When I looked at colleges, one of my requirements, among the list of library size and English departments, was abroad programs. This was my chance to travel. When I wrote my abroad application essays, I spoke of my 15th-century like obsession with travel. Like most explorers of the time, I wanted to discover, not so much for new countries and new trade routes, but for my own personal discovery of self. I decided on Dublin and Trinity College because it seemed like that place fit me the best. It has one of the best English programs in the world (ranked #24 in the world and #1 in the Republic of Ireland the last time I checked).
In the end, I was 100% right about the school and country. It was the best experience in my life thus far. The classes were more difficult than my home university, and required me to dedicate myself and work differently, which I like. I joined the trampoline team, and met people whom I will never forget. I did things I would NEVER allow myself to do, like participate in a mud-course. Yep, you read that right, the New Yorker ran and swam and climbed through two hours of mud-drenched “fun.” My father asked if someone had photoshopped me into the pictures, and my brother couldn’t believe that the OCD sister of his allowed herself to be completely covered by something that made her squirm in disgust mere hours before she did it. And you know what? I had the time of my life participating in that.
The things I thought were terribly tacky at home, like general group bonding activities and “family” dinners (everyone from our program and the tramp team would make food and head over to someone’s house to just hang out), are some of the best memories I have. I even enjoyed and paid attention in my orientations, something I would NEVER say about my university’s program. These are things that New York City lacks, and this forced me to lighten up and enjoy myself. I also realized that this was my chance to do what I wanted, instead of what I should; I wanted to do my homework, I wanted to go to class, I wanted to travel, I wanted to go to a pub and to trampolining practice, I wanted to spend time with people. This was new and exciting territory for me, and I made the most of the 6 months I had.
It’s no surprise then that coming home sucked a big one. I seriously tried to stay; I worked with everyone I could to see if transferring was a possibility. Unfortunately, it was not – I would be a senior the next year (this year) and my credits would not transfer properly to graduate in the spring of 2014. Therefore, I reluctantly came home, but not without entertaining the idea of becoming a fugitive in Ireland. I was prepared to call my parents from an anonymous number and tell them I was not coming home. However, I did get on the plane, and made it all the way back to upstate New York, my “home”.
My hometown has never been my favorite thing. I have never fit in there; it is a very ‘country’ setting, and I am SO not a ‘country’ kind of girl. This is why I went to school in what is quite possibly the biggest city in the U.S. So coming from Dublin to Good-Ol’-Upstate was the toughest and most depressing thing I’ve ever done. I worked at the job I had had since high school, maintaining a breaks-and-summer-only employment with them. That was all I did. Most of my friends were not available when I was, or they weren’t in the immediate area.
I also went from being totally independent in Ireland (the best part about parents who don’t fly? No threat of a family visit) to moving back into my parents’ house, along with my grandmother, a new housemate. With two parents and a grandparent micromanaging everything I did (they were apparently compensating for not having me around for 6 months), I did not transition well. I was miserable; I would constantly be converting time forward 5 hours to mentally keep up with Dublin, my eyes would well up with tears when someone asked me about words and phrases I had picked up in Ireland, and so on. It didn’t help that I read a book based on Dublin in 1913, and the places the book mentioned were all places I frequented for the 6 months I was there. I was heartbroken – I felt like I had left my home behind me and was now a stranger in what used to be a familiar place. You can imagine how glad I was to move back into the city, a place I had always found solace, for my senior year.
And I’m sure those of you who have gone abroad can imagine how disappointed I was after getting here. I found myself wishing for things I knew I could never have, and missing stores and places I definitely couldn’t be. The Trinity libraries were a huge part of this – my university’s library is in the basement of a building, and after sitting many an afternoon overlooking the cricket pitch in Trinity’s library, I was VERY unhappy to sit and stare at concrete walls painted a dismal off-white. The places in the city I enjoyed wholeheartedly when I left were no longer of interest to me. I felt restless and so unhappy. My university, which had been a series of disappointments before I left, now paled in comparison to Trinity. I frequently say that Trinity is my dream school, only I found it three years too late.
As if this wasn’t pathetic enough, when I got back (and still now to some extent) people wanted to know EVERYTHING. I had written a blog while I was abroad, so they had some semblance of an idea, but I guess they wanted my overall impression of my “trip”, as most called it. Firstly, I was extremely pissed off that people were calling it a trip. How dare they?? It was a life experience; I moved and studied in Dublin, I wasn’t there on vacation. That was actual everyday life for me, it wasn’t a party (though what is life without some parties?). Even still, I struggled through my slight rage to answer them, and found I couldn’t. I have no idea what to say to people because I realized that they would never understand, at least to the degree that I deem satisfactory. I don’t want to share because it is MY experience, and it’s all mine and mine alone and no you cannot take a part of it away from me by making me tell you stories. When I was writing, I had no idea who was reading it or how frequently it was being read. It was like I was writing for myself. This was a face-to-face confrontation of the most important experience I’ve had, and I had no idea how to handle that. That’s when I realized that the thing I had been scoffing at since I had gotten home was completely true: reverse culture shock is real.
I don’t know how to process everything that happened while I was in Dublin. I also don’t know how to process that I’m home, and that there is a chance that I will never go back to Dublin again. I’m too jaded (that’s the New Yorker in me) to pretend that that will NEVER happen because I simply won’t let it; it may be the case that I won’t have the money to travel extensively, save at all. I’m not helping myself by being jaded, I’m also not helping myself by being cynical, something I’ve been accused of frequently. Part of me feels like my trip is only a dream, and part of me feels like my present life is a dream. I’m struggling to find positivity in a life that I’m rather lucky to lead, because it is not what I want. That much I can say: this is not what I want. However, what I want ended in May. So it’s time to move on.
My story may seem fickle, but I can tell you right now that it is almost November and I’m still very upset that I’m no longer in Dublin. I think about Ireland at least once a day; I even have all the maps from the cities I visited on my walls. I know that for others it may be a harder transition because of a language barrier, or because of a home stay, or for various other reasons that make me seem like a bratty, self-important New Yorker pontificating from her $2000/month soapbox, and that may be true. This is where usually people like me offer advice. We tell you to brush it off, do something that makes you happy, and move on with your life. I am not going to do that. How can I when I still feel so lost because I forgot that my favorite restaurant is on another continent? Or because when I can’t find books at my university’s library my mind always obnoxiously says I bet Trinity would have them? Let’s be honest here, I’m probably the last person y’all want advice from. So here’s what I’ll say, and THIS IS NOT ADVICE. It’s merely a pep-talk: Do you. Take whatever time you need to recover from the loss of your new and shortly-lived lifestyle. I know I’m going to. I’m fine with this, because I know this isn’t the end of my world. My life is better because of Dublin, and so I will move on and be ok. That’s cheesy, I know (the New Yorker inside of me is shaking her head in disgust), but it helps me not be so sad. And, I mean, if I want to go back to Dublin and Trinity, there’s always grad school.
Elizabeth Cole is a student at Fordham University and studied abroad with IFSA at Trinity College Dublin in 2013.