As I packed up my room, cleaned out the kitchen and rode out of Galway toward the airport in Dublin, I reflected on the person that I was when I arrived in Ireland on January 1st and the person that I am now. I waved at my ghost who galloped deliriously down the liquor aisle in the nearby grocery store. I laughed as I recalled my first week where I took cold showers and couldn’t figure out the heating system in my room, resulting in at least four layers of wool and fleece every night. The silence in the apartment coincided with the silence in which I arrived, when my roommates had not yet moved in. I chuckled as I thought about how nervous I was to meet them and how I wondered if they would be angry for using the wrong shower. I went out to dinner with my cousins and aunt at The Front Door on Quay Street and shook my head when I remembered how we tried to find a table for 13 on my birthday. As much as I’ve learned about the ins and outs of Ireland, like how to run the hot water for instance, Ireland taught me much more about myself. Here’s a short rundown of lessons learned in and around Galway.
1.Don’t get too upset about the small stuff.
This lesson was made pretty clear our first few days of class when they told us right away, we’re pretty much always late. Expect to wait at least ten minutes if you’re determined to be one of those ignorant people who arrive on time. They’re also pretty lax about when papers are due. My friend Anne and I realized this when we sprinted to our professor’s office, terrified that he wouldn’t accept our papers since they were over 30 minutes late, when he said cheerily, “Oh hello, come on in girls, set them there, that’s grand. Any troubles? Good! Cheers!” Don’t get too upset if the bus is late. It will get there, and if it doesn’t, someone will help you out and there will be another. The clock on the bus is always wrong, there is never wifi when they say there will be, there is absolutely no sense of order in the minutes leading up to an exam, and they don’t ever check your ID.
2.Turn your flipping cell phone off.
The Wisconsin girls and I soon realized that there really was no need for the cheap little Irish phones we bought at the beginning of the semester. Instead of texting someone when they’re five minutes late, “Where are you?” we just waited a while longer five minutes. Instead of texting “Everyone meet at Monica’s at four,” we would just assume that everyone would show up whenever they could, and they’d know where to find us. We enjoyed watching movies and cooking dinners without worrying about whether or not your friends are actually listening to what you’re saying or if they’re just nodding mindlessly while they scan Facebook. If there was anyone who needed to get ahold of us, then they could wait. Whatever we were doing in the moment was much more important. There was no one we desperately needed to contact who wasn’t right in front of us.
3. Value your time spent with the ones you love.
This lesson comes around again and again in life but became apparent in a cruel way this semester. It came as a huge blow when one of my good friends, Henry Mackaman, died of bacterial meningitis. I regretted not having appreciated any time we spent together longboarding, crafting and playing music, and was sad that I never made it known how much he meant to me and how truly great I think he was. I vowed that I would always let my friends and family know how much I love them. It was also tough to say goodbye to the great Irish friends I made while abroad. We all became friends so quickly that it felt like we’d been friends forever, and I count myself as extremely lucky to have met and counted the lovely Irish and American girls as my friends.
4. P.S. I Love You is a film filled with misrepresentations, overdramatized stereotypes and full-out lies.
This movie resulted in extreme psychological trauma as we soon realized that there are not, in fact, any attractive and charming Irish men. If you were lucky enough to spot one odds are they had a girlfriend, were gay or weren’t actually Irish at all. Furthermore, Gerard Butler has a terrible Irish accent. The Irish girls agreed that he would have done better sticking with his native Scottish, and I agreed he would have done better not thwarting the expectations of young American women who search vainly in pubs for men like him. Also, it is absurd to think that any sort of native Irish person would be found wondering the fields of Wicklow National Park. He is dressed in ridiculous clothes. He is not only completely unprepared for the mud and bogs he will undoubtedly encounter, but he is not wearing a Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch shirt like every other young Irish man I’ve seen. His hair isn’t even jelled. I probably won’t ever be able to watch this film again. In fact I am filled with loathing at the very idea of those conniving, devious and deceitful characters of Gerard Butler and Hillary Swank.
5. Appreciate your sunny days, even the rainy ones.
Sunny days in Ireland were few and far between. The first couple months there were spent dashing from one dwelling to the next, ducking your head to the wind and lashing rain while cursing whoever came up with the flimsy design of umbrellas. Any sunny day brought us running outdoors, falling to our knees and throwing our arms in the air with tears of joy running down our faces. We would run around maniacally wondering how we’d ever taken a glorious sky like this for granted. There were different kinds of rainy days. There were the kinds that brought rain and sun in cycles throughout the day. Rain for an hour, blue skies and sunshine for the next, then both at the same time for the next. Repeat. There were the kinds where the rain fell like mist and you thought it wasn’t a bad day at all to be out, but then you’d take a walk and find yourself soaked within ten minutes. There were the days where the raindrops lashed at your face like razorblades mercilessly for the entire day. But even these days were to be appreciated, because these were the days when you could shamelessly stay in your pajamas, turn the kettle on and move the mattresses to the living room for a lazy movie day.
6. Keep your heart happy.
The Irish deal with their rainy days and rainy situations in one of three ways: one, they crack sarcastic jokes at your expense; two, they brew a pot of tea; or three, they drink a pint of Guinness. All three are very effective at complementing any sort of situation from a celebration to the mourning of a broken heart. Furthermore, being genuinely friendly to another does a world of wonder of someone’s day. It’s amazing how much happier you feel when you know the ticket agent won’t yell at you for requesting a refund for a machine malfunction (unlike Spain), that the museum agent will believe you’re a student and give you the student rate even if you don’t have your student card because it got stolen (unlike London) and that the person with whom you’re interacting is likely to say “cheers,” “grand” or “lovely” at some point in your conversation.
Even though I’ve only been in the United States for a day, I’m missing Galway already. It’s hard to answer the question, “And how did you like it?” There is no way to describe the experience. “Fun!” just sounds stupid and obvious. “Great. It went by too fast,” sounds a little cliché, almost as if you’re explaining the fate of a delicious piece of cake. There is no way to perfectly encompass what Ireland means to me now. It’s home. It’s a place filled with love, lightheartedness and magic. It’s where I arrived, took a deep breath, and said, “Ahh. This feels right.” It was like experiencing myself in a whole other dimension, stepping out of the normal expectations of a 21-year-old and stepping into the shoes of someone who’s exploring, who’s wandering the landscapes of a country and herself, learning just what exactly it’s all about. It was like taking everything I knew, scrubbing it clean and switching a few pieces of the puzzle until it fit together a little more neatly, making me stop and think “Huh. Well that just makes sense.” I had a terrific amount of fun, a great number of things went dreadfully wrong, I made a tremendous amount of blunders, nothing went according to plan, yet it was all incredibly perfect. I knew going into this experience that it was going to be a huge event in my life, something I’ll never forget. What I didn’t know is how much Galway would make me look at things just a little differently, including myself.
All poetic thinking aside, it was some great craic. Cheers!