Monday, September 19, 2016

My Summer Abroad

It was 4:55 a.m. by the time the bus pulled into the parking lot. Having spent the night packing, and re-packing, I was tired, excited and anxious to get to the airport. This was the beginning of what would be a three-month European adventure. What had been a simple application filled out on a whim, had become a reality. I was off to Dublin, Ireland thanks to the Winslow Maxwell Program through the University of Southern California (USC). On arrival I’d be thrown in with 15 other USC students, sent on a job interview and given an earnest good luck. The prospects seemed both thrilling and terrifying, but with passport in hand I boarded the plane to set out on the summer of a lifetime.

The plane ride I’d like to say was a blur of sleep and movies, however, it felt far longer than a blur. My seat mate kept me occupied with talk of his strenuous feat with booking plane tickets and security checks. I listened intently, however, the lack of sleep began to tug at my eyes. After what may have been the longest plane ride of my life, I began to feel my palms sweat. One last step until I was officially on Irish soil, customs. Now in retrospect, I had no reason to be nervous, but I’d never dealt with customs before and wasn’t sure what to expect. I of course went through without a problem.

On the other side, I collected my bag and took a seat, waiting for other students to arrive and for the people heading our program, EUSA, to come and collect us. Thumbing through my book, I noticed a gathering of similarly aged Americans and decided I should join in. Within minutes I realized I’d entered into a conversation with a fellow USC student. We laughed at our happenstance, out of our group, only one or two people knew each other prior. As for the rest of us, none of us had reached out or done much to get to know each other before leaving L.A. More USC students arrived. We shared our stories of travel, and our excitement for the summer to come.

EUSA quickly got us settled at our summer home, Merville Residences at the University College of Dublin (UCD). Not wanting to fall victim to jetlag, a group of us set out to learn the bus system and explore city centre. Responsibilities took precedence as we ran a few errands. However, curiosity soon won us over, and we decide that a pint of Guinness was in order. ‘When in Ireland…’, and all that. With not a clue as to where we should go, I took lead and walked us into, what is today still one of my favourite places in Dublin, Sweeney’s Bar on Dame Street. The Haight-Ashbury styled murals and promise of live music are only a part of this place’s charm. We indulged in our first pint of Irish Guinness, and relished in the reality of the moment. We’d all made it. The summer abroad had begun.

That first night of attempting to over-come the eight-hour time difference wasn’t the only adjustment made this summer. Having chosen Dublin, we all snickered when EUSA would throw out ideas of “culture-shock”. How much different could it be? The answer, very. However, in my opinion, I found many of the differences to be refreshing. As we began to interact with the locals, we were in awe over how forthright and approachable people were. It’s almost as if the Irish missed out on the “Stranger Danger” campaigns that we Americans grew up on. Rather, everyone is a potential mate. Keeping this in mind, we embraced the friendly spirit and set out meeting new and interesting people, which we found at every turn.
It’s easy to say what made this trip so special, and that’s the people we met along the way. Wanting to see more of Ireland, all 16 of us hopped on a bus heading for the west coast of Ireland. Our first time traveling as a group, we quickly began to learn a good bit about each other. Traveling with friends or family can be strenuous and stressful, traveling with strangers can be down-right hellish. As a group, we experienced our share of growing pains. There was compromising and yielding that had to be done, and done in a way that was trying more times than not. That being said, we all came out better travellers, and people, from it all.
Furthermore, it was in Galway, the San Francisco of Ireland, that I became enamoured with the country. It was after a night of fun with the group, that we met these interesting characters in a pub named Monroe’s. They asked “What’s the story?”, and we answered with our tales of how we all had made it from L.A. to Ireland. Those of you who aren’t versed in Irish slang, “What’s the story?” is like saying “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”, needless to say, we gave them more of an answer than they were expecting. Amused, they quickly told us that they were about to go to a bonfire on the beach. With an adventurous glimmer in our eyes, we walked out with our new friends. The night was nothing short of magical. It was one of those moments that you know while you’re in it that something amazing is happening. The bonfire crackled as the sea kissed the shore. Guitar strings strummed a familiar melody as the voices chattering took up the chorus. It was there on that beach that I fell in love with Ireland.

With our first week and trip under our belt, we began our first work week. Everyone was nervous as they boarded their buses, I especially. The rest of the group worked in city centre, while I worked an hour outside in a town called Dùn Lagohaire. I had no idea what to expect. As the bus pulled into its terminating stop, I was elated to see sail boats lining the harbour and an old church steeple peeking over the buildings. I made my way up Patrick Street, until I arrived at my destination. I’d been placed in an internship with Mary Crotty PR. Mary Crotty PR is an award-winning Irish public relations agency, that specialises in PR, media management and event industries. After talking with Mary, the founder, I was excited to start. Our clients offered a range of challenges and opportunities. From Citröen Ireland to Respect, I was able to learn a lot in a short amount of time. I learned about event planning, how to manage a crisis situation, evaluation practices, how to conduct a meeting and even how to do the dreaded cold calls. It was an adjustment learning the difference of how media is regarded in Ireland as opposed to the U.S. While in general, newspapers are a thing of the past in L.A., they are staple of Irish culture. Furthermore, the scale of national news is much different. While it can seem impossible to break into the national news circuit in America, the national news in Ireland is far more accessible. However, it was the work culture that I really enjoyed. It reminded me of the small business culture that I grew up on. What’s truly special is that this small business atmosphere can be maintained even while having a significant presence and impact. To Mary, Derek, Maria and Aofie, thank you for everything.

With a summer abroad, there are certain “check-list” items that must be completed. The most common one is travel. With a budget weighing on my mind, I had anticipated to travel out of Ireland no more than two times. The first trip, was to London. With the guards of Buckingham Palace and museums that will make any art enthusiast swoon, it was a must see. We again travelled as a group, however, another girl and myself split off to go stay with our mutual friend. We explored all of the touristy sites, like stopping traffic on Abbey Road, and the not so touristy sites, like having a ‘freak shake’ from Molly Bakes. There were a few mistakes made on the way, which here’s a note to those looking to go out: do plan ahead. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and I left feeling slightly underwhelmed.

The next ‘big’ trip was a bit of a nightmare in the planning. Although, this checked off another box on the checklist, and that was traveling alone. I’d booked a trip to Northern Ireland for the last weekend and had decided to move it up. The trip was a Paddywagon tour. It went from Belfast, through the Giant’s Causeway, the Dark Hedges and Derry. I was nervous to be going on my own, and to be staying in hostels for the first time. Within minutes though, I’d struck up conversation with a family from Germany. The weekend was full of meeting new people and challenging myself in new ways. Coming away from it, the history and views I saw were amazing. Yet, it was the since of empowerment and capability that I walked away with that really stuck with me.

My last trip out of Ireland was one of impromptu planning. I’ve always been spontaneous by nature, and when you come across a kindred spirit, it almost always leads to an adventure. A week and a half out, a girl from the trip, Laura, and I decide that we were going to Prague. The city seduced us with its odd museums, medieval architecture and promise of low costs. Having become fast friends, we were curious to see how we did as travel companions. Luckily, it was as close to perfect as we could get. We meandered through the winding streets, eating delicious food and taking in all that the city had to offer. The city its self is beautiful. It’s how I’d always imagined a European city to look, with the old churches, and cobblestone walk ways that often lead to dead ends. The trip left me feeling cultured in a way that I hadn’t yet felt.

As all summer’s do, ours was nearing its end. My work had become predictable and familiar in the way you hope work might feel. I had settled into a routine, and was comfortable. With one full weekend left, Mary kindly passed on tickets to the local music festival, Beatyard. The weekend was one spent with good people, and enjoying various Irish artists and speakers. As the Irish say, “It was good craic.”

As the nights passed by, the reality of us leaving began to settle in. While heartbroken by our departure, I also feel a since of pride. I came to this city having known no one, nor nothing about it. Now I can talk about it in the way you talk about an old friend. You know it’s secrets, what makes it so special, but also what make it not. I can walk the streets confidently, and give directions when stopped. My list of recommendations is daunting, but filled with good memories. As I finish my time here, I know that this won’t be the end for Dublin and I. As the famed James Joyce put it, “When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart.”

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