By Julia McAlpine
When I signed up to study in Ireland, I thought I was making a mistake. It was an overnight decision, it would encroach on my senior year and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to study abroad; I figured I’d travel after graduation or marriage, or after my kids’ marriages. I’d get around to it. But I wanted to test the words of Dublin writer Oscar Wilde, who once said “Most people die of a creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
I’d been out of the country before with my family, but we spent our time holding maps to our faces, or pushing through crowds to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa or some other tourists’ holy grail. I couldn’t wait to see what it’d be like to live like a local in another country.
I stayed in an apartment complex that catered to the student community in Dublin. The location was great (a 15-minute walk to Trinity College where I was studying), but the conditions of the residency were sub-par, to put it lightly. The apartment was rattled with first-world problems: The hot water didn’t last for more than seven minutes, our mattresses were lumpy, and the Internet worked less than half the time. The oven was probably the first oven ever built and we couldn’t tell if we were hearing the water heater or a banshee.
My flat-mates were all American girls, and because of the UC orientation, I started my trip with various other American contacts. At first it seemed unadventurous, but having that American home base proved to be really comforting, especially whenever we missed what we joked were “‘merican” things (i.e. large refrigerators, ranch dressing, free refills, cowboys). Like fellow Anteater Erika Reece would lament, “All I want to do right now is watch a baseball game with a beer and a hotdog. I don’t even do that!”
One ‘merican reminder we encountered frequently was that of President Obama. Obama is one-fourth Irish and visited family in the Irish countryside recently, so his picture seemed to be on everything. The most hilarious example we found was at a late-night kabob joint where a huge picture of Obama was sandwiched between “Welcome to” and “Toni’s Diner.”
It was great having a mix of students in the apartment complex. We had loud Spanish neighbors that would play what they considered to be pranks on us (i.e. showing up at our door wearing only boxers, Nutella smeared on their stomachs, asking for bread). I could go to a pizza party hosted by a French girl, or drink with Irish guys from the country who had needed a place to stay close to their campus. I even tried traditional Swiss cuisine and practiced my German with my Swiss neighbors.
Some of the food trends in Ireland were not to our liking. The Irish like mayo, more than anyone ever should. And it seemed that raisins ended up in everything. But we gorged ourselves on Cadbury chocolate and freshly baked scones. We drank a lot of Bulmer’s hard pear cider and definitely ate our fair share of fries (which you were supposed to dip in — you guessed it — mayo).
Being in a new place and so open to meeting others put me in a lot of unique environments and situations. I became good friends with my local Starbuck’s barista in Dublin who took me under his wing. One night, he invited me to go out with his friends.
“Now, let me know if you feel at all uncomfortable and I’ll wave down a taxi for you,” he told me as soon as we met up. Turns out we were going to a biker bar to meet up with his tattoo artist and metal-head friends. I thanked the heavens that I wasn’t wearing pink, and spent the night playing pool and drinking beer with a bunch of tattooed Irish men in leather jackets. They serenaded me with every song about California they could think of, and put their arms up and shouted my new nickname, “Cali,” whenever I entered the room.
My last weekend in Ireland, I stayed a night with my Irish friend Alanna at her family’s home in the small town of Clane. Part of me thought that an Irish family would lead a drastically different life, but visiting her family felt like home. The house reminded me of Number Four Privet Drive, only instead of a grumpy Aunt Petunia, I was greeted by Alanna’s hospitable mother, who made us a wonderful Italian dinner and served it on Ikea dishes I happen to own as well. The house was decked out for Christmas, and Alanna’s little sisters flit about the house, eager for the finale of X-Factor. Alanna and I retreated to her bedroom, which was covered in band posters, to watch a Ryan Gosling movie and episodes of New Girl.
On my daily walk to school, I passed by a whole slew of pubs, but there was one that didn’t catch my eye until my trip abroad was almost through. It was down an alley, tucked away behind a grocery store, and I wondered how, after all my trips to school, I’d never noticed it. A few days later, one of my friends suggested going there. “Is it any good?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she smiled, “but Oscar Wilde used to drink there!”