One thing that most people expect when traveling is the experiencing “culture shock.” I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but Northern Ireland has been quite an interesting study in that respect. Now, maybe there are parts of Ireland that are astonishingly “other” from what I’m used to- I believe, for instance, there are certain towns and islands that, according to various travel sights’ claims, are “a step into the past;” so far, however, in Northern Ireland, Ireland in general, really, there isn’t so much of a “shock” as much as there is a feeling of “I had never realized that was how it was there,” that hits you in the midst of going about your days.
There are some obvious differences that are noticeable right off, like the wonderful accent of the Irish, using “wee” where Americans would use “small,” and parking lots are referred to as car parks; most things, though, I’ve just been picking up little by little, the longer I spend time here. Some words, for instance, are different, most often as building or street names, or when referring to the Irish government systems, because they use the original Irish language of Gaelic; funnily enough, though, the Irish students seem to have as much difficulty pronouncing those words as the foreign students do. Then there are some truly wonderful differences, such as the vast array of various chocolates, the majority of which I’ve never even heard of- peanut butter Kit Kats are one of my new favorite things. Meanwhile, fries are called chips and chips are called crisps, and fish sticks are called fish fingers.
This is one of the things about studying abroad that I am really loving. It’s a different form of learning; not academic, but rather growing and gaining understanding of another culture, just by picking up these little- sorry, “wee”- differences. It’s much subtler than if I’d gone to any number of other countries, but even so it gives me the feeling that I’m getting this beautifully different understanding of the world. Here, I feel like there is an endless supply of things to discover, like there’s no end to the mystery of the Emerald Isle. There are many magnificent sights to see and there are tantalizingly lilting voices, the things that everyone expects to see when they come here, but there are so many little details until you spend some time. It’s almost like meeting a new person, noticing their appearance and personality first; but then as you get to know them, you learn their little ticks and quirks, and that’s what makes them more, what sets them apart in your mind and your heart. It’s an experience not quite like any other- getting to know a culture.