It's funny how things turn out differently from what you expected.
For as long as I can remember it had been a dream of mine to go to Ireland. However, I didn't want it to be a short vacation where I spent my whole time seeing the usual touristy spots; I wanted to actually live there for an extended period of time which is why studying abroad was my best chance of making this dream come true.
The application process didn't seem real. Even after I was accepted and bought my plane tickets to get to Ireland, it never really "hit me" that it was actually happening. It wasn't until the week before leaving that I finally started to feel the pressure. I say pressure because, although I felt a large amount of excitement, I also understood that my friends and family were expecting me to have the experience of a lifetime. I was going to grow; I was going to come back a changed person. But what if that didn't happen? What if I didn't become best friends with all of my Irish classmates? What if I didn't get to see every single place on my list? What if I didn't have the experience that everyone was expecting me to have; the experience I had dreamed of for years?
Well, I didn't. I didn't have a large group of Irish friends. I didn't make it to all of the places on my list. I didn't have the experience that I imagined or that my friends and family imagined.
Instead, I had a couple close Irish friends and an absolutely amazing group of American friends that I met through the program. I've seen so many beautiful places that I never expected to see and had so many fantastic moments that, although small, are among my favorite memories. I had the experience that I never anticipated; the experience that I NEEDED.
The bond that I made with my friends is one that I can never fully describe; it is something that I can barely understand myself. There are no words to describe the love I had, and still have, for them even though I've been back in the states for several months now. Cork became my home and those friends became my family.
The memories I made in Ireland are amazing. From making "foam men" at the Giant's Causeway to playing with peach rings in our small Dean's Hall apartment, they range from grand to seemingly miniscule. But each of these memories has brought so much happiness to my life and has taught me how to see the beauty in every moment.
Without a doubt, I can honestly say that this experience made me realize just how brave, strong, confident, and genuinely happy I can be when I let myself live my life. I am a changed person, even if it isn't visible from the outside. This experience, the one I never expected to have, is a defining part of my young-adulthood.
I find it best to bring things back to the beginning, so I'll end with one of my first, and favorite, memories of Cork:
A bunch of soon-to-be friends sitting in a strange apartment, in a strange city, in a strange country watching "Frozen" as the words to "Let it Go" flood the room.
"It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all. It's time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through; no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free! Let it go, let it go..."