Today was a day of singular coincidence. My final day of classes at UL, my 100th day in Ireland, and my 20th birthday.
Living cross-culturally in Ireland has been harder than I ever expected it to be. Irish culture is about as opposite to my personality as it gets, but I am pleased at how I have adapted and assimilated. Learning to be people focused instead of time or task driven is very counterintuitive to me, but also extremely rewarding. For example, while I would show respect and interest in people by being on time and performing my work well, Irish people show it by talking to people and spending time with them – even if that means they are late or don’t finish their work. Since I used to plan my day in 5 minute increments, this has been tricky for me, but I am pleased with the progress I’ve made.
Something I haven’t assimilated as well is conversation cues. Irish people give a lot of verbal listening cues during a conversation. “Right, yes, yes, I see” constantly. In America, these cues would signal that the listener was trying to break into the conversation, but in Ireland, it’s how you show someone you’re listening. One of my Irish friends said it was because Irish people don’t like to make eye contact, but such talkative listening still is uncomfortable for me.
One aspect of Irish culture that was hard for me in the beginning but is now quite natural is calling adults, especially professors, by their first name. This is completely taboo in the Southern United States, but any other term of address is seen as obnoxiously formal here. I’ve adapted so well to this manner of address that I’ve caught myself sending emails to American professors addressed to their first name, so this habit may be hard to shake.
Overall, I’m proud of how I have adapted culturally. I’m by no means fluid or flawless in my interaction in Irish culture, but I know I will continue to improve the longer I’m here and the more I travel.
I have gained so much more confidence in talking to strangers. (A necessity when you’re in a foreign country without friends.) Normally, I’d fake it until I made it or failed at it before I’d talk to a stranger, but I no longer have qualms about asking for help or clarification. The worst that could happen is annoying somebody or making them laugh at you, and you can always mitigate that by being polite (according to their customs) or laughing with them. Pants/trouser mistakes are always funny anyway.
I’ve also never stayed at a stranger’s house except for church retreats and such. I don’t like spending the night in a strange place be it hotel, hostel, or home, and I don’t like imposing, but I stayed with then-strangers in Donegal and had a wonderful time. I also invited myself. Together, that is an insecure introverts nightmare, but that’s exactly what I did.
I’ve also mostly relinquished my love/need to plan and enjoy being what happens. I’ve nearly mastered the exact amount of planning to make sure I get back for class, but don’t usually go beyond that. Part of that is has to do with my confidence in my ability to think on my feet. The other part is due to the Irish motto, “It’ll be grand”.
And it usually is.