The bond formed between people who’ve been plopped into a foreign country where they don’t know a single soul is pretty unique to the study abroad experience, and it’s the stuff of fairy tales. Allow me to explain.
So it’s a Wednesday like any other, no big deal. Except for the fact that you’ve just been traveling for 20 hours, you’ve only slept for about three of those hours, and all you’ve eaten is half a granola bar. You’re looking out the window of your taxi and trying to comprehend that all of the buildings and fields that you’re seeing are in a different country, that you’re in a different country. You arrive at your home for the next five months, a building you’ve never seen before, you’re handed a key, and shown to your apartment. You struggle to figure out how to unlock the door while keeping your suitcase from falling over. You can hear voices on the other side of the wall. The lock clicks and you push open the door, heart racing.
These are the people you’ve been wondering about for the past six months, the elusive people who you knew you’d be living with, but were unable to find any information on. Would they be American, Irish, or from another country entirely? Would they speak English? Would they be future lifelong friends? These were the most common questions I fielded from curious family members, and the ones that rattled around in my mind for months before I left, unanswered. As I walked down the narrow hallway of my apartment towards my new people, I thought I might keel over from the anticipation.
There were four girls perched on couches and chairs in our kitchen/living room, speaking in American accents. Their names were Jen, Erin, Shannon, and Liz, and they were as excited/freaked out by my presence as I was by theirs. Finally, the curtain was pulled back and the enigma revealed.
Now plenty of situations bring people together. There’s the commiseration of waiting in a long and drudgerous line at the post office when you really have to pee. (Especially if you both have to pee.) There’s the inexplicable joy of seeing someone you kind of know in a place you never think you’d see them. (In an airport, at the top of a mountain, in a public bathroom in Europe.)
Then there’s the study abroad experience. The people you meet here are the ones you rely on when you’re starting over. They’re the people standing next to you as you build a life for yourself in a brand-new place. They’re the people you wake up at 4 a.m. with to travel, the same people you stayed out until 2a.m. with the night before.
I had a few moments recently when I told myself that I’d gotten pretty lucky with my people. One was our Tuesday excursion to London to see one of my favorite bands.
We’d gotten up at four in the morning for our flight, and once our feet touched the ground in London, we were going nonstop. We posed with Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Winston Churchill (and friends.)
We all thought this was a great idea.
We imitated statues, to varying degrees of success.
One of our last stops before checking into the hostel at 3p.m. was Westminster Abbey. At this point we’d been awake and wearing backpacks for almost 12 hours, and a little part of me wanted to die. At least, my body did. My brain was too transfixed with what I was seeing to be anything but awe-struck.
I looked around and my roommates had similar hang-dog expressions on, but when I caught their eyes, they smiled and gave me the same this-is-awesome-I-can’t believe-we’re here face. When I asked the questions, do you guys want to fly to London on a Tuesday? At 6a.m.? To see a band I’m forcing you to listen to? I could only hope for a yes, and immediately, I got it. They followed me across the English Channel, all around London, and even into Westminster Abbey, (a detour I pushed hard for.) And even when we got there, they were just as willing to make the most of every minute, despite exhaustion. That day didn’t end until midnight, after the concert, and they laughed with me for all 18 hours of it.
The second time was during our Ring of Kerry weekend, which was basically three days of beautiful Irish landscapes, cliffs, mountains, waterfalls, and baby sheep.
Saturday night was both my roommate Shannon’s birthday, and my friend Bridget’s. We walked out of our hotel towards town in Cahersiveen, Country Kerry in search of birthday debauchery. We didn’t realize how small this town was until we got to the main street and realized that little to nothing was going on, but soon found a small pub with live traditional music. Within five minutes of our arrival, the man singing was taking our requests, and we were dancing with the locals. The average age of this pub was about 70, and the dancing was closer to ballroom style than anything we were used to. But we were welcomed like old friends, and we laughed into each other’s shoulders the whole time.
“We just danced with old-ass Irish ladies and it was pretty fun.” -Matt.
That weekend we were the first ones to the top of the mountain and the last ones to get back to the bus, every time. There were a few times each day that I felt lucky to be with people who knew how to make the most of standing on a rainy, windy mountain and dancing with elderly people on clumsy feet. Jen, Erin, Shannon, Matt, Tobin, and Zach, this one’s for you guys. #hannahandjulieabroad.