Tús Nua

When I was a little girl, I promised my Uncle Jack I would take him to Ireland.  He had never traveled outside the United States, besides where he was stationed when he was active in the military.  I had no idea what history or places to visit.  At my age, I only knew that we were an Irish family and very proud to have Irish in our blood. Unfortunately, I was not able to carry out these plans.  It broke my heart knowing if I were to ever travel to Ireland, my Uncle Jack wouldn’t be next to me.  I promised myself that if I were to ever travel to Ireland, I would make sure to live out his memory.

    Fast forward to the year 2017.  2017 held the biggest change of my life. I faced reality that I was not in a good place.  I also decided to end my relationship with my boyfriend of almost 4 years.  I struggled with two big things during this time. First, I had to accept losing a person I considered my best friend. Next, I had to learn who I was as a person.  As odd as it sounds, I truly feel like I struggled with not knowing who I was.

    I remember my friend Logan mentioning that Kutztown announced a study abroad program to Ireland. I thought, “This is it. This is what I need to do for myself.”  I immediately told my roommates, my family, and my friends about this once in a lifetime trip and my desire to go.  I was determined to make sure my name would be on that program.  I attended the meetings, I wrote and rewrote reasons why I wanted to go on this program, and I slowly starting stashing away money, in the event if I were accepted, I was already ahead in the game.

    I can’t begin to explain how I felt reading the email that I had been accepted to travel to Ireland with Kutztown University.  I was proud that I would be able to do this for Uncle Jack, I was nervous to take this big girl trip by myself, and I was excited to see how big this beautiful world actually is.  The months flew by and, before I knew it, May 23rd came.  Here was the moment I had waited for. A whole month in Ireland with my roommates, but also with new people and professors in a new territory.  I packed my giant suitcase, I double checked making sure I had everything I needed, and at 5:30 pm on May 23rd, I sat down on an airplane seat to begin my month long journey.

         Galway, personally, was my favorite city to visit.  Everyone seemed to be happy, there were so many talented street performers each night, and the food… the food was absolutely to die for.  To me, I felt a deeper connection towards Galway.  After reviewing and reading more about the Burke history, I learned that the Burke family was based in Galway and the surrounding areas.  Galway had so many things to see and offer. For me, I wanted to make this program a moment in my life that would change me.  We were able to take a ferry to visit the Aran Islands.  I’m not going to lie, when I heard we were going to ride bikes, I thought, “I haven’t ridden a bike in years, so this is definitely going to be interesting.”  Besides getting the worst sunburn of my life (I’ll be sure to remember to wear sunscreen every day that there is sun out), visiting the Aran Islands was the most freeing feeling that I had felt in a while.  I remember constantly thinking during that day, but still watching everything around me.  I wanted to relive the day over and over again because I was so blessed with everything happening. I was thankful for the legs that I had, to be able to pump and move me around on a bicycle to see all around the island.  I was thankful for my eyesight, being able to view the blue waters surrounding me, as well as the green lush and delicate flowers on top of the cliff. Lastly, I was appreciative of my friends that I was with.  We stood with each other when some struggled to bike up steep hills, when some wanted to stop and capture photos, or when we helped a fellow classmate who lost (and later found) her engagement ring in bushes.  It meant so much to see all of us coming together so quickly, especially when we once were all strangers.  It was a moment I truly will carry with me all my life.  Maybe it was a highlight on the trip, or it was the “a-ha!” moment I needed to experience.  Regardless, I know my heart belongs in Galway.  I will make sure to visit as I now have a special bond to this beautiful city.  I will never forget the emotions I felt, the food that made my pants fit a little too tight, and the memories that brought our class of 23 to a family of 23.

    After Galway, we traveled to the area of Killarney. Killarney was the city of magic, but also the city of learning.  This city allowed me to self-reflect so much.  It taught me more about myself than I ever knew.  Before Killarney, I recognized the strength and determination I had. But I didn’t actually know how much I had.  In Killarney, our main purpose was to focus on the beauty of nature and have it touch us.  I’ll be honest, the most I’ve done with nature is run through it with cross country.  I never went hiking, camping, or ever enjoyed walking through the woods.  It’s not that I didn’t have a desire to do it, I just never had anyone around me ask to go or wish to go. I connected with myself in more ways than I ever had while in Killarney.  I tackled personal struggles and emotional demons I had built up from the past.  During this city, we were able to go to a beach, jump off a cliff into the ocean, and on my free day, I climbed the highest peak in Ireland.  Each of these moments connected me with nature.  With the ocean, I watched as the water would hit the sand and go back.  When the idea to jump from a cliff into the water popped up, I thought no way.  When everyone said they were going to climb the tallest peak, I had it in my head that I couldn’t do it.  Many times, like most people, I second guess what I can do.  I wanted this trip to change me in ways I didn’t think I would’ve been able to do without Ireland.  

While climbing Carrauntoohil, I had the time to reflect and breathe.  For 6 hours, I slowly made my way up, having thoughts of all the good and bad that has happened in 21 years running throughout my head.  At one point, I thought I couldn’t get to the top.  I fought with my brain; I knew how much I wanted to be able to do it for myself, but my body was in pain.  I knew if I gave up, I would be disappointed in myself.  As much as it hurt, as much as I complained, as much as I wanted to turn around and throw in the towel, I finally reached the top.  It was a monumental event in my life that I will forever remember.  To me, it symbolized all the times in my life I thought I couldn’t do it anymore.  It was the times I wished for changes but wasn’t willing to do certain things to help with it.  The climb symbolized my struggles, but what is needed to conquer them.  I could’ve easily given up but I fought the negative thoughts and succeeded.  This will be my reminded that I WILL be able to conquer when I am feeling blue due to my depression or when I feel like I want to give up.  It will be that push I need to wipe the dirt off, pick myself up, and continue up whatever “mountain” I am climbing in life. Though I might not see the top, I will know that it’s there, and although it might seem too far to reach, I need to push and remind myself that nothing is impossible in this life.  I can achieve all that I wish just by that reminder.  

     When people think of Ireland or the Irish really, their minds travel to drinking.  While that played a huge role all around the country, I am here to say there is so much more than that.  The things I carry in my heart are the people I met, the adventures I took, and the memories I shared with every single student I was with.  I am still finding myself yearning to go back, even just to take a walk in the same areas we once stood.  The day I left Ireland, I felt a part of me stood there.

    I learned a wealth of history during my trip that I will never be able to forget.  I saw things I didn’t think I would ever see.  I also learned more about myself in a short month than I did in a year.  My study abroad program not only let me grow, but allowed me to try new things, get out of my comfort zone, and see beauty around me.  It allowed me to accept that I don’t have control over everything in my life.  It allowed me to see that life is like a mountain; there are going to be times where it’s especially hard, and I will want to give up, but I need to remind myself to keep going.  This program also reminded me to be proud of who I am and what makes me “me.”  With everything going on in the United States, there are many times I am ashamed to be American.  Instead, I have a better insight, where I am lucky to be able to obtain an education, where some other girls in other countries are not allowed to.  It showed me that I am lucky to be able to voice my opinion and stand for things that I wish to see a change in.  This trip was a reminded that though I am one girl, I can do whatever I want to.  

The Irish had to go through hardships in order to get to where they are today.  They fought in battles, they moved to different countries to survive, but pushed to make sure their family could continue on after.  Though this trip taught me so much about history and Ireland, the biggest thing I learned throughout this trip is how to allow myself to grow.  I needed to learn that I have to just breathe and allow myself to live in the moment.  I learn in a world of hate, even a simple act of kindness can stand out in the darkness. I am beyond thankful to the professors, my classmates, and Kutztown for being a part in my journey. I truly will never be the same person.