The academic schedule at NUI-Galway is quite different from that of Madison. We began our courses at the very beginning of January and, rather than have a Spring Break, we went straight through until the end of March at which point, all classes were finished—for the semester!
So, when I turned in my final paper for the last class of the semester, I couldn’t help but think of the song, “School’s out for summer!…” And yet, somehow, as much as summer break had begun, the song didn’t seem quite right for the situation.
According to my iPod, the temperature was pushing 40 degrees with a strong wind chill. I was still pretending to uphold my Lenten promises as we hadn’t even hit Easter yet. And above all else, there were no “goodbyes” “HAGS” (Have A Great Summer), or promises to get together over the summer—because, we were going nowhere.
So here I am now, a few weeks into my “Summer Break” and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that the next time I walk into lecture will be in September in Vilas Hall. With all of this free time on my hands, and yet, so little time remaining in my Study Abroad experience, I am trying to make each day worthwhile. I had the opportunity to visit a lifelong friend studying in Rome and stay up late with new Irish friends laughing and telling jokes. But, ironically enough, the most meaningful part of my newfound freedom has not been my travels or Irish activities, but rather what has turned into my own rendition of Eat, Pray, Love, that is, what I consider my Read, Run, Reflect.
To fully explain the significance of this ritual, I am going to back track a month to when I had to come to terms with some constraints of study abroad that are not always discussed. It was the beginning of March and I had just about come to the end of my funds for travel or going out. I live far from town, the University campus and most of my friends. I realized that my ability to see Europe and even hang out with friends was quite limited. (Though, as evident from above, I have had some opportunities for these activities). It was still difficult though for me to compromise my expectations of “making the most of going abroad” with what I realistically could do with my time. I found myself frustrated and anxious. Rather than feeling empowered by the freedom of living in a new country, I felt more along the lines of helpless.
I recognized, however, that if I was letting myself head down a bad path, if I did not consciously make a change in my approach to making the most of this experience. So, if I could not travel all of Europe or go out every night in Galway, the least I could do is take advantage of my extra free time, which in itself is a luxury, to learn more about myself. This, is how I fell into my Read, Run, Reflect routine.
Over the past couple weeks I have spent my days reading novels I have always wanted to read, yet never had the spare time. I run by the bay and enjoy the crisp air and sights and sounds of pedestrians meandering along the promenade. Each night, I come home to read and catch up on correspondence with family and friends back home. From this simple schedule, I have been able to reflect and deeply think about what I have learned from being abroad. Like, that no one person’s experience should be compared to another. And it is not productive to hold oneself to any standard for what study abroad should be. When I set out on my trip to Ireland, I began my blog with the idea of “loving the journey.” A simple mantra, and yet a difficult one to fully embody. The key is, that journey is unpredictable, with challenges unforeseen. For me, I did not anticipate just how expensive traveling can be or how lonely I could feel in this distant place. Yet, it was these circumstances which allowed me to take time to myself I would not otherwise get in the hustle and bustle of my usual life at home. And so, I stand true to my original blog post three months ago and will continue, to love the journey.