As July opened and I was dropped off on Trafalgar Road in Greystones, Ireland, I felt an immense sense of relief, as if I were coming home after a long time away.
I love this place. I’ve studied abroad here for two semesters. And yet, coming back for the third time on a summer internship, I learned some things about living abroad--or living anywhere, really--that studying couldn’t have taught me. It’s different when you’re alone, without the crowd of other students or the structure of class periods. Those two semesters expanded my view of the world and helped me begin to understand and relate to the beautiful differences between people, but working here by myself was a totally different experience--and I learned some important lessons.
1. Sometimes Scary Is Good
In the pasts seven weeks I’ve started a new job and tried to swallow everything a full-time employee should know, faced my fear of talking on the phone by calling people to ask for payment, tried to teach Irish school children how to do an American accent, babysat three children between four and six at once, bought my own groceries, found a new location without a map or a working phone, played bingo in a pub, made French toast at 9:30 pm, and sent press releases to local newspapers and radio stations in hopes of getting them published.
A lot of those things were terrifying (especially talking on the phone and sending out my own press releases). But I’ve learned that sometimes, scary things end up being the most rewarding. They’re the things that give us courage next time, when we’re facing something else that suddenly doesn’t seem quite as scary anymore.
When I was studying in Ireland, I always had the safety of a group. If I was trying something new, I rarely had to try it alone. If I was completing a difficult assignment or submitting to a scary professor, I had friends taking the exact same class to bounce ideas off. Those things were wonderful, but sometimes jumping all the way out of our comfort zones leads to a huge sense of freedom.
2. It’s Okay To Say No
I was taught this by a good friend in Ireland. Some of us tend to prefer spending time alone. However, since we were children we’ve been told that we need to set that aside sometimes in the interest of making connections.
If you’re anything like me, that means that in a new situation you push yourself too hard to be at every social gathering and in the middle of every conversation. You don’t want to be seen as the quiet loner, and you want to get the most you can out of your experience.
This is a good thing, but sometimes we need to be alone. It’s okay every once in awhile to say “no” to something. Don’t burn yourself out, because then you probably won’t remember any of the connections you made, anyway. It’s better to put your social hat on when you have the energy to put your best foot forward. That way you’ll have good conversations instead of just having lots of them--it’s quality over quantity here, people.
3. Wherever You Are, Life Is Still...Life
I love Ireland. I love the scenery, the people, the culture, and the pace of life. But sometimes traveling abroad can give us a bit of a magical view of places. If you had the best three months of your life there, then you’ll always remember it as the best place in the world, when really what you had was an experience. It may have been a good and true experience, but you still may have the tendency to look at it through rose-colored glasses.
Coming to Ireland three different times and both working and studying here helped me form a fuller picture of it. In the end, it’s not that different in some ways than what I’m used to. People still go to work in the morning and come home in the evening. Supper is made. Kids are taken to school. Lunches are packed, leftovers are put in the fridge, shows are rehearsed, and dogs are taken for walks.
Life is life, no matter where you are. People go about their daily tasks from sunrise to sunset just like everyone else in the world. No matter where you are, it isn’t going to be a 24/7 adventure. The quicker we come to realize that, I think, the more beautiful that fact becomes. I’m glad that life in Ireland doesn’t mean hiking through the wilderness and hanging over cliffs every second of every day. Sometimes watching a four-year-old jump (excuse me, fly) off the bottom step 68 times in a row, or going to the grocery store with friends is even more rewarding.
If you get the chance to work overseas, do it! It’s hard, but it’s beautiful, too, and it’ll change your life.