I wake up often, forgetting where I am, then I look out the window and it all comes back to me. No longer am I in Chicago, but I’m in Ireland. I’m living the dream I’ve been dreaming of for years and it still feels so surreal to me. Now I’m on my last few weeks here, and I’m grasping for every second. Reflecting on my time here, I’ve learned many lessons, seen many things and rediscovered myself. There are 4 thoughts that come to mind over and over again.
1. Love hurts, even in a dream.
I fell in love here. I also fell out of love. Now that I think back on it, I’m not too sure if I actually loved him, or if I loved the idea of having my life play a bit like a movie. Cue the American, who instantly falls for the charming boy with the accent and who calls the comforter a “duvet.” We made empty promises to each other, in the heat of the moment, and a moment later, it all crumbled down. Perhaps the realization that we lived half way across the world from each other, or the fact that our time was limited made it fall apart. Maybe we realized it was just the idea of love that we loved so much. Nonetheless, it was a rough breakup. Many a glasses of wine were consumed, and many phone calls home were made at wee hours of the night. Do I regret it? Not for a second. I’m 19. I’m at the age were I can gather the pieces again and start again. If nothing less, I have memories that I will cherish forever. When it ended, I was fearful that I would fall out of love with the country as well, for all my memories of him were here, but I just found my love for Ireland that much stronger.
2. Living out of a backpack is a skill one must hone.
Countless weekends were spent gallivanting across the country, or across Europe. Prior to this trip, going away for a few days meant a suitcase, duffel bag and a backpack, packed with all the “essentials.” I am now able to state on my resume that I can tactfully pack for a four-day trip in a backpack, and nothing else. Prior to this trip, I would spend my time traveling in gift shops looking for the perfect souvenir to prove that I went somewhere. I don’t need that proof anymore. The proof is in the memories. I wouldn’t trade the time that I kissed the Blarney Stone or saw the sunrise in Barcelona for the most incredible, bedazzled souvenir shirt in the world, and that’s saying something, for someone with a drawer full of those at home. Back to my main point, traveling has taught me that a backpack is all one needs. The material objects are nothing. Life is about the experience, the people you share it with and the memories you collect.
3. Traveling alone is an experience that can’t be replicated.
As much I adored discovering the world with some incredible people I’ve met along the way, I also loved the trip I took alone. I wasn’t initially meant to go alone, and I searched like heck to find someone to replace the person who couldn’t go, but alas, I set off alone, to Liverpool, to relive the Beatles nostalgia. I’m not alone a lot. Back home, I live with my best friends, so when we want to go somewhere, we go together. It was an empowering feeling though, to go somewhere and be fully dependent on myself. If I got lost, it was all on me. If I missed a flight or a train, again, all on me. That didn’t happen though. I went, and I experienced the city the way I wanted to. I called my dad during that trip, saying I was going to go to McDonalds for dinner, because I felt awkward going to a sit-down restaurant on my own, and he told me to suck up my ego and eat a good meal by myself, and enjoy it. So I did. I had a lovely meal at a quaint little French restaurant and I couldn’t have been more content. I wined and dined myself, I took myself on a date on a Ferris wheel to view the romantic Liverpool skyline, and I quenched my thirst for knowledge with the countless free museums the city had to offer. If nothing else, that trip taught me that I am sufficient and independent, and for that, I am thankful.
4. My home is here.
Before I came here, my father sat me down and told me that once I left the US, I would come to realize how incredible it truly is. I have much to be thankful for to the country I come from, but I’ve realized that it isn’t where my heart is. I’m from a generation who is often “finding themselves,” and as cliché as it sounds, I found myself here. I spend much of my time at home wondering what it would feel like to be in a place that I truly love, and now I can say, that that feeling is the most mind blowing feeling there is out there. Granted, I stick out like a sore thumb here. I can’t pronounce half the words properly, and my tan doesn’t help me blend in much either, but I feel like I’m home. Every experience I’ve had here has helped me discover a bit more of who I am, and while I may be the only American who can’t claim to be a tenth of a hundredth of a percent Irish, I can say that I found my home here. To Chicago, I’ll be back shortly, to finish up my last two years and to experience everything from a new perspective. To Ireland, I’ll be back, for much longer next time.