My initial response to my new surroundings was pure and utter disbelief. Other than being physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted, it was hard to believe that I was walking on the soil of another country and starting my four-month journey. Driving to Cork from Shannon International Airport was filled with breathtaking landscapes and driving on the “wrong” side of the road through blurry, tired eyes. As much as I tried to stay awake to take it all in, unfortunately my exhaustion and jetlag took over.
Had it not been for Diane and Mary, I think the transition over the first few days would have been a lot more difficult for me. Their willingness to go above and beyond for each one of us throughout the entire international travel process is and was very much appreciated.
However, the “culture shock” that Slimbach explains on page 153 did not affect me until we entered a small café across the street from the University College Cork main gate. Our lack of sleep mixed with the confusion in our eyes as we were trying to order Café Mochas and Cappuccinos was probably a sight to see and the locals in the coffee shop were more than likely judging us for taking a while to order.
The real “culture shock” hit me when Mary told us to not bring our dishes up to the counter but to leave them on the tables for the servers to clean up. In America, this would be seen as completely rude but in Ireland, it’s a normal, everyday occurrence. A quote that corresponds with this shock is: “Back ‘home’ the answers to these and a thousand other cultural questions were second nature to us, part of our internalized cultural code. Then we enter a strange culture, and most of the familiar signs and symbols simply don’t work. We’re like a fish out of water” (Slimbach 153). This quote holds so much truth in every aspect of experiencing a new culture: driving on the opposite side of the road, greetings and everyday lingo, and the culture in general.
The locals are extremely kind, though, and nothing like what I had expected which also made the transition easier. For example, without any hesitation, a few locals came up to me and gave me directions while another gave me vital advice about the bus transportation around Cork City. The absence of negativity and selfishness is something I have definitely gotten used to!
The first night in Victoria Lodge was probably the hardest and most emotional. This was mainly due to the fact that I was overtired and I was not used to the time difference (and am still not). What is considered a “normal” time to go to sleep is when my parents and friends are just getting out of work back home. Whenever it is convenient for my friends and family to talk to me, it is extremely inconvenient for me but this is something that I will have to figure out and work on! So, mentally, I am doing loads better than I had anticipated and keeping busy everyday is essential. Thankfully, I have already become extremely close with a few people from Quinnipiac as well as others from UMASS Amherst, SUNY Cortland, and so many other schools in America (as the Irish students have not entirely arrived yet). Having these new friends who are also transitioning is a curse and a blessing because now I feel that some will cling to them for support and a familiar means of comfort throughout the entire four months.
Jumping right into the Early Action courses has also made the transition easy. These classes force us to leave our comfort zone and interact with other students all while learning about the host country’s culture. I chose to take the Archaeology of Historic Ireland course and could not be more pleased with what we have done so far. Our first trip was an overnight trip traveling to Dublin, Newgrange, Slane and Trim to view Neolithic and Mesolithic burial sights along with examining archaeological evidence of different tools that were used along with their cultural beliefs. The biggest challenge was knowing that we were staying in a hostel and not knowing what to expect. I have heard horror stories about the quality of some hostels in Europe and the United Kingdom but we were pleasantly surprised with a quaint farmhouse hostel owned by the nicest family! Ashley, Maria and I were able to stay in a cottage on site because they ran out of bunk beds in the main part of the hostel.
Overall, I think that I have adjusted well but I need to work on calling my family and friends less and experiencing my new host country for everything that it has to offer. My open mind and outgoing personality have helped me a lot when it comes to asking for help since I have been here. I am always friendly to strangers and the locals and try to make an impact on everyone that I come into contact with. I have learned that I am more capable of overcoming obstacles than I think and that I should never be afraid to ask for help from a local!