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Opinion: Lessons Learned When Lost Abroad

“What do you mean there isn’t another bus back to Dublin until 1 a.m.?” Totally panicked, my friend Emily and I stared down the helpless bus station employee, demanding he tell us what we wanted to hear. Unfortunately, he spoke the truth. We were trapped in Galway for the next four hours whether we liked it or not.

Let me backtrack a little bit. Two weeks ago, I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. I’m spending my summer living and interning abroad with 16 other Boston College students, which so far has been a dream. This past weekend, we ventured outside our newly developed comfort zone and travelled to Galway on the western coast of Ireland.

Galway's quaint main street was peppered with pubs and street musicians just like Dublin, but outside the town was a whole new world. Rural Ireland was exactly as I had imagined: sprawling green countryside, picturesque farmhouses and an excess of cows. We trekked to both the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher like good little tourists, and I’ll admit they lived up to the hype.

On Sunday, the aforementioned Emily and I had made plans to travel to Connemara National Park together. A two-hour bus ride outside of Galway, we planned to take the 6 p.m. bus back to Galway and from there, catch a connecting bus to Dublin. Totally foolproof.

It turns out there is only one road from Connemara to Galway, and on this particular Sunday, it was bumper to bumper. After having spent the day hiking a mountain, Emily and I were forced to watch the minutes tick past, envisioning our bus to Dublin chugging off into the sunset. It did. When we arrived in Galway, we learned that the next bus wasn’t until one in the morning. Panic set in when Edward, a tipsy and over-friendly Galway native, cornered us in the coach station. Despair seemed imminent when most of the Galway pubs told us they had stopped serving food for the night.

But this story has a happy ending. Thankfully, the Quay Street Kitchen took pity on us and cooked up the best chicken burger, Mediterranean platter, lemon tart and cheesecake we had ever tasted. Edward failed to reappear for the rest of the night. Our one a.m. bus was on time, and we slept until the O’Connell Street Bridge appeared out our window. While the taxi driver’s music taste was a bit abrasive at 4:30 in the morning, we made it back to our dorm room in one piece.

A few days later, feeling well rested and significantly more emotionally stable, I found myself, in the Jesuit tradition, reflecting on my experience. I realized that for the first time since I had arrived in Ireland, in Galway I had been truly on my own. In a strange city with Emily who was as lost as I was, there was no one to hold our hand or point us in the right direction. If we wanted to get home, it was up to us.

Not only can I look back on that experience and know that I can handle myself in a foreign country, Emily and I also remained optimistic for the entirety of our fiasco. There were no tears, no panic attacks and only a few outbreaks of hysterical laughter. We knew that there was no point in getting upset since the unfortunate series of events was out of our control.

Finally, I have a great tale to tell and memories from this trip that extend past the typical succession of tours, monuments and dinners out on the town. Emily and I will be telling this story for weeks to come to family and friends at home, and we were instantly bonded simply by this shared experience.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is be independent, be optimistic, be flexible and make memories. Studying or working abroad has the potential to be terrifying and lonely, but it also provides the opportunity for one to figure things out without anyone’s help. Once you know you can do something on your own, nothing can stand in your way.

Even more broadly, in life, bad things are bound to happen at unexpected times. Optimism and flexibility are highly underrated tools for overcoming tough situations. And at the end of the day, people thrust into ridiculous, unlucky situations together can come out on the other side the best of friends.


(south) jersey girl. incapable of whispering. happiest in big cities. still trying to make "swag" happen. very