I recently spent the week leading up to Thanksgiving in Ireland, visiting various destinations – from small villages in the countryside to the bustling streets of Dublin and Galway – in a rental van with my family. I had an amazing road trip abroad, and I already can’t wait to go back to Ireland and visit again some day. But, as the week progressed, I couldn’t help but notice some differences between my daily life in New Jersey and life in Ireland.
News about the United States is available everywhere. Any time I turned on the news on a hotel television or opened an Irish newspaper at the market while we were picking up breakfast, I could immediately spot a photograph of President Obama or a headline about America’s responses to ISIS, for example. American news is so easily available, leading me to believe that Obama is a household name in Ireland. Unfortunately, the same international awareness is not as common in America. In my personal experience, I’ve found that my peers and I are well educated about American politics and current events but less educated about other countries. I found myself thinking about the media in America versus the media in other countries. Why is it so much less common at home for us to find news stories that cover international politics, while American news is broadcasted everywhere?
About halfway through the week, as we were driving, I noticed an Irish flag hanging outside a building with an American flag alongside it. I thought it was odd to see an American flag hanging next to an Irish flag at the same height and in the same size, since in the United States, the American flag often hangs the highest when it is placed next to other types of flags. But then I realized something way crazier – this was the very first Irish flag I could remember seeing! At home, the American flag hangs everywhere – outside supermarkets, in front yards of homes or outside schools. Of course, I never got the feeling that Irish people are not proud of their home country. I only noticed that they did not have the same tradition of hanging their flag everywhere. This may seem like a trivial difference, but it certainly sparked some questions in my mind about the way nationalism is felt or displayed differently in different parts of the world.
We spent the first day of our trip in Dublin, the largest city in Ireland. Maybe I was in a hurry to see as much as possible during our single day in Dublin, or maybe I wasn’t quite feeling like myself after being unable to sleep on our red eye flight, but I found myself bustling past people in the streets in order to reach my next destination quicker. It is worth mentioning at this point that my friends comment on how quickly I walk at home because I am pretty tall, but as the days went by, I became aware that I was walking much quicker than the Irish people running their errands in the cities or walking to catch a bite to eat. What was my rush? Maybe I am just accustomed to the pace of walkers in New York City, the city closest to my home – or maybe I need to learn to slow down and enjoy my walks rather than rushing so quickly to my next destination all the time.
Everyone is Ireland was SO friendly. I could not believe the amount of people who took a moment to ask how I was or to smile at me as I walked past them on the street. Often, when local folks heard our accents and realized we were American, they would ask about our trip so far and even offer recommendations for their favorite pub to grab lunch or a nearby attraction we might enjoy. Perhaps by slowing down, people are more easily able to find a moment to offer their kindness or advice.
I loved my week in Ireland – but I also love the fast-paced streets of New York City and I understand the importance of sometimes keeping my head down rather than speaking to a stranger. So, I am not arguing that one country is better than another, or vice versa. Rather, I want to highlight how exposing myself to a completely new culture across the ocean opened my eyes to differences in the way that people live. Traveling is a powerful way to learn about different lifestyles and question aspects of your own – and I can’t wait to plan my next trip.