(My first full day out wearing The Shoes to the Dublin Flea Market.)
One of things I first noticed about the people of Dublin were their feet. My first walk down Henry Street, a popular shopping district, had me mesmerized, a sea of chic black boots contrasted with stark white athletic shoes - trainers, as they’re called here. I thought of the dozens of pages of study abroad packing lists I’d browsed before coming here, the advice and the warnings. Don’t bring sneakers, especially the white athletic kind, one student guide warned. Try not to bring anything that screams ‘American’, a popular blog advised.
I left the sneakers at home, packed three pairs of my favorite black boots (this is not packing advice, though I have worn them all multiple times and they’re great for sloshing around in the rain in) and then came to Dublin and got sneaker fever. Suddenly, there was a confidence crisis - everyone looks so fashionable and cool, I could never look that fashionable and cool, what is the formula on how one begins to look that fashionable and cool, etc.
I whittled it down to the shoes. Everywhere I looked, pairs of Adidas and Nikes and Reeboks, most stark white against the cobblestone of Grafton street or the damp pavements of Saint Stephens Green. It took approximately two weeks of being in Dublin for the trainer envy/lust to finally hit, but it was getting out of hand. My GoogleAds were nothing but various pictures of Adidas shoes, my Internet web history was appalling, and I was doodling pairs of shoes on my notepad. (This is not to say that I wasn’t still out living life in Dublin, participating in class, exploring the streets, livin’ it up, but I was maybe still checking out everyone’s shoes while I did so.)
I debated the purchase for days. I looked in all of the charity shops on Rathmines, testing my luck. I looked on eBay, secondhand options, discount websites. I tried to find a less-expensive alternative that would still satisfy my sneaker lust, I googled coupon codes for the regular retail shops. My study abroad budget is slim - why was I trying to justify an 80 euro pair of shoes? What was my deal?
On a walk to an impossible-to-find art supply store on the north side of Dublin, grumpy with the sudden rain tipping it down as I trudged and refreshed my Google maps, I gave myself some time to contemplate. What was up? It was a pair of shoes. A cool pair of shoes, yeah, but still just a pair of shoes.
But it was less about the actual shoes than it was about the image the shoes projected. Cool, hip, European. The locals in Dublin, the kids my age in pubs and coffee shops and tucked away used bookstores, were wearing them. They were fashionable, trendy, and practical, too, for walking laps of miles around the city.
They were a projection of what I craved, the ever-present desire to be cool that you think leaves you in middle school but never really does. Decades and thousands of miles away from my early-teenage self, I was back to where I’d started, hoping for all of the same things as sixth grade Kaylie: to fit in, to be accepted, to have some type of arbitrary status.
Studying abroad is An Experience. There are great parts, and there are not so great parts, and there is confusion and crises of confidence. I was submerged in a different culture and an urban atmosphere and I suddenly didn’t know how to keep afloat. How can I blend in better? I asked, and then kept a watchful eye on people and figured it out. Except it’s not that easy - nothing is never that easy. Buying a pair of shoes - even if they’re really, really good shoes - doesn’t suddenly change anything. Maybe my feet are a little happier the next time I walk all the way to Dublin North for an art store I can’t find or when I walk around Phoenix Park, but no other fundamental part of me will change.
Which is okay! It’s okay to want the shoes anyway. It’s okay to want to blend in with the new culture (and the hipper subculture), to splash out on something that makes you feel how you want, even if it won’t suddenly change anything.
I would like to say that I did not buy the shoes. That I saved the euros for a plane ticket to Barcelona or a an entire weekend in Cork, valuing experience over materialism. That I suddenly found the deeper meaning in my want and was able to talk myself out of it.
I totally bought the shoes. But I’ve also accepted that I’m not suddenly going to morph into a cool Dubliner by simply tying up the laces and suddenly becoming the Paragon of Style and Grace. I’m still just a kid bumbling around the city, trying to find as many cool bookstores as possible. But it’s okay, because I’m going to be comfortable and cool doing it. It's okay to feel an urge to fit in, especially in a brand new place, and it's okay to give into it a little bit, as long as you can have a good think about what/why you're doing it.
And now, at least, my GoogleAds can finally change.
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<p>California to (nearish) Chicago to Dublin; creative writing major, gender studies minor. I am very excited to get lost.</p>