Well, the pretty little blue and red hat I knitted myself last winter is now somewhere in Galway. I hope some other poor university student finds it and likes it and gives it a good home.
I guess I haven't really written that much this semester about actually living in Cork. I've been trying so hard to keep up with everything else that the day-to-day stuff has sort of slipped through the cracks. Most of it I don't suppose has been remarkably interesting—ask many of the American students here and they'll tell you that they go about their lives between trips and adventures not all that differently from the way they would at home, except that every once in a while as you walk down the street it suddenly hits you: Hey... I'm in IRELAND.
I think what I'm trying to say is that despite all the frantic weekends here and there trying to experience as much as we can before leaving, this isn't entirely the extended vacation it sometimes appears to be. We're living here. We go to class and write papers and buy groceries and do laundry and clean the kitchen. And sometimes that's all we do. If you're one of those that thinks even the mundane becomes exciting just by virtue of being in another country, well, no, it really doesn't. Maybe for like a week. After that, you forget where you are and just do whatever it is you do.
I think I first realized this back in October when I was in Killarney and went riding with that couple on vacation from Georgia (that would be the state, not the country). They asked me what they should do in Cork, and I had no idea what to say. I have not experienced Cork the way they would. Other than the Public Museum, I haven't done a lot of the touristy things. (I think I meant to, at first, but it just never happened and after a while it didn't seem important anymore.) When I have free time, I walk by the river or sit in a computer lab on Facebook. I've gone to very few restaurants. I'm a college student; usually my version of eating out is cheeseburgers and kebabs from places a middle-aged tourist wouldn't want to set foot in. I don't even know that many pubs, because I'm not the kind of person who goes out that much, and when I do, it's the same places over and over again. If someone were to visit me here, I'd be glad to show them MY Cork and maybe explore some new things—but I have no idea how to instruct someone else on how to enjoy Cork. At least not reliably.
People have been asking if I'm excited to go home. It's a hard question to answer. It's a little like when you're a kid, and it's August, and summer's gotten kind of boring, but starting school doesn't exactly sound like the way to fix that. (Not that Cork is boring.) I think if you had asked me two months ago if I wanted to come home, the answer would have been a resounding yes. In fact, someone did ask me that, a certain blunt and insightful friend, and I almost cried. I wasn't homesick, exactly; I never really had the whole culture shock thing. I was lonely and isolated and watching my friends back home go on with their lives without me and feeling like I was missing everything important.
I still feel that way, but now I'm also more invested in my life here. I've gotten to know people and gotten involved in things that are going to be hard to leave behind. It could be worse—I know at least one girl who found a boy, and it started out as a nice casual thing, but it started too early, and after a whole semester it's gotten out of hand and she's realized just how much she's going to miss him when they never see each other again. Studying abroad, I've discovered, is more of a blessing-and-a-curse situation than anybody tells you beforehand. It's a good experience to have. It's fun. You learn a lot about yourself and about life and about connecting across cultures and all that other cliché stuff. But at the same time, it's a terrible thing to be somewhere just long enough to get to know it and start to find your place, only to have to leave it again.
I've been struck by how different this experience is than my experience with Belize, and I'm not talking about the difference between the two countries here. I expected it to be different because here I'm a regular student going to class and joining societies and just generally managing my own time and decisions, whereas there I was basically working. I was a student, yes, but the classroom was an excavation and I was there all day, every day, and I lived and worked and played with the same people all the time. It was meant to be a different experience, but I was unprepared for some of the ways it's different. For one thing, the scatter of goodbyes here feels strange and disconcerting. Things are not over all at the same time, and it makes for awkward situations when you realize that you've just done something for the last time and probably aren't going to see someone again even though you'll be here for days more. Plus you're inevitably going to miss saying goodbye to some people because you didn't know ahead of time that you weren't going to see them again.
Leaving Belize also felt less final, somehow. Or maybe that's just the way I remember it now, because I have kept loosely in touch with so many people via Facebook. Maybe it was the constant close proximity; I think a lot of us really didn't expect our goodbyes to be final, but planned to meet again sooner or later, even if not all in one group (and many have). Maybe it was just that we all knew we had the option to come back again the next year, or the year after. Obviously we knew we could never come back and have it be exactly as it was then, but it still felt different. I can't really explain it, I guess.
Here, we have no illusions. I have already said a few goodbyes in which there was no pretending that we had any expectation of ever seeing each other again. ("Have a good... life, I guess...") I walk the streets of Cork in these last days knowing that although I hope to return someday, I might very well not. At the very least, there's a very good chance that I won't before many of the people I know have moved on and some of the things I love have changed beyond recognition.
And so the answer is yes, I'm excited to go home, but I'm not excited to leave.
(And you can tell because my room doesn't even look like packing everything I own is on the horizon, let alone imminent.)