Last week at this time, I had almost completed one of the hardest academic tasks of my life – writing two twenty-page essays in a period of two weeks, with much of the actual writing occurring in the last five days. I fully admit that this last-minute work was completely my own fault, and that I genuinely did not fully realize that 5,000 to 6,000 words is around twenty pages with double spacing. But during those final two weeks, and particularly those last five days, it truly felt as if the world beyond the looming deadline did not exist. My days were split between my flat and the Trinity library, in which I utilized more physical books for research than I ever had, synthesized an astonishing amount of information, and learned that the encyclopedia section of Berkeley Library is one of the dustiest places I have ever had the unfortunate experience of studying in. It truly was an experience.
The following Monday, I turned in my two papers. I had written over forty pages in all, which was something that I wasn’t even sure I could do, having only previously written one academic paper of this length. With these two papers, my academic career at Trinity had come to an end, and through the haze of sleep deprivation, I felt a mix of emotions – elation, pride, sadness, and above all, a sense of finality.
But I didn’t have much time to dwell on these emotions, because contrary to how I felt during those last days of writing my essays, the world beyond the deadline did very much exist. After turning in my essays, I promptly returned to my room, packed my things, and less than three hours later, was in a cab to the airport, bound for a flight to Madrid, Spain.
I’d booked this trip only a few weeks earlier on a whim while messaging my friend Rachel, who is currently studying in Madrid. Despite the last-minute planning, the entire trip was like a dream – it couldn’t have gone any better. I came at the perfect time – in addition to Madrid’s typical sunny weather, it was uncommonly warm, the city was stunningly beautiful (as pictured above), and it was incredible to be able to see my friend. I even got to fulfill my dream of being able to speak Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, and although I’m a bit rusty (I haven’t taken a Spanish class in about two years), I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. When the time came for me to check out of my hostel Thursday morning, I truly did not want to leave.
The trip was so lovely, in fact, that I found myself asking myself whether I had really made the right choice in choosing to study in Dublin. Although I’ve been happy here, Madrid seemed perfect to me – the people were friendly, the weather was beautiful, the city was picturesque, and the experience would have given me a chance to become a proficient Spanish-speaker. But when I brought this up to Rachel, she emphasized that her experience, like mine, was much more nuanced and mixed than a simple visit would lead me to believe; she, like everyone, had experienced the ups and downs of studying abroad. Nice people, good weather, and a beautiful city don’t negate an experience that is, culturally and personally, quite jarring, especially with the addition of a language barrier.
Another thing we talked about was how Madrid has a drastically different feel than Dublin. As a traveler struck by this novelty, my first instinct was to conclude that this made Madrid a better place to be. But these differences aren’t a bad thing at all, I realized. While in Madrid, I tended to notice aspects of the city that made it unique – the gorgeous Spanish style of the city buildings, the city’s easygoing, metropolitan atmosphere, its crowded boulevards with footpaths and green space down the middle. But upon returning to Dublin, I began to see with fresh eyes the things that make this city so special. I noticed quaint stone buildings lining busy streets, churches and cranes that rise above the sprawling skyline, graffiti and historical buildings coexisting and building upon one another.
These past few days have been some of my happiest in Dublin. The weather has been uncommonly warm and sunny, and I have spent much of my time exploring Dublin on foot, including a two-hour walk to Phoenix Park, which was impossibly beautiful in the sun. I can’t believe I had started to take Dublin for granted; seeing it with fresh eyes reminded me of why I fell in love with the city, and why I decided to study here in the first place. Like my experience writing my final essays, I often feel like my study abroad experience is defined by a looming deadline – the day that I leave Dublin. Before this day comes, there’s a constant pressure to experience it all – to travel, to party, to become immersed in another culture, and above all, to have a transformative experience. I sometimes become so obsessed with this pressure that I forget that another world exists; it is the world of what I have, of what I have done, and of what my experiences have meant to me. And looking at this world anew, I see now what a beautiful place it really is.