Alta Connors, Rachel Stromsta, Conner Suddick, and Becca Carcaterra on the beach at Murlough Nature Reserve in County Down. Photo by Clare Schaefers
Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Becca Carcaterra will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Northern Ireland program this spring semester. Becca is a senior at St. Olaf College, majoring in English with a Race and Ethnic Studies concentration. Read on for Becca’s third post, a celebration of life abroad!
So here’s the thing: I really like living abroad.
Well good for you, Becca, you might say. You chose to go abroad, I would sure hope that you like it. And I will admit that this first sentence might not be the most specific hook in the history of study abroad blog writing.
But the thing about studying or living abroad is that there really is no guarantee you will enjoy the experience. You can read all of the promotional material and Google Image search all you want, but there’s no way of telling whether you will be thriving or enduring the next three months until you have actually settled into your new life overseas. And to my slightly surprised gratitude, I have discovered that I love the abroad life.
From hike through Tollymore Forest in County Down, a beautiful location for one of our Monday seminars. Photo by Joe Amrhein
I love being a foreigner, having an accent, having a different perspective. I like the feel of the different currency in my hands, and the different flavors in my soup, and that people say “Cheerio” unironically when I get up to leave. I enjoy translating my life into another context: Fig Newtons are fig rolls, cookies are biscuits, fries are chips, and chips are crisps. Crumpets are kind of a spongy English muffin, and when they say bacon they mean Canadian bacon, which is a bummer.
I was a bit taken aback by how quickly I settled in, and I feel a little guilty. After all, I have family and friends and a life I love very much back in the States. Why don’t I miss that more? Sure, I would love for teleportation to exist, but mostly I would rather bring my loved ones to me than to go back home.
A horse named Guinness, on a bluff overlooking the sea, from a weekend trip we took to County Donegal. Photo by Becca Carcaterra
I think part of it is that I feel more alert while abroad. I have to be. I’m forced to pay more attention every single day, because I’m not yet fully comfortable in the rhythms of a new culture and place. Nothing is familiar, not the coins or the tea or the slang, and that I means I can’t slide into complacency or go on autopilot.
And that can be a really great thing. I notice the little things I’d probably ignore if I was more used to them. The daffodils by the river. The cream swirling in the tea. The habit of calling people “love,” or “pet,” or “doll.” My wide-eyed sense of wonder is alive and well in a way it’s not in the U.S., because I haven’t become completely accustomed to life over here.
Of course, this forced alertness is also challenging. I’m sure when I’m back home in a more familiar context I’ll treasure the certainty that I’m not committing an incredible faux pas without knowing it. I might enjoy going back to blending in with an accent that sounds like everybody else’s, and I’ll certainly be grateful to stop being asked my take on a certain world leader at the start of every conversation.
But for now, it’s exciting and strange and a bit amazing to start suddenly feeling at home at a place that is so far from my own. To realize that doing something that made me nervous a month ago is now second nature. Everyday is a little more challenging when you’re living abroad, but that also means you can be a little prouder of yourself everyday.
And so even though I miss my friends and family, I’m still in love with this overseas life: navigating blunders and misunderstandings and mistakes aplenty, but doing it with my heart beating faster and my eyes wide open.
Clare Schaefers, Alta Connors, and Conner Suddick wander down the beach at Murlough Nature Reserve. Photo by Becca Carcaterra