Settling into life and studies into a new country
I remember exactly the sensation in my stomach this time last year when I gave in the signed papers that would allow me to move to Ireland to study. I remember the sudden lightness of my body, and that euphoric inner voice telling me horizons were broadening. Well, to be honest, at that time I was just happy to leave, no matter the destination. I felt there was something abroad I couldn’t find in my country (an ideal job? different people? myself?), I had studied hard for two years and thought I deserved change of scenery. After a hundred messages sent on Daft.ie and Rent.ie, I eventually found a room near UCD in a house I would share with the Irish owner and two other international students. Then last September, I got on a flight to Dublin trying not to think too much about how cold it might be.
I spent the first weeks in Ireland with my camera, picking out little details that appeared new, original or atypical to me. Aside from the touristic predisposition to catch every mountain and beach I picked up on a lot of tropes, from Guinness adverts to Famine memorials. One of the most attractive features of being a tourist, or being new to somewhere, is the right to curiosity you have. You can approach people with a smile on your face and ask away without fear. I met a lot of people this way, shooting the three socialising – and quite existential – questions: where do you come from? why are you here? where are you going to? This way I met a ghost-writer from Manchester, an American actor from New York, a Hungarian photographer… people I could write a book about.
As much as I enjoyed travelling around like this, there comes a point when you move beyond being a tourist and into that in-between not-quite-local phase. It’s at this point that you just wish to make long-term friends to hang out with. I started going to different kinds of events to strategically widen my local network, something which Dublin’s nightlife provides ample opportunity for. Discovering the concept of the craic, I found myself playing Ukulele at Stag’s Head, listening to spoken word and poetry at MVP, to Irish folk tales at Stag’s head again, to late night gigs at Whelan’s, trying a swing dance class at the Grand Social… I also signed up to half of UCD’s societies, spending a week’s worth of groceries in the process.
During this social quest, I started filling Dublin’s streets with memories and really made the jump into being a local. Marcel Proust, a famous French writer, once wrote about the force of habit and how it metamorphoses our perceptions, how it allows us to eventually feel home somewhere, anywhere. The trickiest part of the moving abroad experiment is shifting your perceptions to lose what you were used to and open up to everything new. Then it’s all about observing what’s new and getting used to those things in your daily life.
Language is also a big part of the move. When I came here, I decided that I wanted to be completely apart from France and the French, with the diplomatic exception of my family of course. Understanding is easy, and I still notice improvements. Expression however, remains a challenge. I miss the subtlety I have while speaking French, something which is obvious when attempting black humour or sarcasm unsuccessfully. I’ve also noticed that speaking in a second language, my voice changes a little. I have to think around the thing I want to say or get straight to the point (something we rarely do in France). It makes for a big change in my way of being and surprisingly – or not – makes my less shy.
After having been home for Christmas and proudly displayed photos and stories from my new home, I can really say; I’m living here. Officially until the end of the semester, but really until I settle in to wherever comes next which could be in a few months or years. Making a new life for yourself is a challenge, but doing it in a new country makes the whole experience more intense. Behind “intense” can be hidden the words “difficult”, “challenging” but also “creative”, “exciting”, “original”. I still turn into a tourist from time to time, because I’m addicted to this feeling of awe that Irish landscapes can bring. Although I don’t want to spend my life crossing that border between discovering a place and putting down roots into it, I definitely want to keep this curiosity and freedom I’ve discovered while travelling, that keeps thrilling me and give a more powerful feeling of living my life.
- Mélanie Brisard, Features Writer
This article originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 7 published February 2nd 2016