(Above: I discovered Menlo Castle after a 45-minute walk on a beautiful Saturday.)
Before I left for Galway, one of my biggest fears was the ambiguous transition. I had heard of contradictory statements of when homesickness would inevitably hit. However, the excitement of exploring a new culture fed my curiosity to travel abroad, even though I would be away from my family and not know anyone traveling with me. I am happy to report back that the transition into Irish culture was rather seamless and going abroad was the best five months of my life. Ireland’s hospitable nature and the onsite CEA support allowed me to the harbor the confidence necessary to adjust to my new surroundings. Below I have some tips on what I did to adapt to a new culture, which minimized my homesickness:
Tip #1: Research the Culture Before Your Trip
Something that eased my anxieties was doing research of the Irish culture and Ireland itself before my trip. This prepared me for what to expect when getting off the plane by having a familiarity with mannerisms and cultural differences. One way I did this was by reading Lonely Planet, which gives both an overview and an in-depth exploration in each city. It also outlined ideas for what to pack, as well as inter-city travel recommendations.
Another way to learn more about the culture is through firsthand experience, which is made available through YouTube (including CEA's channel). Multiple videos are available about studying at the National University of Galway specifically for international students. Watching these allowed me to see Galway in a more multidimensional form before I stepped off the plane. Additionally, on YouTube there is a whole cohort of students describing their study abroad experiences. Listening to their advice prepared me to say goodbye to my family, friends, and the States for five months.
Tip #2: Go Explore
Allow yourself some time to go exploring and find hidden gems that might be otherwise disregarded by the tourist eye. Every week, I made it a point to explore something new, whether it was going to a geographical site or a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. This wasn’t too difficult, as a new city left endless opportunities for new discoveries. On a typical Saturday, my friends and I would head to the market, which was right off the bustling Shop Street. From there, we would spend the day hanging out in each other's company and walking along the Salthill promenade -- if the weather held up. By being proactive and exploring Galway together, we became comfortable with our now familiar surroundings. This started the initial process of Galway becoming our second home.
Tip #3: Talk to Locals
Although it may seem like the more comfortable option, it is important to not hide in your room or within a group of just American students. The majority of the friends I made while abroad were Americans, which was great for exploring; however, my most insightful experiences of the culture were made by branching out and making connections with the locals. Through making an effort to immerse myself in the culture, I was better able to connect to it. This enabled me to understand Irish lingo and discover Irish customs and traditions.
There are many opportunities that I was presented with in speaking to the Irish. The first was in the comfortable setting of the classroom. The University of Galway is a prime opportunity as I was able to take classes directly with Irish students and professors. In fact, in one of my classes I was the only American student. With a French professor, local students, and international European students, the classroom was a safe location where we would discuss our own cultural interpretations to classic children’s novels. I often got to class a bit early, leaving me time to chat alongside my peers.
Next, the heart of the Irish people is found in a pub setting, drinking a pint while listening to traditional music. Being hospitable in nature, the pub goers were always intrigued to have a casual conversation with an American. Through these conversations, I was able to learn about local attractions and hear outsiders’ perceptions on international issues.
Additionally, CEA’s on-site housing in Galway is town homes within a student village. I was in a home with six people, three of whom were Irish students. By cohabiting with Irish students, I was further immersed into the culture. It provided me with local opportunities such as student and city events. For example, my roommate was in an Irish play that he performed on campus. I was able to experience Irish theater by supporting my roommate in his artistic interests.
|One of my favorite spots was Taaffes Bar. It was an intimate pub that featured traditional Irish music sessions twice daily.|
Tip #4: Allow Yourself the Time to Adjust and Cope with Your New Surroundings
Living abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it is important to give yourself time to adjust and cope within your new surroundings. CEA provides on-site support staff who help guide you in this transition to build a strong foundation for you to find confidence in a new environment. I found that journaling--at least weekly--and having scheduled FaceTime calls home helped me to express my feelings while minimizing homesickness. It is important not to be too tough on yourself in this learning experience. Eventually you will adapt to your home abroad, making your actions feel like second nature.
|The familiar Galway houses right on the bay was a picturesque spot. On sunny days its surrounding grassy fields are filled with singers and sunbathers.|
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