It was September 22, 1996. After months of anticipation, excitement, and a tad bit of anxiety I was finally about to embark on my study abroad adventure. I envisioned Ireland as a land of talkative people from a land of no snakes and lots of potatoes. "A typical tourist," any Irish lad may say, but being apart of the atmosphere and culture those brief ten months to follow changed my views, my values, and my life.
When I arrived in Ireland I was warmly welcomed by my study abroad coordinators at the airport. My first two Irish mentors, whom I was to interact with often within the next year, helped me to feel at ease and became my first friends through their easy-going manner. Enthusiastically, I transported my luggage to the airport parking lot, and met Paul the bus driver who helped me load all my things into the vehicle. After the entire bundle of luggage was loaded, my American peers and I accidentally tried to enter the right side of the bus. It was pretty stupid and funny at the same time, because in Ireland (and England) driving is reversed or the Irish drive on the left side of the road. After the brief setback, we found our way in and headed to my home for the next ten months, the University of Limerick.
The first day at Limerick was a memorable one. All of the international students arrived before the Irish, and incidentally, I was the first to arrive at my campus home. My own room: closet, sink, bed, Internet connection, heater, and a window. All the commodities any guy could ask for. After an hour or so of unpacking, Christelle, a French girl became my first housemate to arrive. Although her English initially was horrible, we managed to communicate to each other our names and our resentment of all the broken items in our home. Our television, vacuum cleaner, stove, and downstairs shower were all in need of repair. No, it wasn't a great start, but rather quickly these problems were fixed as well as Christelle's poor English. Other house members joined the family, all of different origins and English speaking backgrounds. These people changed me and are some of the most intriguing and best friends I've ever had: Ingrid and Maria from Spain, Justas and Sarunus from Lithuania, Donna from the U.S.A., Vicky from England, and Oliver from France.
Ireland brought forth more opportunities than I ever expected. Within two weeks of being in Ireland I began a part-time job, running with the Athletic Club, and began my interests with the Overseas Society. First, I got a job sweeping outside the student pub, "The Stables" for the year. In this time I met lots of lads that thought my job was the bottom of the barrel as far as jobs went on campus. Soon after, I got involved with running with the Athletics Club. Running at the university is taken far less seriously than it is here in "The States," hence there's only one big race per semester. Most excitingly, I got involved with the overseas society, which provided social events on campus and weekend trips to embark in Ireland's thriving culture for the foreigners. My first semester I helped the society, and the second I took over.
I attribute my nomination to the president of the Overseas Society the most exciting opportunity any foreigner could have in Ireland. I became the campus representative of all the 200 international students and I couldn't have loved it more! I got to meet inhabitants of many foreign countries and to learn about some of their distinct lifestyles. Romanians, Czechs, French, Spanish, South American, German, Dutch, Danish, and Italians were among the many lads I learned from and partied with at the same time. In my time, I was the creator of seven trips around the beautiful country where I made friends with Irish bus drivers, bus companies, hostel owners, and campus leaders as well as all the students that repeatedly journeyed with the society. Being a leader had many advantages, and I'll never forget the rewards of good memories, people, and adventures to treasure to this very day.
Writing of good people reminds me of the values of the Irish people. They were beyond anything I could ever conceive here in America. I could ask a person for directions or the time of day and often end up in long conversations with people who were no longer strangers at the end. In fact, sometimes it was hard to escape when you were walking to a lecture or on a day's travel to see some of the island. A loquacious woman named Ann told me all about Dublin, her son, the weather, her business that she owned and even taught me how to make Irish soda bread one Friday night I happened to stay at her bed and breakfast. Another example was my trips to my favorite shop for baking goods, Scoop and Save in city centre Limerick. Every time I walked in the store the man at the counter would start a friendly conversation beginning with the weather. Although sometimes I felt I was in a hurry and wouldn't like to be bothered, this man had a charm about him that made me stop whatever I needed to do for a few minutes and talk. It mystified me how he could stop people as they looked around his shop and simply started his conversations about the weather. It made me a patron, and I have and always will believe and follow one piece of his advice, "a little bit of friendliness can take you a long way." Ireland has a knack for being friendly to strangers. Being friendly to everyone is one of the special elements of Ireland. However, I was further enchanted by Irish values more amazing than my imagination allowed.
Throughout my year in Ireland I discovered the citizens were the most honest people I'd ever like to meet and be. One day I dropped a 5 pound note ($8.00) on the ground and a group of ladies behind me saw it fall. They ran up to a group of lads including me holding the note. The lady asked, "Hey lads, did any of you drop this?" I wasn't certain, but it was pretty sure it was mine. The other boys all declined the money, and I told the woman I believed it was mine, but I was not sure. She looked guilty, said it was probably mine, gave it back and carried on with her friends. It was just a minor situation and a small amount of money, but it was significant enough to impress me. That is just a minor scenario compared to the one I'm about to tell. One day, Pavlina, my International girlfriend left her wallet in our local supermarket. She was upset, as most people would be when they lost their wallet. Even more, she had over 130 pounds ($200 U.S. Dollars) that ironically she had never carried money like that in her wallet before the day. After my year of long experience there, I had no doubt in my mind that her wallet was safe at hand. When we arrived at the supermarket, we approached the clerk at the courtesy counter. Pavlina described her wallet, and soon after it was produced with all its contents. Somebody had turned in it with all its contents and money! What a country! If everybody in the world lived like this it would be a much happier place.
Days before I was about to return to my homeland, I was running down by the River Shannon by my university. An old woman that looked very dirty shouted out, " help me son, please help me." With my stubborn values from my urban life at home I assumed she needed money and in no condition to give her any with the light running gear on my body. In fact, I was a tad annoyed. However, as I investigated the poor woman, she was truly caked in dirt and holding onto a pole. I felt it would be decent of me to tell her I was sorry I didn't have any money, and instantly she corrected me on my foolish assumption. She told me, "No, I don't need money. Me legs don't work very well. Please help me." My attitude changing faster than a bolt of lightning, I followed her instructions and helped carry her over to a chair outside her home not 300 meters away. After I set her comfortably in her seat she praised me and repeatedly said, "God Bless you." I apologized for my stubbornness, and I continued on my run with a pleasant feeling and heightened sense of what I am and what I still needed to become. If anything, this goes to show how important it is to have an open mind in a foreign country. In the end, the rewards are immeasurable.
Ireland delighted me with its relaxed easy-going lifestyle, people, and values. From day one I knew I became a friend of the country, and now I embrace Ireland as a place of life where people are more honest, sincere, hospitable, and most importantly unique. In years to come, I will treasure the memories, adventures, and friends from the past. Ireland is like a bright sunny day ' you just can't get enough of it! One day I hope you, the reader, can reap it of its hidden treasures too.