Leaving Dublin for the last time was a bittersweet moment.
As I prepared to board the first of four planes that would eventually get me home to Australia, I felt a pang of sadness that surprised me. Looking at Dublin Airport fade away from my window seat, I was reminded of the first time I arrived here for my exchange at Trinity College Dublin, nine months ago, and what a different person I was then.
Exchange has definitely changed me for the better. In nine months, I experienced some of the best times of my life, but with the highs also came the lows. Here I want to share with you the challenges that come with living abroad, and what I learnt in my time away.
I didn’t expect to struggle with homesickness as much as I did in Ireland. I’ve been living alone in Sydney since I moved here for Boarding School aged 12. I’d become used to being away from home (or so I thought). But something about the time difference, and the idea that I couldn’t just fly home for a weekend, made this trip so much harder.
I was also terrified about making friends. Starting high school hadn’t daunted me because I always had my primary school friends. Starting at UNSW hadn’t daunted me because I always had my high school friends. But arriving in a new country, knowing no one, and being forced to do it all again from scratch? I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
What people don’t tell you about exchange is that, for me, the homesickness never really went away, it just dulled as I began to fit into my new life in Dublin. However, the making-friends situation turned out much better than I’d hoped. All of the Australians were living together in the same student accommodation (an apartment complex similar to UNSW Village). Together the 15 of us, plus friends from America, Canada, Denmark and Germany, became a big group. Every week we would explore Dublin’s live music pub scene, and every weekend we’d explore a different part of Ireland or Europe together. Together, our group explored Belfast, Amsterdam, Scotland, Prague, Poland and parts of Germany. Our weekend trip to Galway (pictured), are some of the best memories of my entire exchange.
And while I was grateful for the new friends, every day I would think about my old ones. I enjoyed the new Irish foods like potato bread and Irish Stew, but I missed my Vegemite and Milo. I loved the live music, the lack of lockout laws, and the Irish sense of humour. But I missed the warmer weather, the beaches, and the comfort of knowing Sydney like the back of my hand. I found a lot of happiness participating in the Trinity College theatre society, and playing soccer for Trinity at the Irish University Nationals. But at the same time, it made me reflect and appreciate how happy I was with UNSW Theatre Society (NUTS), and the UNSW Football club.
I don’t want to be one of those clichéd Instagram girls that say “Europe changed me” but it really did. Moving to a new city where I knew no one, and being forced to make new friends, was such a difficult, gratifying experience. It proved to my introverted, anxious self, that meeting new people doesn’t have to be as hard as I tell myself it is. By cooking for myself, learning new languages and backpacking solo across fourteen countries, I discovered an independence and bravery in myself that I hadn’t always acknowledged, but I now know it will always be there.
My mum has an expression, “Happy to go away, Happy to come home”, and that’s how I feel today. Exchange challenged me more than I expected but I am so, so glad I did it. I learnt a lot in my nine months abroad, but most importantly, it learnt to appreciate everything I missed while I was away, and to treasure the people close to me more than ever before.