Welcome to Dublin. Grab your panda.

By Shelby Devitt

I was never one of those kids who cried at summer camp.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be home; I just liked the idea of being somewhere else for a while. I was only ever gone a week or two, but I witnessed enough Girl Scouts having meltdowns to understand that not everyone was as cool with not seeing their mom and dog for seven days as I was. Besides, I usually had a couple friends or my sisters around if I needed familiarity. Last Thursday, I left the country for the first time, alone.

I’m in Dublin, Ireland, for a month, studying at Trinity College with other NIU students (none of whom I know). However, from the flight out of O’Hare to my weekend in a hostel, I’ve been on my own, and it’s been a shock.

Other than being a perpetual 50 degrees, Ireland is not much different from home. People speak English. I understand the currency. I can find anything I need. When I can’t, people are polite and helpful. I’ve eaten amazing food, taken great walks, hung out with some Americans, seen beautiful things and felt safe the entire time. All the same, there have been moments on this trip where I wind up burrowed in my blanket from home, wishing I was in my own bed with reliable Internet and phone access to contact those I’m closest to, feeling overwhelmed and pathetic.

On my first day, I had a minor freak-out and was ready to run for the airport. Thankfully, one of my oldest friends was online, and before I started clicking my heels, she reassured me that not only am I living out a great opportunity, I am attractive and friendly and prefer being fun and ambitious to being a coward in a hostel bunk bed.

A few things have helped me deal with my unexpected homesickness. First, I drag myself from the mire of misery by reminding myself that I am in a country I have wanted to visit since I was seven years old and I’ll have plenty of time and reason to mope when I’m back in DeKalb.

Secondly, I take a little time each day to let myself be comforted by familiar things, but not long enough that I become useless. I listen to my favorite songs that remind me of home, watch an episode of Community, and cuddle up. Yes, I am a 22-year-old woman with adult responsibilities and debt and car problems and a job in an office with a water cooler, and yes, I brought my stuffed panda bear and favorite blanket to Europe. I regret nothing. It’s keeping me sane.

Afterward, I immediately get out of bed and go outside. I’m learning to appreciate and grow from being alone rather than dread it. There’s so much more of Ireland I’m determined to experience, and letting fear and loneliness win is a waste of my life. Adventure cannot exist without risk.