As January and the New Year dawned on us once again, many people sat down to pen New Year’s resolutions. This year, I decided to take “new year, new me” to an entirely new level.

On January 3rd, I nervously packed my bags and, like a packhorse, traipsed through airports, flying halfway around the world from little old New Zealand to Dublin, Ireland to begin my exchange.

While I was born and raised a Kiwi, my Irish dad, who immigrated to New Zealand in the 90s, sprinkled Irish culture into my childhood. However, I hadn’t stepped foot in Ireland since I was 14. Nonetheless, armed with my maroon passport and the knowledge that I had a small claim to an Irish identity, albeit only half of one, my nerves for the experience ahead calmed. The last few remaining nerves disappeared as I exited customs and laid eyes on my cousin holding an airport pickup sign with my name on it – reassuring to know at least one person knew my name!

The next few hours were a flurry of sightseeing and getting the essentials to move into my, hard-got accommodation. Knowing the unnerving statistic that I was outnumbered in the lottery for on-campus accommodation, I knew my chances of getting a bed were slim. Sadly, my worst fears were realised and I was one of the unlucky students who, 3 weeks out from moving to the other side of the world, was thrust into Dublin’s Hunger Games-esque housing market. While UCD provided helpful resources, the hunt for accommodation still entailed furiously posting on different Facebook pages, side-stepping several scams, before I eventually managed to find a room in the City.

My accommodation is only a 15-minute walk from Grafton Street and, while in true Dublin fashion it costs me an arm and a leg, I am happy with it. In most parts of New Zealand, public transport is either non-existent or unreliable, so it is not something I am well acquainted with. Commuting to college using public transport has turned out to be the biggest ‘culture shock’ to date.

Before I left New Zealand, people would tell me “it’s almost like you are going home, in a way” and, while I didn’t quite believe this, in some ways it has rang true during my first few days on the Emerald Isle. The accents were familiar and the landscape reminded me of countless pictures I had seen.

However, like waking up from a night out, waking up on the first morning in Dublin, I sobered up from the jetlag and the adrenaline high of the exciting day before and the gravity of my situation dawned on me. I could count the number of people I knew in Ireland on my left hand, I didn’t know my way around the corner without Google Maps, and suddenly it didn’t feel like the homecoming that I thought it might.
With orientation still a few days out, I had time to let the dust settle from my move. Upon waking I hunted down a new coffee spot and explored the “big smoke”, letting the city pour into my eyes. While this may seem strange for people native, or at least familiar, to Dublin, merely walking the streets of Dublin was exciting!

To be honest, in the first 48 hours of arrival I had only met one person and the fear of not making any friends crossed my mind. I needn’t have worried in hindsight because that night I went to the laundry room and, bonding over the confusing and overpriced machines, I befriended another exchange student from Australia.

A couple of thousand miles from home, it was comforting to chat to someone else alien to this hemisphere. After waiting for our clothes we moved our conversation to a pub, stumbling into a group of Erasmus students eager to chew the fat. We parked up in the corner of a cosy pub listening to a couple musos (musicians for those unfamiliar with New Zealand slang) and drinking pints. It felt like home enough for me.

The next day it was high time I took a trip to the supermarket to get set up. In New Zealand, I avoid the supermarket like the plague because even getting staples: milk, eggs, cheese and bread it adds to the equivalent of nearly €30.

As I walked into Lidl, however, and began converting items in my head I was relieved to see that while the renting prices are through the roof I will be saving money at the supermarket! Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as relieved when discovering the price of coffee so will have to turn back to the old faithful; instant coffee.

In New Zealand, Orientation, or re-O week as we call it, is a week of parties with people you already know. Here, orientation was slightly more daunting but I psyched myself up to get on the bus and attend the first meet and greet. After making it on campus the UCD Global team met us with friendly faces and I spent the next 2 hours reciting my bio: name, programme and home country to people from all over the world.

Of course, everyone was shocked to hear where I had come from, but I was equally shocked to hear where they were from too. We compared cultures, customs, the cost of living and our craving for friendship was written all over our faces. It comforted me to know that everyone was in the same boat.

Swapping numbers and stories like they were currency, we planned activities as if we had known each other for years. We were all hungry for a taste of Irish culture…and (maybe even more so) Irish pints.

It’s been nearly a week since moving and while I have had my fair share of ‘what on earth have I done’ moments I have had just as many ‘pinch me I moved halfway across the world’ moments too.

From what I can gather thus far, exchange students will wear their hearts on their sleeve to make friends and memories, and my ambitious resolution is already paying off.

Ella Ruddle – Contributor