Every time I return to Galway, Ireland, I find my way around the quaint, fishing town streets with ease. I know the shops well, the street performers are (mostly) still the same, the old men sitting outside the pubs look as though they've barely moved an inch since my last visit, and my old bedroom window is still there, sitting right above Shop Street. I lived in Galway for two and a half years — the best years of my life thus far. I'm originally from Chicago, but I packed up my life right after college and went back to the city I had studied abroad in. While I can never find quite the right words to describe it, Ireland felt like home to me. When I left, I knew I needed to go back, and spent my entire senior year figuring out how to return.
While I loved (and still love) Chicago, I was so ready to burst out of my lifelong bubble and see the world. The travel bug had bitten me hard and I had the incurable need to just . . . go. I had applied to the National University of Ireland, Galway, for its master's program in journalism, and when I finally got my acceptance letter, I cried so many happy tears. The thought of actually moving my life across the Atlantic was daunting (the amount of paperwork is insane), but more than that, it was exciting. Here's what I learned:
1. You will gain more independence than you thought possible. I was born with an independent soul, but moving so far away from home pushed me not only to the edge of my comfort zone, but straight over the edge of it. I had to navigate strange airports by myself, talk to people when WiFi failed me (I highly recommend this anyway), and figure out things I would normally ask my dad for help with.
2. You will meet people who will change your life. Most people who stay in the same place for years will tell you that, no matter how big it is, it will eventually feel very small. You'll likely fall into a routine, see the same people, and go to the same coffee shops. In Ireland, I found that the unexpected constantly happened. Most strangers don't have the word "danger" written all over them, but instead just want to have a cup a tea and a bit of "banter."
3. You'll never stop being a tourist. When you live in a really cool place, people will always want to come and visit you. I played tourist more times than I can count, and despite actually forming a regular life for myself in Ireland, I never got tired of exploring familiar places over and over again. While my friends left at the end of their visits, I never had to.
4. You will definitely fall in love. While I did happen to find the love of my life in Ireland, that wasn't the only time I fell in love. Before moving, I wasn't the happiest person in the world. I was trying so hard to get over my first love and just get excited about things again. By seeing corners of the world that I had never seen before, I was able to figure out who I am and be damn proud of it.
5. Your world will burst open right in front of you. One of my favorite travel quotes is by Mary Anne Radmacher: "I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world." And this is so, so true. Traveling changes you as a person and exposes you to other worlds, ones you couldn't imagine not experiencing once you've had a taste.
6. You will set yourself apart. When I moved back to America, getting a job wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. My résumé didn't get lost in a never-ending pile because I had experience in a foreign landscape, worked for respected European magazines, and made contacts with a different pool of people. And when people saw that I had spent time in Ireland, they immediately wanted to talk about their family's heritage.
7. You'll learn how to have fun anywhere. When you live in a town that has cobble streets where no cars are allowed and go to a school that basically looks like Hogwarts, you find yourself having a good time just about anywhere. Have to visit the library to write an essay? Might as well be one that's Instagram-worthy. Have to fill your car up with gas? You'll probably end up having a hilarious 20-minute talk with a station employee about absolutely nothing. Have to get groceries? Better explore the candy aisle and purchase all of the delicious foreign treats!
8. You'll learn how to let things go. When I moved, I had no choice but to only take the things I really wanted with me. I no longer had the luxury of leaving things at my parents' house or taking old clothes from my high school bedroom. You also learn not to fuss over little things like having skim milk in your coffee every day. When a lot of places don't offer the same options you're so used to, you adapt quickly and find a new normal.
9. You will enjoy the simple things a lot more. The hustle and bustle of a busy city you're not used to can feel like music instead of noise, and a mundane thing like sitting outside a café having a cup of coffee can bring so much unexpected joy. Oh, and those TV shows and commercials? SO different.
10. You will have one hell of a story to tell. Whenever I'm forced to think about unique qualities about myself or swap fun stories with friends, Ireland is always what I go back to. It's completely unique to me. People are always fascinated to hear about it and ask how I actually did it and why, and I know I will never get tired of sharing.