilating, I did love it. The dreary winter weather and perpetual rain soon cleared up just in time before I all but forgot what the sun looked like. We started our internships, classes began, and we settled into our new lives as Dubliners. I spent hours on Ryan Air exploring my travel opportunities. I used to think that a weekend trip to New Hampshire was adventurous, and now I was jetting around Europe to Paris, Florence, and London! I was confidently walking the streets of my city, and even giving directions to fanny- packed, yuppie American tourists – the ultimate high.
Throw away any apprehension you may have about going abroad. It is inevitable that you will hit a rough patch. Whatever you encounter abroad will only make you stronger, help you learn, or at the very least, give you a great story to share with the Globetrotter and everyone back home. I encourage everyone to go abroad. No picture will perfectly capture the places you will explore. No journal entry can accurately document the vivid memories you will make. Lastly, your remarkable new friends will help fill the homesick void of the good ones you left behind. Go abroad, whether you’ve thought about it for five minutes or five years, if only so that you too can have the opportunity to someday whip out a photo album, smile, and say, “I once lived here.”