I’ve never been a particularly spontaneous person. I did a lot of theater, both in high school and during my first two years of college, and a director of mine used to tell me that in order to tap into my spontaneity, I should try and walk without having a destination in mind. I tried, but I always had a destination in mind, and could never quite fool myself otherwise.
While I can’t say that my decision to go abroad in my junior year of college was entirely well-reasoned, it was also –wait for it– almost entirely a fluke. Looking back, I still vaguely remember and understand my reasoning, but, as the kind of person I am now, it’s a little terrifying to look back at my younger self taking such an uncharacteristic leap of faith.
I was in a small, carefully-selected liberal arts college on the East Coast, and things were going… fine. Having loved school up until this point, I was finding my apathy towards college kind of a shock, but I was getting through it, mostly due to the company of my two closest friends. At the end of our sophomore year, they both decided to study abroad in London the following fall. Though my panic at the thought of spending a semester without them was largely what spurred me to go abroad myself, something inside me also rebelled at the idea of joining them in London. I spoke a little Spanish and a little French, and probably could have scraped by in either Spain or France, but I wanted to study English, so I chose Ireland.
I’m embarrassed to say that the truly remarkable pedigree of Irish writers wasn’t really in my head when I decided to study in Ireland. Yes, I’d taken a class on Ulysses the semester before I left, and fallen in love with Beckett in high school, but even those weren’t really foremost in my mind. I think I must have known, in some deep part of my brain, that I was in a rut, and that a good shock (or culture-shock) to the system was what I needed to bring me back to the present. It was only after I arrived that I realized how right my impulsive decision had been.
When I got to Dublin, I had to walk with no destination in mind, because I had no idea where I was. Even if I set out with a destination in mind, the streets in Dublin aren’t on a grid and there’s monolithic churches on nearly every corner, which means that I kept confidently turning corners thinking “Aha, I know where this will take me,” only to discover I was in a completely different part of town than I was expecting. Inspired by Ulysses, I also challenged myself to say “yes” to things while I was there. It turned out to be exhilarating. I left my little east-coast liberal arts college before I knew whether or not I would be able to stay at Trinity. I applied to transfer, and pretty spontaneously decided I could do an extra year of college if it meant staying in this magical place.
I pounded the streets until I knew how to get around the city, much like Leopold Bloom does. I re-read Ulysses and found myself able to picture the exact street corners.
I found more and more connections to Ireland that I hadn’t realized were there, until it seemed like this kind of random and ill-advised “decision” that I made was, really, the only possible way my life could ever have turned out.
I don’t know if this whole process of studying abroad has made me into a more spontaneous person than I was before, but I do know that I’m a lot less afraid of walking without a destination.~Zoe Canin, ACCENT San Francisco