Well, well. Here we are. Back where it all started. I am writing this from the very desk in my bedroom from which I wrote my first-ever IFSA blog, meaning that I am safely Stateside and the five-month odyssey that was my study abroad experience has come to a close. I have actually been home for a couple days now, but the process of readjusting my sleep schedule and slowly assimilating back into my American world that, believe it or not, continued existing during my absence prevented me from gathering my thoughts until now. Though, I must say that even now I have not quite come to terms with the end of this semester. Frankly, I’m not sure that I ever will. While this blog has served as a great outlet for me to document and reflect upon my time in Ireland and beyond, it never has and never will completely sum up my time there and all that I learned from it.
Without a doubt, some of the ways I have grown as a result of up-rooting my life and moving it across the Atlantic will stay with me in very palpable ways. The independence of having to cook, clean, and care for myself without a mother or a meal plan was something I first came across while abroad and will use for the rest of my life. In the same vein, the fiscal awareness and discipline that is necessary to navigate international travel and easy-to-overlook exchange rates are pretty significant life skills. Then, with all the trips I’ve documented on this blog under my belt, I feel that I’ve developed a certain confidence as a traveler and a global citizen. If over this semester I could successfully traverse the snow-battered fields of Poland, the live-and-let-live, free flow of Amsterdam, and find myself a new home in the winding streets of Dublin all without a major breakdown, then there is no limit to what else I can do and where else I can go. In the future, when I am put into a new city with a new language and a distinct culture, this semester proved that I can trust myself to make the best of whatever time I have, whatever the situation may be. And that’s a really, really cool feeling.
Speaking of which, I almost forgot to recount the Trip to End All Trips (literally, it was the last of my European trips). In the three-ish weeks between my last post and now, I’ve been quite busy. I have too much material to give each leg of my journey a full run-down without hopelessly boring my readers or even myself as I type this, so I’m opting for a speed round. If any readers want to know more about any of the cities listed or my time there, just let me know. I’m always happy to chat. But, for now, here goes:
I kicked off my adventure flying from a drizzly Dublin to a sunny and scenic Budapest just in time to celebrate the Hungarian May 1st work holiday, a relic of the Communist era now complete with massive carnivals and day-long celebrations in the city’s streets and famous mineral baths. From there, I bussed up to Prague right at the start of the World Championships of Ice Hockey, hosted by the Czech Republic, and spent two days mixing it up with fans from all over the world and locals alike in the quaint and colorful capital. I then hopped on a train up to Berlin, a city of endlessly eclectic style and fascinating cross-cultural ambience, which I had visited once before and will certainly visit again. From there, I flew up to Stockholm, temporary home to my friend and travel partner from the previous three sites, and enjoyed a few relaxing days in one of Scandinavia’s most culture-rich cities. Then, I said my goodbyes and my see-you-soons to the continent and my friends therein, and returned to Dublin.
I did not, however, return to UCD. At the airport, I was met my parents and sister fresh off their intercontinental from Boston, and promptly transitioned from tourist to tour guide. I spent a four days showing my family around my adopted city, which kindly rewarded me with some spectacular weather. Next, we hopped in a rental car and took to the Irish countryside. Our destination was Dingle, a small but magnificent peninsula in southwestern Ireland, full of old-timey pubs, breathtaking coastal roads, and some of the freshest seafood imaginable. From there, the four of us hopped on a plane across the Irish Sea to Cornwall. Referred to semi-sarcastically by some as the “English Riviera,” Cornwall is a beautiful and rustic seaside region much like Dingle, but with more faux-Mediterranean beach towns, marginally wider roadways, and (of course) British people. Finally, to end our journey, we took the train up to London, poked around the city for a day or so (or as long as our travel-weary legs would take us), before making our way to Heathrow for the long flight back to the U.S. of A.
Phew. Was that fast enough? Writing so little does absolutely no justice to the quality the trips described, but I hope you got the gist of things. Honestly, I couldn’t have crafted a more enjoyable capstone for this semester.
So, now what? As I said, I’m not sure how to come to terms with fact that my time abroad is over. So much happened over the past four months, and this blog has only shown the tip of the iceberg. Now that I’m home, things certainly feel different, or at lease I feel as if my perspective on things has changed. Living out of a suitcase for four months makes my closet full of clothes feel overwhelming. Dealing with good, old-fashion American dollar bills feels quite comforting, though as my wallet thickens with singles I agree with the rest of the world in favor coins over paper for smaller denominations. Though they’re on a much smaller scale than the lessons I listed above, these sorts of things are important to my day-to-day life, and the process of reestablishing myself in my own world will be full of little things. This semester was a period dense with experience and maturation, and I know it will take me a while to unravel it all, the big and the small.
However, among the unraveling, I do have one thing I am already certain about: I regret nothing. Studying abroad was an experience unlike anything I’ve done so far or will likely ever do again, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I will miss Ireland, Europe at large, and the wonderful people I met during my time there, but now my only option is to move forward and grow. Thankfully, I have five months worth of happy memories and lessons learned to help me do just that.
As for this blog, I guess I’ve formally come to the end of the road. If you’re still reading this, thank you for taking this journey with me. And, again, I have so many more stories and thoughts than what I’ve been able to squeeze into these posts. Anyone who wants to talk or ask questions or get travel advice from me, please feel free to branch out (email email@example.com or, you know, Facebook). This may be my last blog, but it is surely just the beginning of a new phase for me, ripe with the remembrance of these months past and excitement for what’s ahead. Let’s see where it takes me. As always, thanks for tuning in.