Three years ago today, my “home afloat” (Semester at Sea) docked in Dublin, Ireland. I had my first sighting of what would become my home– the place that I would fall irrevocably in love with. However, I don’t believe in love at first sight. I believe in pathways leading you to where you’re supposed to be. My first journey through Ireland began exactly three years ago.
I’ll admit, when I first saw the dirty port, I wasn’t impressed. It was the only port that Semsester at Sea forbade us from walking on unsupservised, due to the dangerous construction surrounding the ship. Instead, we had buses drop us off around George’s Quay in the city center.
I came into the country on an emotional high from a joyful experience in Scotland. I had just completed a challenging hike around Loch Lomond, despite being admittedly overweight and out of shape. Most importantly, I took my first solo-journey into the city of Glasgow to meet a family friend, giving me my first real sense of confidence that only travel can provide. For the first time in years, I arrived somewhere new feeling accomplished and capable.
Ireland was a shock to my system. Dublin felt too industrial. I have Irish heritage, and I thought I’d feel at home right away.
I still read my travel diaries from that summer occasionally. On the first day in Ireland, I wrote, “I don’t feel as though I belong.”
I had signed up to take a field trip to the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin, the day after our arrival. A four hour bus journey to rural County Clare led us to an indescribably cloudy vista. I remember putting my hands out in front of me, and not being able to see them, or the Cliffs. I didn’t do a superb job of hiding my disappointment, as I thumbed through the vibrant postcards in the gift shop that day. I had looked forward to seeing such an iconic landmark, only to be let down and put on another four hour bus back to the city. I returned to the ship in Dublin with a bad attitude, thinking to myself that I’d spend the next day buying souvenirs for family, and I’d be onto Norway.
A tiny spark in me insisted on seeing Trinity College. My cousin studied abroad there, and something told me I needed to see it. It was in the city center, not far from touristy souvenir shops. I thought I’d give myself one more chance to enjoy myself. The sun was setting on a gorgeous summer day, as the tourists started to filter out. I took one look at the school, and knew I was home.
I’ve always been a reader, but never dreamed that loving literature is what would take me across the world. I love my undergrad institution, and I am a proud alumni. However, as a first year, I was still deeply unhappy. I felt isolated and unsure of myself, and didn’t identify with the party culture. I didn’t really know where I saw myself fitting in the school and the world as a whole. The first thought that came to mind while walking into Trinity’s main square is, “Well, it’s time to shake things up.”
No metaphor quite does it justice– the feeling of loving somewhere new, or more specifically, feeling as though you are “welcomed home” somewhere you haven’t been before. I knew, certainly and instantly, that I had to go to Trinity, and it had to be for longer than a semester. Thus, when I returned to the states in August, my first mission was to bother the study abroad office and tell them my new plan. Lucky for me, my ever-supportive parents were on board.
As mentioned, I struggled in my first year of college. The first real success story I had academically was an English class my second semester, and the grades I earned on Semester at Sea. My grades weren’t where they needed to be to even apply to the school of my dreams. I would like to say that this is a story of perseverance, but mostly, I found the kindness and encouragement of others to get me on that plane to Trinity. I would not be the same person without the help from those professors who believed in me, when I did not quite yet believe in myself. I remember getting an email from the former director of the program, saying, “You can apply, but I have little faith that you’ll get in.” I guess a little reverse psychology was what I needed to keep persisting, because I received my acceptance letter just a few months later.
I am thankful for each day of that academic year that I got to spend at Trinity College Dublin. Not only did I make new friends, I found my passion: academics. I didn’t have any idea that I wanted to be a professor, or go to graduate school. I didn’t know that reading David Foster Wallace or studying 19th century Irish literature would change my perspective on everything I had learned previously. I had no clue some of my work would be accepted into academic conferences, and that I’d love every second of presenting.
I had no idea I’d fall in love with a person, as well as a place, while I was studying there.
When I returned to Elon University in the fall, I walked around with a heavy heart. A month into the school year, after a celebratory birthday dinner, a professor asked if I was thinking about graduate school. Without thinking, I said yes. The fire in me that invigorated each step while I was abroad seemed to spark yet another change in me– I had future goals. Of course, those goals would lead me back to Ireland. I couldn’t see myself studying anywhere else, other than the place that had changed me so remarkably.
Of course, my first thought was I would need to return to Trinity. It made sense, because I had been happy there. Upon further research, it seemed that UCD would have a program directly aligning with my interests: modern and contemporary literature. The same thought that came to me three years ago reappeared. “Well, it’s time to shake things up.”
I received my acceptance letters from both the programs at Trinity and UCD by January. After visiting UCD, and envisioning myself happy there, but most of all happy in the program, the decision was easy. Trinity will always have my heart, but it’s time to start something new.
All roads have led me back to Ireland. The change in me within the last three years has been drastic. When I seriously traveled for the first time with Semester at Sea, at age 19, I will admit that I began my journey a bit entitled and dramatic. I am grateful and humbled to have seen and engaged with so much of the world at a young age. I just wish that I’d appreciated it more at the time.
I am learning now that it’s never too late to start over. I am looking forward to a new, yet somewhat familiar life in my favorite place. For the past three years, Ireland has been my stationary constant. I am ready for my next big adventure.