This spring, our friends at Volunteer Forever asked the 55,000+ travelers subscribed to their mailing list for their stories about volunteering, teaching, interning, and studying abroad. The responses were overwhelming: people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world wrote about their globetrotting adventures – why they traveled, how they helped communities in need, what they learned, and so much more. Here is one of the wonderful stories from this series!
It was raining. Again. Same as it was when I got on the bus Friday night, and same as when I had boarded the bus just that morning, on Sunday. How strange, to think that so little had changed since I had been away, and yet… nothing was the same. I said goodbye hastily as I grabbed my luggage and dodged puddles on the way back to my apartment, passing pubs with blurry windows but warm hearths and tourists frantically hiding under their soaked umbrellas. I’d never felt more at home.
Now, as I sit in my house in suburban New York, putting the finishing touches on my scrapbook, I can’t help but contemplate what it really means to feel at home. I keep watching movies that take place in Ireland, checking out library books by famous Dublin authors, and listening to both classic and modern Irish bands – and they help me feel better for a little bit, but it never lasts.
Some might say I am home now, but I’m not so sure. I think home is more of a feeling you get rather than a place that you go, and I think that my home lies with the people I met in VDP at Trinity College Dublin. A society that prides itself on its wide variety of volunteer activities, fundraisers, themed nights out, annual Panto show, and charitable craic; Trinity’s Vincent de Paul society was just it for me.
I went to Dublin with the intention of learning about the land I come from, meeting some of the people who share my blood and name, and visiting some beautiful places. But then it was Fresher’s week and I was walking through a crowded and bustling front square as people tried to get me to come over to their booth and sign up for their society and I just … I couldn’t resist. You’ve heard of the irresistible Irish charm, yea? Well, it’s not a myth, let me tell you.
I signed up for a few that grabbed my eyes and almost left without signing up for VDP, but I liked their bright t-shirts and I’d heard they were a big society on campus so I figured, eh, what the heck. And then once I found out it was free to join, well you can bet I put my name and email down. I went to their intro night later that week with a friend, where I hit a nasty obstacle: the international police clearance that made it nearly impossible for me to actually volunteer. Lovely. Perks of being a foreigner.
Nevertheless, I didn’t let it sway me. I did everything I could to figure out how to get cleared, visiting two different garda (police) stations, and harassing way too many people with emails full of questions. And in the meantime I ventured to some of the nights out that VDP hosted, most notably the Halloween “Mystery Tour” where a friend and I dressed up as tourists (convenient and realistic costumes) and had a truly incredible night. We boarded a bus that took us two hours outside Dublin to a pub, and then a club, where we discovered we had reached the coastline, and our new Irish friends started singing every song in their repertoire as we laughed and sung along. It was surreal, to say the least.
But that was only the beginning. The next weekend, I went on a weekend away trip. I liked to tell people I was going on a retreat, but the Irish simply called it ‘INSMOT’ – combining INSpiration and MOTivation – the two main focus points of the weekend. It was here where my story began, and it is here that I’ll end my tale. I could talk about this spectacular weekend for hours, but for now all I’ll say is that I left on Friday to spend the weekend in an abandoned nursing home with 50 strangers and I returned to Dublin that Sunday with a complete sense of what it means to find your home. I ran like a maniac through halls while singing with new friends, I ate every meal with a different group of people, I discussed the dialect and slang differences between America and Ireland, I drank tea the correct way and wine the – er – not correct way, I made a fool of myself not once but multiple times, I learned what it is to be a friend, I danced the night away, and I was inspired by others’ humble tales of goodwill.
In the end, I did get cleared to volunteer for a select few activities, though only with two weeks left. It didn’t matter – I did as many as I could anyway, even with finals and essays. I somehow managed to get everything done and still make the last VDP night out – the 12 pubs of Christmas – where I laughed so hard I cried, and where I realized I never wanted to be anywhere but there, at that very moment, with those very faces, as we screamed the wrong lyrics to classic songs and flailed our bodies every which way in some sort of spastic dance gone awry.
And then, I left.
One of the first things I told my parents after our reunion was how I had lost one of my favorite earrings, and as I held up the other one, I was struck by how ironic it all was. It seemed I had left my earring in Dublin, the very same place where I left my heart.
I came back to America a different person, a better person, and though I have yet to experience in America the euphoric sense that absolutely swallowed me in Dublin, I look forward to finding it again someday soon.
But until the day I return, cheers Ireland, ‘tanks a million’ Dublin, and best of luck to my VDP friends. I miss you now and I’ll miss you forever. You brought me home, and for that, I am eternally grateful.