When I first landed, I had an apartment set up to live in and a key kindly hidden for me to have access to it. So what did I do? I dropped off my big suitcase, took a long nap, and traipsed across town with a backpack to check into a hostel for a few nights.
Logically, this didn’t make sense—why spend money to stay in a room full of snoring strangers when I could have an apartment to myself for a weekend? But for me, this was essential part of the plan.
Going to a country where I knew no one, I saw only a few options. The easy one—and it really is so easy—to follow the knee-jerk reaction and retreat from my foreign new surroundings. I was excited to be here, yes. But there was also an intimidating ledge I knew I had to cross and there was nothing from home on the other end.
"No, you're not missing anything. Yes you've made a good decision. Yes, you're having fun." I have never repeated the same things to myself so often.
I could’ve easily stayed in bed, solidly and comfortably connected to wifi, looking at everyone's newsfeed I'd already seen. But the best of both worlds is not being involved in one and absent in another. (Also, a certain Dumbledore quote kept hilariously reappearing in my head).
“This is it, this is what you wanted. You are here, be here.” I became my biggest cheerleader and I got out of bed.
Still, sitting in a corner of the hostel common room waiting to hear a familiar accent or make eye contact with someone that wasn't traveling in the socially impenetrable hordes of hip teen Europeans, was one of the more awkward situations I’ve yet to put myself in.
It's remarkably—and unsurprisingly—easy to remain alone in a country where you know no one. Which is great for the most part! But as the sun goes down, aimlessly wandering the streets becomes less fun and you find yourself thinking a beer at the bar might taste better with a shared conversation, even if it is in broken English.
“You're alone but this is IT! This is how you wanted it.” You remind yourself again, at dinner with no one beside you but your Kindle.
You could go home and tell everyone (and continue to tell yourself) “I did it! I was really there, soaking it all in, taking advantage of every opportunity.” You would later tell stories of spontaneously bizarre nights to office coworkers but only inwardly admit that maybe you could have tried harder.
Just as you’re giving in to this creeping discomfort, pretending to nap in the hostel bed and telling yourself once more that “This is it, you’re here”—someone comes in asking if you’ve been to the Book of Kells yet. And even though you visited it earlier that day, you’ll say yes.
You’ll say yes when a friendly New Zealander asks if you’d like to join him for dinner. (You’ll later say ‘no’ when he asks if you want to cuddle with him that night, but that’s neither here nor there). You’ll say yes when the Brazilian from breakfast asks if you’re going out that night, and “Sure, why don’t we invite the Portuguese couple staying in our room too?” You’ll see a flyer for a community choir in a bathroom of a cafe and show up to the first, second...the eighth rehearsal. It is easy to make plans when you have an empty calendar.
That initial knee-jerk reaction, the one pulling you like gravity to a wifi signal, the one blatantly reminding you how foreign everything is around you, how you still don’t understand why the crosswalks take so long and why was the man at the Garda station so rude!? That feeling will fade.
As various routes, landmarks, and people become familiar. As you no longer have to use Google maps everywhere you go. As you busy yourself with plans and ideas; internet tabs open with plane tickets purchased. In the way a gardener goes from one bed of flowers to another—minding each with a bit of water here, adjusting another to face the sun there—tending to each lil nugget of possibility to see what might grow. What kind of beautiful and twisted things you’ll be witness to or be a part of.
You’ll realize that these seeds you’re planting are sprouting roots. And you’ll see that you’re making a home.