Just like that, I’ve lived in a foreign country for over a month. Well, not just like that. To suggest that the last few weeks have been a breeze would be rather untrue. I’m not ashamed to admit that at times adjusting has been painful. In a place like Ireland where most people speak English and the weather is so similar to my gray Seattle skies, it’s easy to get self-accusatory. Why aren’t you being more adventurous? Why are you not having the time of your life all of the time? Why aren’t you adapting faster?
As anyone who has left home has probably experienced, there’s a lot of comparison to go along with the self-blame. Throughout September I found myself constantly looking backwards, with one foot in Ireland and one stuck in the states. When thinking about Whitman, a lot of the time it concerned what I should’ve been more grateful for when I was there: friends living right down the hall, food that someone else made, a two-minute commute to class. But I’m in Galway now, and I’m allowing myself to make discoveries about this weird, wonderful place where I have the privilege to live and study, starting with:
Sights/Sounds/Things I have discovered on my mile walk to and from campus
- A ruined castle
- A horse and her foal whom I have affectionately dubbed Lady M and Clodsby
- A forlorn cabernet bottle
- A man urinating in a ditch at 2pm
- Another man swimming in the River Corrib (on the banks of which I seem to recall seeing NO SWIM signs… alas)
- Two and a half rainbows
- A purple wig in a tree
- The strength of the wind
- The meaning of the word wet
A note on number 9: we’re right on the coast of Ireland, exposed to the Wild Atlantic Way in all its gusty glory. That means that when the rain comes, it hits you practically horizontally. Umbrellas are no defense and Pacific Northwest pride won’t keep you dry.
Moving on, NUIG is big. It’s somewhat ironic how I left the U.S. aka the capital of big, in order to go to a school in Ireland that’s about twelve times larger than mine at home. The university feel is markedly different from a cozy liberal arts campus, but it’s healthy to experience both environments. Where Whitman life eases along with the changing trees, NUIG pulses with youthful energy, graced by a significant population of mature students due to the economic ease of continued education in Ireland. Regardless, campus itself is dominated by the youngsters. As for youth culture here—which I’m not sure I can consider myself a part of given the fact that 75% of my aspirations start with, “When I’m old and have white hair and felines and am finally dipping into my 401k…”—I cannot help but feel I’m stuck somewhere in 2007 with all the Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister brands buzzing around. It’s a far cry from the mock-boho vibe of Whitman, but I digress.
Cost is a defining factor in education, and those at earlier points in their NUIG careers don’t always– and I’m seriously oversimplifying here– invest their studies with the same tone of urgency that we do in the states after shelling out an exorbitant tuition each year. When I tell Irish students how much we pay in America their jaws hit the floor, or they just laugh. A year of study here for local students is roughly equivalent to what I paid for room and board… so… let’s not do the math it’ll just bum us all out.
Barring the senior-seminar in history which I’m taking, classes are relatively lax, (a facet of the Galway-calm) and campus is full of massive, maze-like, modern architecture. *Fun fact: the engineering building cost three billion euro to build and it’s currently sinking into the river. In general, the days zip along with a calm assurance that, ‘We’ll get to that later,’ or ‘Everything will work out.’ A recent look at my calendar assured me that things are working out. My time here is speeding by, and I think that tempo change began when I decided to live here now as opposed to keeping a white-knuckled grip on my life at Whitman. How did I do this? Well, at the risk of sounding like the most cliché of all study abroad students, I had a jumping experience. Allow me to explain…
There’s an old tower down at Salthill called Blackrock which was built in 1942 for thrill-seeking beachgoers to dive off of. A few other people from my program and I walked down there on a clear Friday evening for high tide with the intent to do just that. The promenade was oddly reminiscent of a Southern California beach walk, complete with a photogenic string of street lamps stretching into the lazy millennium pink sunset.
The whole way there I was undecided about taking the leap into frigid Atlantic waters in late September, you know, like a sane person. I’d checked the temperate before leaving and it stood at a balmy 57 degrees Fahrenheit. As we drew closer and closer to the tower I felt equal parts dread and grim resignation and upon climbing the stone steps, the thought, “You’re only young and resilient enough to fall 25 feet once!” kept running through my head.
That of course was promptly forgotten when I looked down from above—it always feels so much higher when you’re standing on the top, contemplating the gap. I couldn’t very well walk-o’-shame back down with my pride intact however, so I jumped. And I fell. And I continued to fall. And then I hit the water. It was brisk, but contrary to Jack Dawson’s estimation in Titanic, cold water doesn’t “hit you like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body.” Mostly it just makes your nose run and eyes water, but it also wakes you up and I think that jolt was just what I needed. I needed to have the big old grossly human experience of doing something stupid yet safely dangerous and then calling it transformative.
The sensation of throwing myself off a precipice and flailing in the descent was not unlike my first month here. I just hope that the cold Atlantic water shocked a bit of something new into my system which I can carry into the rest of my semester. I think it might have. In the meantime, I’m going to hold my breath and swim for the surface.