Studying abroad is like freshman year to the extreme. Yes, I have already endured the experience of moving to a new place with new faces, but I was also only four hours away from home. A simple train ride could take me back to Philadelphia if I was too homesick. Traveling to a different country is an entirely different story; getting a flight home isn’t quite as simple as catching the train.
Getting to Ireland was half the battle of studying abroad. The nerves beforehand were enough to make me want to turn around and unpack my bags. It probably didn’t help that I had what seemed like a hundred issues with my luggage as well. Not only was my large suitcase too heavy for my flight to Birmingham, England (a girl needs her shoes), but my carry-on was also too heavy for my connecting flight to Cork.
After sorting out the issues with my luggage, the remaining journey to Cork went relatively smoothly. Finding a taxi outside of the Cork airport was much easier than I thought it would be, and, as much as I wanted to cry as the taxi pulled away from the airport, and my last chance to rush back home, the man driving the taxi was exactly what I imagined an old Irish man to be. He was red-faced, smiling and very sweet. He put me at ease as he drove me to my new home for the next six months and pointed out all the places I must visit while in Cork. He even waited with me as I figured out how to get into my new apartment building.
Being the first one in my apartment was tough. It really sharpened the realization that I was in a foreign country and completely on my own. I was alone in the apartment for two whole days, and at times it seemed so surreal, as if there were no one else in Ireland but me. I knew, though, that I needed to get out and explore to keep myself sane.
The first thing I needed to do was find a grocery store, which you might think would be quite simple, but actually turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I had to stop at three different stores before getting directions that did not confuse me and led me to a supermarket.
Walking to the City Center was a relief; finally some proof of human existence in Cork. I spent time wandering and getting lost in the streets, and learned one thing that is true to the stereotype: Irish hospitality. The Irish people I’ve met are truly nice and eager to help. You ask one question and they give back 20 answers and 30 questions about your life.
Spending time exploring the city helped pass the time, and, before I knew it, my classes began. The school system here is very different from back at home. The courses are called “modules,” and most only meet once or twice-a-week, but even that doesn’t mean most students attend. A friend I met here told me about something called “black weeks” and “gold weeks.” A “black week” is when a student does not attend a single class that week and a “gold week” is when they attend every class. He told me a “gold week” is rare and is usually talked about as a goal, never something that actually happens. “Black weeks” are much more common. Most classes also tend to start about 10 minutes late and end five or 10 minutes early.
Spending so much time outside of class, the Irish students seem to really concentrate on one subject: nightlife. Forget about the weekends; why not go out on Tuesday and Thursday to blow off some steam from class? That’s right, the big nights here are the weeknights. Now, don’t get me wrong, the pubs are still busy on the weekends. However, because many students go home on the weekends (Ireland is a small country after all and a drive home is relatively short), why not party during the week when everyone is at school?
Adjusting to a different culture is difficult no matter what, especially when you’re doing it on your own. It is an experience that changes your perspective, and, although it is scary as hell and takes a lot of time (I’m still adjusting after three weeks), it is something that I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life.