When I first arrived in Cork with my Croatian boyfriend, we hadn’t a clue how we were going to make it. We were staying in a run-down bed and breakfast outside of the city. We didn’t have jobs or an apartment. I began to question why I fought so hard to get a working-visa to come to Ireland in the first place.
Despite this, we decided to spend our first night in Cork at the legendary Oliver Plunkett Bar. I stepped into the Irish pub like seemingly any other American tourist listening to the live cover band. But as I began to lose myself in the energy of the live music and friendly locals, I felt like everything was going to be okay. I started to think there was a place for me in Cork.
Short of a year later, I found myself in the same pub on my last night out in Cork. This time, I wasn’t with my boyfriend. I was with two of my closest friends, among several that I had made over the past months.
I taught myself how to navigate Irish bureaucracy and adulthood, first with my partner, and then on my own. I successfully helped run a study abroad summer program on top of mastering the art of working in a fast paced international education office. Most of all, I was leaving with countless of memories and adventures across the Emerald Isle.
I closed my tear-filled eyes, and in that moment, I felt that I really did create something for myself here. I created a home.
Although I’ve decided to close the chapter on Ireland a few months short of my Irish working visa ending, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel bittersweet about leaving. I have Ireland to thank for some of the most valuable life lessons in my young adult life.
Here are the 5 things I learned from my time living in Ireland
1. I learned how to have a better attitude
I’m not going to lie; making it in Ireland was tough. First I told myself things would be easier once I got my working visa. Then I told myself it would get easier after I got there. Then I told myself it would get easier after I got settled with an apartment and job.
But the truth is, each stage presented a new set of challenges for me. Even once I was finally settled, I still found myself having to adjust to subtle cultural differences and the constant rainy weather.
But I took notice as my Irish friends and co-workers were always so chipper and happy-go-lucky. Even after walking in the downpour rain into work on a Monday morning, they still had a smile on their face. I noticed how they just did their job instead of saying anything negative about it.
While I myself am much more upfront than the Irish I’ve met, they did teach me an important lesson: your attitude is everything. Seriously. Having a positive attitude and a little sense of humor can drastically change your life and productivity. And this is a legacy that the Irish are known for.
Especially over the past summer, I noticed a huge change in myself, almost as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. This attitude adjustment really taught me to become more resilient through challenges. Most of all, it transformed the relationship I have with myself.
2. I learned how to count every penny
Sometimes I couldn’t help but chuckle when at group outings, everyone made sure to pay the EXACT amount they owed. Or if a friend reminded me I owed them 8 euros and 40 cents. I found that the Irish are extremely frugal-minded, which was something I always lacked.
For the first time in my young-adult life, I got serious about budgeting. The cost of living (especially rent) can be quite high, so I literally had to count every penny. Even while taking a road trip around Ireland, I learned to do so on a budget.
By the end of my time in Ireland, I had cut my online shopping habits in half (a work in progress) and just enough of savings to get by and take me on short get-a-ways here and there. And financial balance is something that’s priceless.
3. I learned how to be more open-minded to other cultures
Considering the fact that my boyfriend and most of my closest friends are not American, I find that I’m generally pretty open-minded to other cultures than my own. However, I’ve become much more experienced since living in Ireland.
Yes, working with students in an international office was very much a daily cultural exchange. But I think I learned the most from living in a house with four other people, two of which were American, and two of which were from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Myself included it was three men and two women.
When I first moved in, I couldn’t understand why my housemate was only eating really late at night. Then I realized he was practicing Ramadan. I asked my other roommate about Dubai, only realizing that is in U.A.E and NOT Saudi Arabia. And also realizing I was being the ignorant American I thought I wasn’t.
But despite us all being from totally different cultures, our values, beliefs and habits were all surprisingly similar. Everyone was extremely respectful towards one-another. They were the best housemates I’ve ever had.
The blend of worldly spices coming from that kitchen is an aroma that I will always miss.
4. I learned how to be on my own
As I discussed in a previous post, about half way through my time in Ireland, my boyfriend and I had to make a tough decision. He really needed to leave Ireland, but I wanted to stay.
That turning point really threw my life in Ireland for a shuffle. And after I came back from my mom’s wedding in Croatia, I felt more alone than I have in my entire life.
However, after a few weeks I bounced back and really began to own being on my own. For the first time, I was living in a country by myself, and could do anything I wanted. I tried to pour my heart out into work and making lasting connections around Cork, and it paid off.
I not only learned how to thrive on my own, but I learned how to enjoy it. It made me realize that I need to put myself first above all at this time in my life, and there’s nothing wrong with being my own best friend.
5. I learned how to navigate international adulthood
As if adulting isn’t hard enough, international adulthood has another layer of complexity. It’s a combination of bureaucracy steps, cultural integration, and perseverance.
The added complexity is not always glamorous. Some days, it sent me into a spiral of anxiety feeling like I have no real security. But on other days, it gives me the opportunity to go on adventures and grow in a capacity I know that I personally wouldn’t have in the states.
I have Ireland, and all of the people within it, to thank for teaching me how to master the art of work/life balance along my journey of international adulthood.
It’s been now 10 days since I’ve returned to Croatia. I currently sit at a nearby hotel, sipping my tea as the sunsets on the Adriatic (can’t complain). But this time, I asked for milk and sugar, something the Irish taught me.