A Semester Abroad, but Still in the Bubble
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 14:09
When people talk about the “Georgetown bubble,” I doubt they’re referring to the traditional Irish pubs or monuments mentioned in the works of James Joyce. But so far in my semester abroad here in Dublin, I’ve found that the bubble has somehow stretched across the Atlantic. While I’ve been studying at University College, Dublin, I’ve been living 15 minutes from campus in an apartment with two Georgetown and two Cornell students. I elected to live in an off-campus apartment near City Centre in order to immerse myself in the culture of Dublin. Ironically, however, I’ve found that even living here has not facilitated meeting many new people or absorbing Irish culture.
Thus far, I’ve spent my first few weeks primarily with the other Georgetown and Cornell students in my program. Getting to know these students is exciting, but in some ways, it makes me feel as though I am on vacation in Ireland.
Even though I’ve met some Irish classmates who live in my apartment building, we American students often run on different schedules than they do. Many Irish students hold weekend jobs in their hometowns outside of Dublin. Therefore, they rarely have time to socialize with us. I also assume that, just as there’s a limit to how often I’d want to visit the Smithsonian Museums, real Dubliners don’t have much interest in visiting Dublin Castle again with us visitors. It’s much easier to turn to Georgetown students for company on excursions to coastal Irish-speaking towns, the Blarney Stone or the much-loved Jameson Distillery. Practically, it makes sense to explore with other Georgetown students who are as new to the country as I am. Before I arrived, I knew few of the other Georgetown students studying here. Now, however, they are a familiar and comforting source of companionship.
When I decided to go abroad, I had a grand vision of all the trips I would take, sites I would see and stories I would get to tell back home — an attitude that was encouraged by Georgetown’s Office of International Programs. Pop culture and older classmates depict studying abroad as a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. This often makes me feel pressured to constantly be off doing something exciting and photo-worthy. To be honest, however, some of my happiest hours here have been spent alone, shopping for groceries and books or even just wandering through the city.
While studying abroad is more immersive than, say, a family vacation, there is still a fundamental difference between living somewhere as a temporary student and living there as a citizen. My American peers and I visit tourist sites, picturesque Irish villages and other European countries on my weekends — obviously not the hobbies of a typical resident. And, even at the end of these four months, I doubt I’ll be as comfortable here as I am in Washington, D.C.
This can be frustrating to students who feel let down by all the study abroad hype. But, if we can understand this difference, we can start to realize that we don’t need “full immersion” to have a worthwhile experience and that hitting every place mentioned in the travel guides isn’t the only way to enjoy a semester abroad. The bubble might form naturally, but it is neither inescapable nor necessarily detrimental to one’s experience.
My favorite place at Georgetown is the grassy hill between Village C East and New North. My favorite place here has become a secluded area of St. Stephen’s Green, a park near my apartment. Neither offers particularly brilliant views, but each is a simple part of my daily life and beautiful in a quiet way. Is this a better use of my time than constantly checking out tourist sites with other Georgetown students? Maybe not, but it is my way of “breaking the bubble.” In these quiet moments, I do feel both a connection to and love for Dublin beyond what I experience at landmarks like the Blarney Stone. I think that, just maybe, I am starting to feel, if not at home, then at peace in the city of Dublin.