Despite the fact that I hate math, I seem to process things in numbers. At my home college, I have a poster in my room that I use to count down the days until our next break. While I didn’t bring that poster to Ireland, I’ve found myself using the same tactic in order to cope with the drastic change that moving and orientation brought. I put every little thing into numbers. I count the number of weekends I have, the number of times I’ll be able to call my parents, the number of times I’ll have to take the hour-long walk to class, even mundane things like how many times I’ll take a shower, do my laundry, go out to dinner, go to the gym, sit in the study room and write. Why do I do this? Because it makes my leaving Ireland seem not so far away.
During orientation on Wednesday, I was surprised to find that they employed the same tactic: they started our session by reminding us that those of us in the Writers Program only had 100 days left in Dublin. At the time of writing this post, we’re down to 97 days. But instead of using this countdown to provide a coping mechanism, IES Abroad encouraged us to use it as motivation to see as much as we can see, throw ourselves fully into our work, and embrace the culture around us. I had spent my time thinking only 100 days left until I get to go back to America, but they introduced a new perspective: only 100 days left to truly experience Ireland.
This lesson didn’t truly set in until the second day of orientation, when we first took a walk to the IES Abroad Center, settled near an array of cobbled streets with vibrant stores, surrounded by the most beautiful Georgian architecture, right down the street from famous beauties like Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After that day’s orientation, which consisted of presentations about our academic lives and the handing out of our schedules, I decided to take a walk on my own and explore the area around the center. I was so overwhelmed with beauty. When I saw Christ Church, everything changed for me.
That moment, standing in front of the castle-like structure and watching the sunlight bounce against its windows, it truly started to set in that I only have 100 days in this city, and there is so much beauty to take in. That night, I sat down and made a list of all the places I want to go while I’m here: tourist attractions in the city, day trips to other parts of Ireland, restaurants / pubs for dinner, cafes to study in between classes, museums, parks, and cute shopping streets. My focus has been shifted to prioritize how I will make the most of the time that I’m here.
The biggest lesson that I learned from orientation is that the study abroad experience really is what you make it. It is up to you to make the experience your own, and no two people will have the exact same experience. My advice? If you’re studying abroad, spend some free time (you will have a lot of it during orientation!) determining what you want to do. Of course, form relationships with people and spend time getting to know the city, but prioritize yourself. Maybe you’re the adventurous type and you want to spend the first week before classes exploring every square inch of your new home. Or maybe you're like me and you started off homesick and jetlagged, and you’d rather spend the time after orientation sleeping off the time difference. Whatever you feel enhances your experience the most, whether that’s seeing everything you can in a week or building up your energy for the future, do it. Plan outings or trips to keep yourself excited. If you want to do something, go do it, whether your new friends want to come or not. Make this experience exactly what you need it to be, and remember that you only have 100 days.