Story by Hridayam Agarwal | firstname.lastname@example.org
I spent the last 18 years of my life in Mumbai, India. The thrill and excitement of studying abroad and living independently pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and apply to the USA for further studies. My admission letter from Northeastern University had a twist attached to it. I was enrolled in their NU.in program, which required me to study abroad for my first semester of freshman year. Committing to Northeastern was a difficult decision, but knowing its undergraduate program would offer me more than in class learning alone was worth the risk. Its courses, co-op program, clubs, location and general reputation convinced me to accept their offer.
Although I barely knew anything about Dublin, I was extremely glad to chose Dublin as my semester abroad location. After going through a lengthy procedure of acquiring an Irish Student Visa in India, I was Dublin bound.
Leaving family and friends behind was hard, but I knew I had to start my freshman year with an open mind. I have had the same set of friends for as long as I can remember, and I never had to make any effort to introduce myself. However, upon my arrival in Dublin, I had nothing in mind. No ideas and no rehearsed introductions. Transitioning into a life in a new country, alone, was going to be difficult.
I arrived in Ireland a week prior to the program with my parents. They wanted to see if this foreign country would be able to adopt me and help me adapt to a new life. We explored Dublin entirely, making me well acquainted and familiar with a few streets and areas before my program began.
Despite the fact that the first few weeks flew by, they were quite eye opening. I was so excited to be there that the five and a half hour time difference between Mumbai and Dublin had no impact on me. However excited I may have been emotionally, mentally, I was lost. Coming from a culture where many of my chores were done for me, transitioning into adulthood so quickly, and in Ireland, was extremely difficult for me. My new flatmates were astounded to learn that I was lost when it came to grocery shopping, making my bed, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.
Although I was slightly helpless at first, I took the initiative to quickly adapt to my new routine.
Our host university, Dublin Business School, had so many centers and buildings that even though we had Google maps, the first few weeks of classes were mayhem. Regardless of the initial confusion, DBS was a great and unique start to my undergraduate academic experience.
Compared to India, where everything is rigid and formal, the courses, professors, grades and study environment in Dublin were extremely different, yet comforting. The coordinators of the program, as well as the professors at DBS, all prioritized my comfort level and needs. Their causal and friendly approach to everything gave me a sense of comfort and a platform to express myself without any hesitation.
Culture shock was bound to hit me. It was the Irish bathing system, electricity, pub culture and general attitude of people that was most difficult for me to adjust to. However, the culture shock was well worth it. Ireland is an extremely welcoming country where people are humble, spontaneous, and extremely funny. They converse in English, so there was no need for me to learn Gaelic. Yet, I’ve caught hold of a few words and phrases in history class and while using the Luas local transportation system.
As opposed to travelling by private cars back home, walking became a daily and healthy part of my lifestyle. Long walks to various places pushed me to engage in conversations, connect with the other NU.in students, and see Dublin in an entirely different light.
I was given the opportunity to be a social media volunteer at the Ballybough Youth Project along with two other NU.in students for eight weeks. I was appreciated for the work I did, whether it was the activity calendar I made, the Halloween quiz for the students or simply, uploading pictures on their Facebook page – they were always grateful. I realized the impact I had made on the lives of the children, which definitely uplifted my sense of self worth. Endless walks to the BYP center earned me two friends, and all the obstacles we faced will be nothing but memories to reminisce. BYP also helped give me a holistic picture of Dublin as I indirectly gained a strong understanding of the hidden, less known facts of Dublin, its people and culture through all the work I did and the colleagues I spoke to.
It was exciting and thrilling to meet so many different people: every conversation and memory I had, has enriched me and given me an insight into their lives. This doesn’t only apply to the Irish individuals I met, but the Northeastern students as well. Thanks to the NU.in program, I made a range of friends. Although everyone is so different, we’ve all shared this experience that will keep us bonded forever.
I feel that the more I travel, see and experience, the more connected I feel with the world. Now having left Ireland, I feel I’ve become a more active participant of this world. My perception of foreign countries was originally shaped by what I saw and heard in movies, TV shows and the news. Even as I’ve travelled across the world, staying in Dublin for three months has shaped and broadened my horizons tremendously.
This semester has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn and have experiences that will last a lifetime (be it hiking, trekking, rafting, surfing, going for plays, for the husky hunt or just simply connecting at the monthly family dinners and events in and around Dublin). In the midst of coursework, events and trips, there was barely any time left to miss home.
The initial awkward conversations about myself and my country helped me to realize the pride I feel about where I come from. Each day, I am evolving as I am learning. This semester has been a great stepping-stone for the remainder of my college life. Everything I have learned in those three months will help me in the future, especially now, when I am suddenly surrounded by thousands of students rather than the familiar hundred.
I would like to thank my NU.in FIE@DBS 2015 family for the amazing three months that will be embedded in my mind forever. Leaving Dublin after making it my home was extremely difficult. It is a part of me that I will never let go. One day, I hope to make the entire world a part of me too; maybe then I’ll wholly appreciate the gift of life.