When I was 19, I hopped aboard a plane to Cork, Ireland. I had no job lined up for me when I arrived, no permanent residence, and no contacts. It was just me, my best friend from high school, my suitcases, and a mind full of curiosity, inspiration, and hope.
I dropped out of college after my first year because I felt that Ireland — my father’s homeland — called to me. Its rolling green hills, friendly faces, and mystical heritage were alluring enough to cause me to sort through everything I owned and decide to keep only enough to fit into two suitcases, while leaving my former life behind. Because my father and mother had educated my sisters and me so thoroughly about the music, language, art, literature, history, and folklore of Ireland, I felt that it was where I belonged, and I was determined to build a life there. I imagined all of my happiness could be realized once I lived on that little green island.
Even though I didn't have any college education or any skills besides baby-sitting and smoothie-making, my positivity and determination landed me a job as an office administrator at a fortune 500 company in Cork City. Even though we didn't have a plan on where to reside in Ireland, my friend and I found an apartment we could rent weekly, until we found a permanent residency. We didn’t have any friends or family in Cork City, either, but we quickly developed a circle of friends, and I even had a serious romantic relationship.
My friend left Ireland to return to Chicago months before I decided to finally return home as well. During my 11-month residency, I learned more than I would have during eight years of college. Here are seven things I learned while I on my seemingly permanent journey:
1. No matter where you go, you can’t get away from yourself.
I expected that life would suddenly become magical — I would suddenly be filled with happiness and enlightenment. Running away, however, doesn’t solve anything. Even though moving to Ireland aided in my self-discovery, it didn't instantly solve my internal issues: my anger, sadness, self-criticism. Once I realized that life in Ireland was just as mundane, difficult, and real as it was in Chicago, I was able to ask myself why I had really moved halfway across the world from everyone I loved.
2. Positivity and confidence go a long way.
Without a college education or any experience, I landed the exact job I wanted. I actually walked past the window of the office, and after seeing the front desk administrator, I said aloud, “I want her job.” A month later, her job became available and the company hired me. At the interview, I was charismatic, positive, confident, and curious, and it was my personality and drive that had gotten me there.
3. Some friendships aren’t meant to last a lifetime, and that’s OK.
I'm not sure I could have made the risky decision to drop everything in my life and move to another country had it not been for my best friend from high school. We were close like sisters. However, shortly after we moved back to Chicago, our relationship faded away. Once our obsession with our heritage died down, we realized we were very different. We parted, and only now do I realize that neither one of us is to blame. People grow apart. And that’s OK.
4. Everything comes with a price.
In Ireland, I had absolute freedom. I've craved independence since I entered this world, and living in another country at 19 meant ultimate freedom. But that also meant living an ocean away from my parents and sisters. I had to think deeply about which I wanted more: instant independence or lifelong love?
5. There’s no such thing as failure, only experience.
I didn’t end up living in Ireland. I didn’t end up marrying an Irishman. But by no means do I see that as failure. Even my friendship that faded can't be labeled as a failure. Instead, I choose to look at every moment of life as an experience that teaches me something.
6. I don’t need a lot of stuff.
Living for 11 months with only two suitcases full of items made me happier. I believe clutter and excessive material possessions deplete the soul of joy.
7. I am strong, but I can stop proving it.
I desperately wanted to prove my strength and independence. I accomplished that. But now, I realize that life is not a battle, and I don’t have to constantly win. I can just be me, peacefully.