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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UMKC chapter.

I spent all of high school promising myself that if I made it to college, things would be okay. I couldn’t wait to live on my own, create my own schedule and reinvent myself. However, the Covid-19 pandemic caused the U.S. to shut down during the spring break of my freshman year, forever changing my college experience. Instead of going to house parties and Tinder dates, I masked up and kept my circle small. Because of my job as a residential assistant, I was able to live on campus, but my experience with residential life was less than ideal. So, in my head, I began bargaining with the universe. I would make the best of college in its current state, as long as I got to study abroad during my senior year. 

When I arrived in Cork almost four months ago, I realized that pinning all of my collegiate hopes on one semester in Europe was unhealthy. There was no way to do everything I wanted to do in one short stretch, especially while going to school full-time. I adjusted my expectations. I tried to be more realistic. Europe is another continent, but it’s not a fairytale. 

Except, for me, it has been. 

As a kid, my aunt gifted me storybooks about Irish legends for my birthdays. I grew up with tales of leprechauns and changelings, illustrated in full. I couldn’t wait to see Ireland for myself. In the weeks before I boarded my flight to Cork, I became nervous that my study abroad experience wouldn’t live up to my monumental expectations. I was wrong. 

The experience has been lonely at times. It can feel like you’re in a sitcom with a constantly rotating cast. I’ve met people who I thought I would become close friends with, only to never see them again, because we’re on completely different schedules. Sometimes, I forget that one of my roommates is in Belfast,  Dublin or London until I see it on their Instagram. I know only a few people here from the U.S. and none from Kansas City.

But Ireland has given me a new, more flexible sense of time. I’ve always felt like I was racing against the clock to achieve success. Over the past few months, I’ve started to trust that things will work out. My self-made deadlines are arbitrary as long as I’m enjoying myself. 

I fell in love with the Irish landscape, music, culture and also one specific boy who may or may not be reading this right now. Although I joked about manifesting an Irish boyfriend, I couldn’t anticipate the joy or the heartbreak of finding the right person at the right time in the right place (though the “right place” is over 4,000 miles away from my hometown). 

This semester, I’ve shared meals with new friends from all over Europe. I’ve had German, French and Spanish dinners curated by my roommates. I hiked up a mountain, roamed the streets of Venice, visited a dozen Catholic churches, missed the last bus home, contracted tonsillitis, drank too many pints of Guinness, listened to trad sessions, shopped at the Christmas market and realized that four months was still too short. 

In three weeks, when I hop on my flight back to the U.S., I’ll be leaving a piece of myself here. Not just because it was an amazing experience, but because I grew up so much. I didn’t know how much I could handle on my own until there was no other choice. I didn’t realize how many strangers would help me until I asked for help. I’ve never felt as safe or as welcome as I do here. 

Ireland, I’m coming back for you. 

Lauren Textor is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who is studying English. She is one of UMKC's Campus Correspondents. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, painting, and sight-seeing at possibly haunted locations.