Why do we study abroad? Many people have different viewpoints and opinions on going abroad—but to me, the study abroad experience is a necessity to one’s education. Through experiencing another culture first-hand, we can expand our worldview in ways that the standard classroom simply cannot provide. The abroad experience is all interactive and hands-on. You learn to adapt to a different lifestyle in a completely foreign land, and over time, what was once a strange way of life becomes part of your own. Having studied abroad before, I went into this second semester abroad with more confidence, but also a desire to get even more out of my second opportunity to see the world. This is the only time in my life that I can experience this much culture at such a young age—a time where I don’t have any obligations to a job, family, etc. I am lucky enough to have a second abroad opportunity, so I need to use my prior knowledge from my first experience to get a complete and life-changing overall abroad experience.
I have realized that being an abroad student is a lot different, and should be a lot different, than simply being a tourist. As a student abroad in Dublin, there are lots of touristy things that one can get trapped into doing. Of course, there is nothing wrong with going to museums or the stereotypical touristy places. However, I have realized that if I really want to immerse myself into the Irish culture, I should try to avoid these places and live like a true Dubliner—or in this case, wait for my parents (the true tourists) to come and experience those kind of things with them. It is inevitable to get sucked into some tourist attractions, but I think in order to get the most out of an immersive abroad experience, I need integrate myself into the Irish culture.
I think an important way to have a successful and smooth immersion experience is to combine your passions with the surrounding culture. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to try new things and explore different interests, but the initial integration can be easier if you do something that’s comfortable. For example, I love to play basketball, so I joined a local basketball club in Dublin. I also think it’s important to explore interests—for example, I love to observe people, places, and environments. I usually go into the city, find a café, and just sit and watch people interact. I have been going to a different café every time I go into the city, and I try to avoid the “big name” places like Starbucks and Costa. The best café I have been to in Dublin was a place called Accents—a hidden gem in the city centre.
I stumbled upon the Accents café on a side street off Grafton. I couldn’t believe how secluded it was from the rest of the hustle and bustle near one of the busiest streets in Dublin. I stepped into the café and felt like I had walked into a home. The place was meant for me. It was a quiet café, not much noise at all. I noticed that no one had gone to the café alone—everyone was in quiet conversation with one another. It was packed, but it didn’t give off that vibe. The place was so spacious and homey. The soft melody of The Avett Brothers played in the background as I ordered my coffee. When I walked through the door, I was immediately greeted by a friendly Accents barista. I felt welcomed, which I think is a significant part of the Irish culture in general. The baristas were cool in every sense of the word. They were dressed like hipsters and had several piercings, but their friendliness was comforting. Once I ordered, the barista said she would bring my coffee out to me.
It was really interesting to observe the atmosphere in Accents. The customers were mostly students—all very young and hip. I found their clothing to be very stylish and unique. It was completely different from the stereotypical “European” style. These customers were not homogenous in style, race, gender, etc. It was a very diverse setting. As I pulled out my laptop, I realized that I was the only person in the whole café who was on a computer. Everyone was engaged in conversation and enjoying each other’s company. The atmosphere felt so friendly and welcoming that I personally felt like I could have joined in on any conversation and it wouldn’t have been strange. When I received my coffee, the barista kindly mentioned that if I needed anything else to just let them know. The service was excellent and was nothing like what I have experienced in the States in most cafés. They actually cared.
Sipping on my coffee, I sank into a comfy sofa. The place is famous for having the most comfortable sofas and chairs, and I must say that it lived up to my standards. Every piece of furniture in the café is leather and puffy—very comfortable and pleasing. As I enjoyed my time at the café, I couldn’t help but notice that as customers entered the café, they either knew the baristas or someone else in the café. They seemed to all be regulars. It was unbelievable. Dublin is a major city, but it seems to narrow itself down at times. The “half-degree of separation”—or the idea that the Irish all know each other—seemed pretty accurate on this day at Accents.
I found my overall experience in Accents to be pretty spot on to the life and vibes of Dublin. Reflecting on it now, I find this Irish story/saying to be very relatable to my time at Accents and in Dublin. The saying goes:
“In Ireland, you go to someone's house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you're really just fine. She asks if you're sure. You say of course you're sure, really, you don't need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don't need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn't mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it's no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.
In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don't get any damned tea. I liked the Irish way better.”
As funny as this saying is, I find it to reflect the Irish culture perfectly. Everyone is welcoming and friendly, and the best part about it is that they are persistent in it. Overall, I found that my Accents café experience reflects my Dublin experience thus far. It’s a place full of character and excitement, kindness and simplicity, comfort and warmth. It’s a great city with a lot of spunk—and most importantly, it’s a place that encourages you to be yourself. It’s great when you can find a place that epitomizes an entire city, and I truly think the Accents café does so to perfection.