By Jordan Hall, Michaelmas 2018 Study Abroad Student from the University of California, Santa Barbara
Between studying for classes and exploring the sights, it can be difficult to find the time to root yourself. You may convince yourself you don’t need to make connections, especially if you are only staying for a short time, like a semester. But, a lack of connections can make us feel isolated and lonely while in an unfamiliar place. I can assure you that your experience will be much more enjoyable if you make an effort to meet people. It doesn’t have to be a deep connection and you shouldn’t try to force any friendships, but finding your niche can give you an enormous sense of well-being, even if you only connect with your group once a week. It goes beyond answering the small-talk questions like, “What are you involved in?” Joining a group or society allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture and make your mark. It allows you to place yourself among the constant backdrop of life in a foreign place that you are only a temporary part of.
How do you move forward with finding this niche?
First, find groups you identify with/are involved with at home. It may be easiest to seek out familiar groups. For example, if you are religiously inclined you may want to seek out a faith-based organization, such as a local church. Or think about a group you’ve always wanted to get know better or get involved in. For me I’d had always wanted to join a science fiction club, but I was always concerned about what my friends would think of me. Ridiculous, I know, but I’m human. I decided this would be a perfect opportunity for me to try something new and if I didn’t like it, there were no consequences.
Second, consider how much time you would be willing to commit to your group(s). Some people like to spread themselves out and be active in many different societies, while others, like myself, prefer to devote themselves to only one or two. Something to keep in mind is that most on-campus societies cost a couple of euros to join, so if you already know you won’t have the time to devote to different societies, then just pick one or two. That being said, if you are not sure what you will like or if know you will have a lot of time to spend, then paying a few euros to join a variety of societies is totally worth it! Just be honest with yourself about what you want, and you will find a place that is right for you.
As for myself, I knew the chapel choir would be an ideal outlet for me. Not only have I always loved to sing, but I enjoy singing most in a choral setting. I’ve been in different choirs throughout my life, so I know how they work and the general vibe. I’ve also observed that it is much easier to form relationships in groups where you work to create something together. Even if you have vastly different backgrounds/interests, sharing a common goal can forge an almost immediate bond.
Also, there is a certain amount of vulnerability in play, which can allow for a stronger connection to form. I speak from personal experience, since when people have a talent; whether it’s sketch art, creative writing, sports, or in this case singing, people are often unwilling to share their talent out of fear of criticism. However, when you are in a room of people who share that fear but have chosen to show their talent anyway, you immediately have a mutual understanding. You understand, or at least assume, that this stranger does not normally break out into song in their daily life at work or among peers. In fact, like the average singer, most of their friends have probably never heard them sing before. Yet they are willing to perform in front of you, and to maybe stumble, but nonetheless do something they really like to do. Having a common understanding such as this causes people to let their walls down and feel comfortable around each other, encouraging fast friendships!
Alternatively, you may wish to find your niche off campus. Some students have the option to work, so they may find a part-time job where they work alongside and interact with locals frequently. However, for most international students, myself included, here for a short term, acquiring a work visa is not a feasible option. But if you want to get nearly the same level of immersion, you could try volunteering in a charity shop, such as Enable Ireland. I mention Enable Ireland as an example because they actually reach out to international students because they are usually living locally, and the stores allow you to create your own schedule, so you can come in when you can and volunteer for a great cause while getting to interact with locals, and perhaps hone your foreign language skills, if that is your case.
Lastly, you must consider what you would like to get out of your experience. Maybe you want something you have a talent for, so you feel like you have a leg up even when you’re a novice everywhere else. Maybe you want something familiar, so you can be reminded of home. Maybe you just want something consistent, so you feel like you have a manageable routine to work around. Or maybe you want to be adventurous and try something totally new while you have this unique opportunity to live and study abroad. Whatever you choose, just remember it’s okay if it doesn’t work out and you can decide not to participate if the experience turns negative or impedes your studies.
But you’ll never know if you don’t try!
Visit www.tcd.ie/study for more information on studying at Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin