What I Learned my First Week Abroad

A week into her Irish escapade, Keisha shares with us her initial thoughts from Dublin, what she has experienced, how some lessons just have to be learned the hard way, and encourages us to know that, in the end, God will always love us.

[Photo Credit: Keisha Branch, Facebook]

As I sit and write this article at 5 in the morning, in the city of Dublin, Ireland, I think about better things I could be doing: like sleeping. But sometimes, sleep isn’t the best option (you’ll learn that when it comes to jetlag).

While I try to recount the plane ride over, I fight the urge to explain my nerves... because I don’t even understand them myself.

This has been a yearlong process (who am I kidding; I’ve been trying to get to the green pond for several years now). I started planning my study abroad trip around September 2014, in hopes that my dream would actually come true. I figured maybe if I started early, it would happen- but in the back of my head I didn’t really believe it would. I struggled knowing if financial aid would cover me, if I would have enough money to actually be in the country, and wondering if I would even be accepted (ya know, the whole American stereotype isn’t the best). Well, I applied anyway and then it became extremely real.

I prayed over and over again that the Lord would tell me if this was right for me or if there is something else I should be doing with my life, and in the best ways possible... He told me yes, this is what I should be doing. After I received all of my acceptances, it was time to plan the actual flight. Face it, it’s not real until you’ve bought your plan ticket and rain boots.

It seemed like every plane ticket was almost a million and one US dollars (because the Euro is much better than the US Dollar) and I was struggling. I prayed yet again that if this was meant for me, the Lord would provide. And he did. A wonderful woman (thanks a mil,' Katie) bought my plane ticket. Talk about jumping for joy.

Anyways, while you’re here, incredible things will happen your first week. If you’re lucky (like me) they will happen pretty quickly.

1. You will absolutely bawl your eyes out as you cross the Atlantic Ocean. I have never been outside of America so I had a few expectations, but only from in-depth research. Also, it’s okay (actually, it’s pretty mandatory) to do research on the location, culture, and history of where you’re going. You can go in with a blind eye, but if you’re like me, do some research. It hurts absolutely no one (except that person that hates you for being an overachiever- don't listen to them).

2.  You'll get incredibly familiar with the term jetlag. Yeah, don’t think about it. I got to Ireland at 8am, took a 5 minute power nap at 12pm, and did not get to sleep until 2am. I promise you (but I am a different species of a human), you will be fine. If you think about how tired you are, you will be tired; just power through it all. Try your best to go to sleep the same time you do in the States and train yourself to at least sleep a little earlier than you started out with if you chose to go as late as I did.

3. You will make friends. The first thing you need to do is find your group. Find your gal pals or your best bros and keep a mental note of them, but also have a few very close friends.  You may only be there four months but you need to weed them out pretty early. I can honestly say I was blessed to have the best group of Americans and an even better group of Europeans to call my friends! I cannot explain how amazing these people are, and yeah… it’s only the first week. Anyway, you may have a friend that is so close to you, you’ll call her/him your best friend, but you will definitely need someone that will keep you grounded and walk back with you late at night if no one else will. 

4. You need to learn the language. You’ve taken language courses pretty much your entire life. Did you retain that information? Probably not. If they’re speaking it, you’re speaking it. Take advantage of the free lessons. And they will love you for it. If they’re abroad to work on their English, they need help just as much as you want help. It’s a total win-win situation.

5.  You'll learn how to go with the flow. Don’t over think every situation, get nervous about it, or confuse yourself. Do what feels right and go with whatever is happening. Before arriving in Ireland, I was such an over thinker (I still am, of course). I actually thought I was going to be at a certain school and when I arrived, I found out I was in a totally different program and staying at a completely different place than my initial knowledge, and by the grace of God, it is the perfect fit.

6.  It's important to learn the city for yourself without questions. It will be likely that you may not have a map to use on your phone, so carry a physical map. Work on those directional skills. Memorize landmarks, and compare them to places at home- it helps more than you know! Remember the super cute café where you had that awesome chai latte, or the homey restaurant you had that really good chicken dinner. It’ll help your mental maps.

7.   You will learn how to navigate. This is also known as learning how to properly jaywalk and exactly where to do it. You don’t always have to franticly cross the street in hopes that you can keep your legs. The great part about the Republic of Ireland or at least Dublin (Northern Ireland is unfortunately under British rule, so it’s a little different) is that there are directions of where to look when crossing the street. Don’t be afraid of looking a bit confused. We all are, we’re from America.

8.  It’s okay to fall in love the first week. You may find someone you absolutely adore, whether they are American (it’s the worst), French, German, Italian or a local Irishman. Fall in love. Get it out of your system. But here’s the trick- do not get jealous and if you do, it’s time for you to fall out of love. It’s the first 7 days, so what. You’ll see some eye candy, but keep in mind that he sees eye candy as well. If he flirts as much as someone trying to get into the club for free, flirt back, but play the game well. You may find your soulmate in the first 7 days, but if you don’t, you have time.

9. You'll realize the value of money. This is dangerous beyond belief. You will find yourself:

  1. Buying things you already have
  2.  Buying some of the most ridiculous things you will not need
  3.  Basking in the awesomeness of cheap clothes that were probably produced under slave labor and horrible working conditions, but you don’t care because that beautiful sweater you’ve been eyeing for a week is only €4. 

(Oh, and don’t compare everything to America… prices or food. Yeah, the conversion rate sucks, but you’re in a different country. And don’t listen to others when they say the food isn’t good… you’ll find some of the best restaurants your taste buds have ever experienced).

10. You should never be afraid to get involved. You may be a little pressed for time, or you may be able to spare a few extra minutes doing something popular in that country. For me, I figured I’d join Campus Crusade for Christ abroad. I’ve also started getting involved in a few churches and I work at a Youth Center for around 16 refugee and asylum seeking teens.

11.  And lastly, don’t be afraid to show how much you love Jesus. I know this article is about the fun, the funky, and the myths, but here’s something I am struggling (and learning how to deal) with: Jesus will always be around; no matter what. It doesn’t matter how many pints of Guinness you’ve had, how many shots of Jägermeister, how much you spent on clothes at Penney’s, or those thoughts you’ve had about the one ginger that walked past you at Temple Bar. He loves you. He will convict you. He will remind you of your mistakes. He will kick you in the gut until you stop what you’re doing. But always remember, he will always love you. Be his light wherever you go. You WILL struggle. It is the first week, so we all do. But you can choose to struggle less throughout the rest of the semester.

As I said, it’s only my first week, but its great learning these things pretty early on! You’ll learn more, so just prepare yourself.

Cheers, and don’t forget, we’re only havin’ the craic!