during the last week or so, as I gear up for my next solo trip, I have been thinking back on last year’s big trip. really, it seems rather disingenuous to confine my reflections to the last week — I’ve been thinking about events and people and places from that trip every day for the last year; if I’m not thinking about my personal experiences, then I am certainly more attuned to political or economic rumblings from Ireland. there are places and names I recognize now which catch my attention when browsing through news articles.
coming to enjoy Ireland as thoroughly as I do was something of a struggle. I had such a deeply ingrained anglophile streak (how many English Lit classes have I taken in my life? and did I not spend four amazing months in London during college that left me nearly-rabid for more?) that it was difficult to reconcile my enjoyment of (most) things English with the reality of how the Empire treated it’s island neighbor. visiting all these places that knew such brutal treatment, that endured such monumental hardships, that bear the signs of 19th century policy decisions well into the 21st century … I struggled with a gut reaction to reject everything English for a long time, both while I was there and when I came back. as I said in a (much) earlier post: the worst of the Troubles might be over, but that certainly doesn’t mean things are resolved, and I had to reconcile my knowledge and affections for the history and present of both nations to one another. farther removed from the experience, it’s certainly easier to let the past stay in the past and be more academic and circumspect about the present-day political relationship between the two, and for this I am thankful, but it took awhile to find that balance.
in addition to all of that, I’ve also been thinking about what the experience taught me about myself and about how I travel. my first truly solo trip (three weeks in Venezuela) was oftentimes more stressful than enjoyable and, in reality, not designed as travel. I spent a good share of my days going through microfilm at the Biblioteca Nacional and making photocopies, or struggling with new (and functionally unhelpful) forms of Spanish grammar. consequently, the experience left me uncertain as to how I would cope when truly traveling solo. my time in Ireland proved to me not only that I could spend nearly three weeks in a foreign land, most of the time by myself, but that I could relish the opportunity. now it is not so much a question of “when” but “how soon” can I come up with the money and time for another big adventure.
granted, there are still elements about this trip to the Czech Republic about which I am nervous — the language challenge foremost among them. the hardest aspect of my time in Venezuela was a combination of language factors: my Spanish is not very good (despite my sometimes-enthusiastic, sometimes-half-hearted efforts) and locals were not patient with my efforts. the Venezuelan economy is not reliant on external tourism by any stretch of the imagination and one could never accuse the random venezolano on the street of being warm and welcoming to outsiders. as such, I am (justifiably, I think) nervous about the fact that I only know a few random phrases of Czech. but this is an entirely new experience in a nation that does rely on tourists, for good or for ill, and I’m sticking in large part to areas known to tourists or with student populations or expats. I’ve got the basics of four languages under my belt and, if all else fails, there’s always charades and writing out what I want in consultation with my phrasebook. in the end, I know that I have the experience, presence of mind, and tug towards adventure that will make the coming weeks another truly remarkable adventure.