A lot can change in a week. One week ago, I had just traveled back to Dublin from a trip to Amsterdam – the last major trip of my semester abroad. One week later and I am sitting at my dining room table back home in Massachusetts, still thinking about what my time abroad has meant to me. As I sort through all of my thoughts, reflections, and even some regrets, I have realized that I cannot possibly sum up all of it in one blog post. In all likelihood, I will do a poor job summing up my thoughts in two posts as well, but I’m still going to try. And so my final thoughts on studying abroad come to you in two parts.
In many ways, my last week abroad was a microcosm of my experience this semester. I took a weekend trip abroad, went on a day trip, saw friends, and played music. The Saturday before I left Ireland, I traveled to Amsterdam to visit a college friend, not knowing at all what to expect. I found the city to be equal parts charming and overwhelming, sometimes at the same time. From the staggering volume of museums to the famous Red Light District and Coffeeshops (which sell a lot more than just coffee) to the picturesque canals (pictured), Amsterdam is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. It’s so many things at once – a marvel of Early Modern city planning, a modern liberal utopia of pleasure and vice, that rare place where getting hit by a car and a bicycle are of equal concern. For better or worse, it was enough to make my head spin.
All of this isn’t to say that I didn’t greatly enjoy my time in this singular city – quite the opposite. In such a multi-faceted city, my lack of clear planning actually worked to my advantage; I was able to be flexible in what I decided to do day-to-day and to change my plans last-minute. But after three days of nightlife, museums, canals, and endless crowds of people, I said goodbye to my friend and returned to Dublin. I couldn’t help thinking of this as “going home” – after all, Dublin had been home for five months. Every time I returned from Dublin from short trips abroad, I was happier to see it, and this was no exception – in the sunny days that followed that Tuesday I returned, I savored Dublin’s streets and skyline more than ever, especially since I knew this homecoming would be short-lived.
On Wednesday, I visited the Hill of Tara and Newgrange with my friend Katy, two Irish archaeological sites dating back to the Neolithic. It was a perfect day, and the rolling green hills and fields we saw throughout the tour were the epitome of rural Ireland. Both sites were spectacular and fascinating in their own ways – the Hill of Tara is shrouded in myth, while Newgrange is awe-inspiring as a relic of a lost era. As our guide at Newgrange demonstrated how light would have looked coming into the pitch-black chamber during the Winter Solstice, I thought of the passage of time – light flooding the chamber on that same day for thousands of years, the Neolithic carvings as well as the Victorian-era graffiti on the walls, and the comparatively inconsequential five months I’d spent in this country. I ended the day with a lovely trad session at The Cobblestone – a perfect mirror to my first session in Ireland, which seems so long ago.
Thursday was a mix of banality and novelty. Much of the day was taken up by a follow-up appointment for my broken elbow, but in the evening, I walked around Dublin with my friend Sydney, purchasing a few last-minute souvenirs and talking of our last few weeks abroad, our future plans, and what we would miss about Dublin. It’s such a simple thing, to take a walk with a friend, and yet I couldn’t think of a better way to spend one of my last evenings in Dublin. Indeed, the next evening was spent similarly – I sat along the canal with another friend, taking in the rare Dublin sun, just talking about Ireland or anything else that we happened to think of.
Friday was also the day I delivered my fiddle to its new owner, which, more than anything else, felt like a real ending. In my mind, that fiddle represented my time in Ireland, and now I was selling it, giving it away; I wouldn’t have it anymore. It felt strange to leave my fiddle in a man’s small North Dublin shop, but I knew it was for the best. I walked home, past the buskers on Grafton Street, with 100 more euros in my wallet. I left behind both their music and mine.
And Saturday, of course, was the end. I was leaving another home, one besides Skidmore and my parent’s house, but this was a home that I’m not sure I’ll ever return to, at least not anytime soon. On the flight home, I watched the movie Brooklyn, and watched Saoirse Ronan’s character decide that the life she wanted was in America. I agreed – I was sad to go, but so many of the people I love are here. But it still feels as if I left behind another life, and part of me wishes I could come back for it.
A lot can change in a short time, whether that’s one week or five months. All I did was live a life across the Atlantic Ocean, in a country not so different than the one I was born in. But it gave me a different perspective, taught me to grow in an unfamiliar city, and allowed me to fall in love with a far-away skyline. It gave me confidence and foresight, street smarts and self-sufficiency. It forced me to confront how I want to spend my time and my life. For more on the things I learned and the things I would change about this portion of my life, see my next post for some unsolicited advice.