I don’t know if this feels real yet. The first few days in Ireland have been incredibly overwhelming and exhausting. The separation from home was harder than I initially thought it would be. From getting settled in our apartment, to learning the ropes of the city, to beginning to set up our classes for the fall, all I want to do is nap! Instead, I have plans to go to Cobh tomorrow, a nearby port city in Cork County, and on Thursday morning our early start class is going on an overnight trip to Dublin. I am very excited about these two trips, as they will be the first time I get to explore Ireland outside of Cork City. It still hasn’t hit me that I’m going to be here for an entire semester. I think when it does hit me the true feelings of homesickness may set in. For now, I feel like I’m on a vacation—most call this the “honeymoon” phase, and I have been warned that this can come and go quite abruptly.
In reading Chapter 6 this week, Slimbach talks a lot about the process of acclimating to a new culture. He writes how some people become so overwhelmed with this change that they shut themselves off from their new country, blaming everything on the new culture and constantly comparing it to their home society’s practices. However, he writes that a knowledgeable traveler will recognize the differences between the two places and agree to compromise. I have seen this happen with myself. There have been many variances between Ireland and the U.S. so far. Some of them I dislike, while others I have warmed up to quickly. To note a few: most stores don’t give out plastic bags here, or they charge you to do so, they drive on the other side (everyone knows that), and they only tip 10% at restaurants (how cheap)! I also haven’t mentioned how much walking we have been doing. It is about a 25 minute walk into the city center and about a 15 minute walk to campus—that is very different than my 5 minute walk to class at QU.
My “communitas”, or new friends, have been the other students from Quinnipiac, as well as our mentor Mary. Mary works for UCC and has helped all the QU students get acclimated to Cork this past weekend. I have bonded with all of them and it has helped us all get through this transitional period easier. We have also met other American students who will be studying at UCC this fall and that has been really comforting and fun to learn about their college experiences. Slimbach warns that if I become too dependent on my “communitas” then I may not immerse myself enough with the locals. I hope that this won’t happen with me. Already I have realized how incredibly nice the Irish are and how much they are willing to help us! Personally, I think that my ability to not be embarrassed to admit I am new to all of this, and to know when to ask for help, will make the transition smoother. I am not afraid to ask people in the market where things are or what is customary to do with my plates when I am out eating. We have all had our “American” moments such as when I counted my Euros incorrectly, or said aloud “this shirt is only 5 dollars”. However, I think my keenness for learning about the Irish way of life will keep me from becoming too dependent on other American students in an unhealthy way. It is impossible not to connect with these students, as it is easy to bond with them about certain things we all miss about life back in America. I think my one weakness throughout this experience will be my general love for the grandiose way of America living. Until you come to Europe, you don’t realize just how large we truly live in America.
As I continue through this liminal phase, I plan to use some of Slimbach’s advice to help me to become better adapted to the challenges of studying abroad. I think my biggest challenge right now is that mentally I am torn. As I see friends post online about going back to QU, I really want to join them. Any time I am away from friends and home, I always become worried that I am missing out and it is hard to not want to be there too. I think as I travel more places and get more settled in, I will learn to enjoy my time here but also appreciate life at QU more when I get back. Slimbach quotes Intercultural expert Janet Bennett: “At one and the same time, we value our old belief system as well as adaptation to the new; we seek a way to survive within our former worldview, and yet recognize the necessity for a new perspective” (Slimbach153). This quote really sums up how I need to think in order to successfully make both of my worlds collide and help me grow new perspectives on the world.
I am excited to continue to meet new people and to visit more local places, especially in downtown Cork—there are so many cute pubs and coffee shops! I am thrilled that my parents and some friends, who are also going to be abroad as well, have plans to visit me; this gives me something to look forward to. For now, I’m taking every day by stride and trying to learn as much as possible about Cork. This picture was taken last weekend when we visited Blarney Castle. This is a picture of not the castle, but the private residence behind the castle. It’s magnificent features and beautiful gardens symbolize my feelings on Ireland so far; it is absolutely stunning here!