Lessons from Abroad

“Abroad changed me.”

…is the meme of junior year in a nutshell. As people wrap up their study abroad experiences in December or in May, there is always buzz as to how abroad “changed” everyone. The shy person became outgoing; the frazzled person learned how to organize; the uptight person relaxed; the sheltered person developed wanderlust. We joke about it in Apartment 20, but the truth is, I have watched my friends grow. The untrusting have had to rely. The scared have had to face fears. The emotional have had to hold it together. I’m proud and excited for them! It brings me a lot of joy to be there on this journey.

I had some fear coming abroad that I wasn’t going to take anything besides new friends and countries off a bucket list (two great things, I might add). I’m not scared of traveling alone or handling stressful situations. I trust people. I am confident and sure of myself. The conventional “lessons” you hear taken home from time studying abroad felt like things I had either garnered from previous experiences or inherited from my parents (Dad = fearless, level-headed; Mom = logical, strong). Not taking home a trait certainly doesn’t make my time in Cork regrettable, but I like to feel like I am picking up things as I move through this world; growing and evolving into myself. It took some serious reflection, but I do think there are things I am learning/could learn from my semester in Ireland.

Need for stimulation

Not only do I have trouble sitting still, but I have trouble doing anything that doesn’t offer some shot of adrenaline. I love a thrill. Traveling somewhere just to walk the streets? I would rather rent a car, drive to the hidden gems, and end up in crazy shenanigans. I don’t know if this is necessarily a bad thing- I love having stories to tell- but I want to be able to feel peace in the simple things too. I want to find joy in being a casual tourist. I want to find happiness in some stillness, instead of feeling the need for constant stimulation. PS. Audrey & Kate we are still going to find the Indonesian boonies this summer, don’t worry.

Relying on myself as a friend

I love time by myself. I like the independence. But there is something about ending my day on the phone that I’ve grown really attached to. I feel the need to recap my day with a friend; it makes me feel cared for. It’s not something that I want to stop doing, but I do want to be less reliant on it. Paulina, you can recap your day all by yourself. You don’t need the affirmation of anyone else.

Constructing my identity- once again

The hardest part of school last year was the reinvention of my identity after switching roles from first-year. No longer doing Student Government was a real hit to who I saw myself as, and it took awhile to figure out where my new place in my little world would be. Now abroad, I have a similar feeling. I don’t have my Delilahs or my SGA friends or even my group of homies in the same way I did at home. Here, I am with a lot of people who don’t know me in those roles. I once again am going through the process of fitting myself into the context of this new situation. It’s a process I’m not sure will ever get easier, but it does help me in continuing to find myself. Having to teach other people who I am forces me to think deep about who I really am and what I want to be identified with.

This weekend I am going BACK to Spain (thank goodness, bring me sun) to meet up with one of my best friends. It has been a long 4 months; see you so soon, Brendan!

Never Giving Up, Sometimes Letting Go

Last weekend was my first trek outside of Ireland since arriving; Vanessa, Emma, Meghan, Lizzy and I flew to Alicante, Spain. We were eager to trade the rain for sun and warmth. In typical “I can’t do normal tourist things, I must adventure” Paulina fashion, we rented a car, something I’ve been excited for since I express shipped myself an international drivers license last month. After two days of gradually less populated adventures, our last hurrah in Spain consisted of GPS coordinates, no cell service, and directions to follow a river. I had read on a traveler’s blog that there was a river that pooled in a canyon, forming a deep watering hole perfect for swimming. After driving about 1.5 hours into central Spain and over a few mountains, we found our river. I parked on the side of a road, no life in sight, and we headed off.

Naturally, truly thinking no one else existed in these Spanish boonies, I squatted right down to pee. That’s when we met our first travelers- young and male I might add. Very cute.

The first path we took, we lost the river. Turn around, try again. The second path we took looked promising. I had read that this adventure involved some walking through a “peaceful bamboo forest” and we found a bunch of bamboo stalks in the river. Thinking maybe a path opened up ahead, we began walking, in our sandals, IN the river forest. 10 minutes later it was decided that may not be the path. Turn around, try again. Now we walked all the way back to the original coordinates and reassessed. Perhaps the other side of the river was more promising? We began walking. Hit dense forest. Turn around, try again. Maybe we follow the river upstream and not down? Turn around, try again. I think it was Lizzy who then suggested we try the other set of coordinates- the ones that signaled the end- and work our way backwards. Back in the car. With no cell service we couldn’t use our phones to find said coordinates. Luckily our rental car was bougie and had its own satellite. After 20 minutes of figuring out how coordinates are typed, it came up to say our destination was 20 km away. Well, that didn’t make sense. I started driving for the heck of it and by some miracle my phone caught 3G. Trusty Google Maps said our destination was a few km away (much more promising) and there we went. Once again on the side of a road, next to a river, we walked.

So at this point, morale is low. We are on hour 3 of this river trek. No one has eaten more than a doughnut and had a cup of water since 8:30 AM. I was DETERMINED not to fail in finding this canyon hole because dammit we had already had a failed pink lake bug attack that morning and a part of me knew I would never be granted boonie day again if it didn’t deliver on something interesting. I consistently ran ahead, found something I could convince was a promising sign we were close, and ran back to alert everyone to keep coming. Finally, after walking through more rivers, pushing past a few spiked bushes, and running into some Spanish elders, we found it. Victory.

It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped adventure day would look like, but afterwards we found a roadside restaurant and a nude beach and spirits were lifted. I am proud we didn’t give up.

All of this had me reflecting on perseverance. It’s a big, classic attribute like “strength” and “bravery” and “kindness” that we are constantly told to have. In this instance, perseverance worked. But there have been other abroad moments when I needed not to keep pushing, but to let go.

Like this one time when I was trying to fit through a tiny door. The double doors in our apartment complex are very strange and one of them is split with about 7/8 of the door on one side and 1/8 of the door on the other. I so badly wanted to fit through the tiny side, but after lots of pulling and pushing I ended up with a bruised body. The door caused me pain and if I would just let the dream go, the pain would heal. Could I have kept pushing? Really shoved myself through that tiny door? Probably. But it would have hurt. It was smarter to give that up.

But that feels counter-intuitive. If you really, really want something, you should pour your energy into making it work, right? You should not take no for an answer? Even if working for that thing causes you immense pain?

I haven’t figured out the line to this, if there is one. I nearly always want to take the pain and never want to give something up, trivial or major. Yet here I am, still alive, and never having made it through that stupid tiny door. Maybe I will try again later, or maybe I will find another door that wants to be opened.

16 Personalities

On the bus home from our last Archeology field trip- Galway, Burren and the Aran Islands- I remembered to ask one of my favorite questions to my new friends: what are your personality letters? As usual, most people don’t know, and as usual, I insist everyone in my vicinity take the quiz (16personalities.com) and let me know their type so I can note it in their contact on my phone. It is a tool I adopted knowing my own desire for boxes and explanations; reading about someone’s type helps me understand the way they think and, I believe, be a better, more empathetic friend.

Cam and Lizzy are INFPs (same as my bff @Audrey), Megan shares my ESTJ, Grace is an ISTJ and Meghan is an ENFP. All three of my roommates here (Tara, Vanessa, and Emma) are ESFJs. The usual discussion ensued as people read through the descriptions and either found them scarily accurate or only moderately true. What was interesting was the amount of overlap among our letters. With 16 possible combinations, you would think it would be rare to have 2, 2, and 3 of the same in a group of 9. Tara brought up an interesting point: how similar ARE her, Emma, and Vanessa? Or Cam and Lizzy? Or me and Megan? How much do our letters describe who we are?

A relatively common personality type (hi Lauren, this is your type too!), ESFJs are popular, caring, easy to get along with, and sensitive. Emma, Vanessa, and Tara all fit this bill. But in many ways, they are vastly different. Emma has a quieter side; she loves a good book. She has a competitive streak. Vanessa shares my love for scary movies and is always up to try new foods. She is extremely flexible and can go with the flow. Tara is the life of the party, much more talkative than the formers. She is the best shopper I’ve met. Sure, they have a lot in common, but I wouldn’t peg them as the same.

I have been addicted to the Meyers Briggs personality letters since I first read my own ESTJ description a few years ago. I was shocked at the way it seemed explain everything about myself in eloquent, simple language. ESTJs are “valued for their clear advice and guidance, and they happily lead the way on difficult paths;” “they stick to their principles and push an unclouded vision of what is and is not acceptable.” They are dedicated, strong-willed, honest, and excellent organizers, but are also prone to being judgemental, inflexible, and uptight. Those words gave me a perfect little box to place myself in. I was an ESTJ.

In high school, I would have said I embodied nearly every inch of my characterized “executive” personality. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve become much more daring. I can see grey in the world. I don’t tend to follow rules I don’t agree with. I love some spontaneity and adventure. In others words, I’ve become a bit less ESTJ. My rigid box is more of a general outline; I still feel strongly about my described letters, but I am looser in the interpretation.

I think Myers Briggs is a baseline. It is our most natural state. It is our tendency, without outside influences. The Paulina still largely unexposed to the world truly stuck in those letters, but the Paulina with some life experience looks different. And since my life experience is different than any other ESTJ- we form in unique ways. We take different paths, even if our default, untouched state is the same.

I made a conscious decision (after lots of learning and guidance) to be less inflexible. I decided I didn’t want to be so rigid. In the wise words of Mary Oliver, “I [didn’t] want to end up simply having visited this world.” My experiences and effort made me better at the things I am not “built” good at, like a lack of structure or alone time. Yes, I am an ESTJ. Reading any description of an ESTJ will tell you a lot about me, but it won’t explain everything. I have some control over my traits and because of that, I can be progressive and emotional. I can break rules and abandon projects. I am capable of growth.

Tara, Emma, and Vanessa all live different lives with different families and friends. As do Megan and I, and Cam and Lizzy. Though things would be easier if knowing 4 letters meant you could predict a person’s every decision or thought-process, it would also make humankind a lot less colorful. Only 16 different people roaming the world? Innovation would plummet. Creativity would cease to exist. It is not a reality I would wish for.

Yes, I will still ask about those 4 letters- they are a fascinating peek into the way our minds work- though, I remind my black and white inclination, it is important to ask a lot more.*

*I suppose I will never escape cheesy HC slogans!

Check. Next.

  • Graduate high school in the top 10.
  • Get into the perfect college for me and go there.
  • Set up a group of lifelong friends.
  • Pick a major.
  • Study abroad.
  • Pick a career.
  • Get married.
  • Be a mom.
  • Etc.

Check, check, check, next: the endless loop in my brain reminding me that it is time to accomplish one thing, push it aside, and tackle what comes after. It is systematic and orderly and seems to offer a clear path to all of the things I have envisioned myself doing and being. With a list, you can’t get lost. With a list, you can’t miss something. But that list is as dangerous as it is satisfying.

Through high school and the beginning of college, I was a rigid, black and white thinker. I didn’t enjoy traveling (too stressful); I didn’t enjoy cities (too overwhelming); I didn’t enjoy nights out (too loud, and drunk people are unpredictable); I was even- brace yourself- the CONSERVATIVE Martin. All that rigidness and fear of the world was not cute. College was exactly what I needed. I, relatively quickly, relaxed. I am now a proud adrenaline junkie with a consistent urge to flee the US. That said, I haven’t fully let go of my roots. It’s not so much that I’ve become immune to stress, but that I have accepted the variation in certain situations. I’ve had travel plans change, spent time in cities, and been out enough times that I no longer fear it. I understand when the overwhelm is coming and I lean in. It’s a familiar wave; I know that if I brace my body and hold my nose, the water will come crashing down in a way that is almost fun. Look at me- I am adventurous and smart and strong and external forces don’t throw me.

It’s the seemingly big, uncontrollable, uncertain change- the change not part of the understood footnotes in the list- that still gets me. And because I can’t anticipate that change and/or plan my way out, I worry about it. What if I don’t get the internship I want next semester? Then maybe I won’t be set up for the right career path and I won’t follow the list. What if I haven’t found “the one” by 35? Then maybe I won’t be married and I won’t follow the list.

But the worrying is nearly useless. I don’t know what will happen, and bringing stress to myself about it now certainly doesn’t change the inevitable outcome. Around this time last year, on Holy Cross’ silent retreat, one of the chaplains talked about our “white-knuckle” grip on the steering wheel of life. She suggested not that we take our hands off the wheel altogether, but that we loosen our grip. We should guide our lives, but sometimes be ready to gently swerve, or to let a higher power move us. This is abroad. There are too many variables; I can’t micromanage here and home and my relationship and friendships around the world. What I can do is what I have always done: follow my instincts. I will know if something is off-kilter. I will know if it is time for a 180 degree turn.

I don’t want my life to be a never-ending series of tasks. Each stage must be lived. And life means laughter and heartbreak and gratitude and tears. We shouldn’t be able to fit our stories into lists.

Being Ourselves vs. Growth

I adore my own company. A self-proclaimed extrovert, I do love a good gathering and the excitement of friends, but at the end of a social day, there is nothing I love more than time to read, think, and sleep. My MO through college has been to show up to the pre-game (if you’re in Ireland, it’s called prinks) and dip as everyone else heads “off-campus;” the perfect mix of conversation and an early night.

With the new semester kickoff and everyone eager to make new friends, there have been lots of nights where The Spires kids get together to go out. To stay in for my own happiness or to go out for my social growth: that is the question. I am a firm believer in sticking to your gut, in knowing your needs and not letting the all-powerful fear of missing out tell you to be in a space you know you’d rather not be in, but there is also the nagging feeling that part of being abroad is being uncomfortable. Staying up late and skipping my routines, especially with each day already being so full of newness, is certainly uncomfortable.

This past week I got sick, which made the decision to skip the parties that much easier, but it brought up the point to be considered going forward. Part of the Irish culture is to have a good time (aka to drink & dance & sing) throughout the weekdays. I love and appreciate the ability to have work and play, but I am exhausted just thinking about a T-Th party. There is a balance to be had for sure, and each day I want both to push myself, but also to stay true to my own pockets of joy. Maybe that will mean walking home from the bar early (chill Mom, it’s a safe city) or maybe that will mean skipping some nights, or maybe, just maybe, I will turn into a raging partier. Time will tell.

We took an overnight trip to Dublin with our Irish Archaeology class this past week and after a long day of exploring, our professor gave us the option to come out to a local pub. Though I was ready to sleep, I took the opportunity along with every other student. It ended up being a beautiful night of good music and laughs; I would have truly missed out had I not gone. But on Sunday, after essay writing and escaping a room*, I was glad to spend a quiet few hours with my computer, my family, and my best friend back home. It meant missing social stuff here, sure, but I otherwise would have missed something equally as worthy and deserving of my time.

In the spirit of being ourselves, this week I am aiming to wake up with my podcasts, spend time grinding a paper in the library, and make it back into town to shop by myself. Blissful.

*not to interrupt the flow of thought, but ESCAPE ROOMS ARE MY FAVORITE and I LOVE my roommates for doing it with me. 10/10. Highest rating on the Tesco scale.

Well, this is overwhelming.

I am currently plopped on the couch in my apartment, hungry as can be, hoping that I in fact do have groceries coming as scheduled. But since I don’t understand the Irish courier system, reception closes at 2 PM, and I simply have no other food, let’s use this time to put the last week into words.

I flew out of BOS with Tara & Emma (thank GOODNESS for friends) on Wednesday, August 14, and landed in Cork after a layover in Paris on Thursday. Let me tell you, we marched on like soldiers after missing a night of sleep. We were able to get bedding, toiletries, and a few groceries before we retreated home for takeout pizza and an early bedtime. On first glance, Cork is a humble but exciting city. We also met the 4th roommate in our apartment, Ms. Vanessa Kelly, whom I give thanks for every day at our high-low-kudos session.

Friday brought orientation and our first night out. In true Paulina fashion, I danced my butt off on Old Oak’s empty dance floor. Over the weekend we experienced hurling, attempted (succeeded? failed?) to mingle with other international students, and had a Tesco EXPERIENCE. Food shopping is beyond stressful. If it wasn’t for Tara’s quick thinking, we would have taxied home with a 50 euro pot. Apartment 20 was scarred, but we will persist.

Our program is set up to include an Early Start class which meets each weekday for 3 weeks- myself and the other HC students are enrolled in Irish Archaeology. The class has been pretty relaxed and we have a few field trips around the country coming up. Starting school was a welcome piece of comfort; I feel at home around books and papers and homework.

If I could sum up the last 5 days, overwhelming would be it. Adulting is hard, adulting in Ireland adds a new twist. That said, I have an AMAZING set of ladies to take it on with (Tara is currently cooking the apartment a dinner far beyond my capabilities, xoxo to you), and many more wonderful people at home lifting me up. Updates to come on the adventure.

UPDATE: the groceries arrived. 2 hours late. This is Irish time.