When I was twelve years old, I was one of the only girls in my class who had never been to a sleepover. I had gone to the party but never stayed long enough to sleep through the night. Ten o’clock would roll around and my stomach would clench into a fist. All I wanted was my mom and my bed. I didn’t want to sleep on the floor with my friends while they talked all night and kept me awake. I wanted the doll I secretly slept with and the familiar atmosphere of home.
My first few weeks of college were like a nightmare. The days were spent meeting people and enjoying new experiences but the nights were filled with dread. I hated lying in bed with my roommate snoring inches away from me, hearing the drunken laughs of students below my window, and every so often the faint smell of weed drifting through my window fan. It all made my stomach churn. College was new, it was foreign, it was not what I liked.
I have always been a creature of habit; I enjoy doing the same comforting things over and over. Sure, they can be in new places or with different people, but I crave some consistency. My ideal night is curled up in bed after work, Netflix playing on repeat, with a friend in the other room—far enough away not to bother me, but still there if I want conversation. Don’t get me wrong; I love having a late night out with friends, but it’s not something I want every night or even every weekend. I’m an old lady at heart.
So when I made the decision to leave my life of familiarity and creature comforts in exchange for the twisty, cobblestoned streets of Ireland, I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to do it. Every time I had broken away from the life I had known, I had a lot of trouble adjusting. Was it going to be the same way at twenty-three? I knew this time would have to be different. I would be living and studying for an entire year in Ireland and it wasn’t going to be spent holed up in my apartment watching cat videos. I’d have to push myself out of my comfort zone and experience this new culture that embraced nightlife so openly.
Days before my departure I lay in my childhood bedroom, eyes squeezed tight shut and I imagined... I imagined myself lying in an unknown bed in a foreign country with roommates I didn’t know talking on the other side of the wall. I imagined the noises I’d hear from the city streets and wondered: would I be able to do it? Would I make it in a country so far from my own?
The days drew nearer and nearer and I kept waiting for that fear to kick in. Waiting for the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach to catch me off guard. People would ask me if I was excited for my year abroad, if I was nervous, if I was freaking out yet. The answers were always the same: Yes, I’m excited; No, I’m not nervous or freaking out. Sometime during these interrogations I realized deep down I knew that this was what I wanted. It was what I needed.
I’ve been in Ireland over a month now. I’ve never felt homesick or longed for the States. I’ve faced challenges, I’ve met new people, I’ve broadened my comfort zone, and tried new things: travelled alone, struck up a random conversation with a friendly face, walked off the beaten path. I’m sure there will come a time when I will wish for home or family, but I hope it will be fleeting. Every morning I step out of my apartment with a travel mug of Irish tea, an umbrella for the unpredictable rain, and a big goofy smile on my face. I walk through the streets with confidence and chat easily with strangers. I am happy and comfortable here because I know it’s where I belong. I think that is the key to traveling or living someplace new: embracing the unknown and being confident that this is where you should be.
Photo published with copyright permission.
Rose is an American-born, Ireland-based editor who is currently expanding her craft at NUI Galway. The only way into her heart is with peanut butter, classic 18th-century literature, and cats.