My First Time Abroad

It was 1996; I was 15 and alone. Well, not alone actually, I was traveling with a gaggle of girls, but none of whom I knew before that trip, and I was without any family members. I was, in fact, to be the first of my immediate family to fly overseas. Ireland was the destination, the ancestral home of at least 25% of my family. I’d spend a week camping in Ballyfin in the interior of the Emerald Isle, followed by time spent living with a host family in Dublin and then touring some of the rest of the country.

I’d secured my first passport. I was beyond excited, even if less than thrilled by my photo. I heard the term “ugly American” for the first time, and I was nervous about making the mistakes that could earn me that label.

From the first moment, I was amazed by everything. The plane had upper and lower levels of seating…who had ever heard of such a thing! The Coke cans were tiny, practically no more than a shot, and so fascinating that I kept them instead of throwing them away when the stewardess came around. From my window seat, I stared out the window as we flew in over Ireland and was blown away by how truly, truly green it was. Once in the airport, I read sign after sign about foot-and-mouth disease, which I’d never heard of before.

I learned that July in the northern hemisphere doesn’t always translate to hot weather, as I shivered in a sweater while fair skinned Irish rode bikes in tank tops, turning a bright shade of red. While lugging a huge duffel bag around, I learned that backpacks and wheeled suitcases were the much better option, and I vowed to become a better packer. I learned that though someone might speak the same language as you, it can seem like a foreign tongue, as I tried to translate the heavily accented words flying out of my host father’s mouth.

I was blown away the first morning when my host mother asked me to go outside and collect eggs from the hen house. I hadn’t the first clue how to do such a thing, and all that pecking frightened me. When the milk was delivered fresh to the doorstep, I was charmed. This was Dublin, the nation’s capital, yet there were hens in the backyard and fresh milk at the front door. Wandering around the city, I was taken aback by the dates on cornerstones of buildings, many hundreds and hundreds of years older than my entire nation, and I marveled at how you could have a downtown with nary a skyscraper. And when Sunday rolled around, I could hardly believe that everything, truly, absolutely, everything closed down.

Finally, I was amazed by the intensity of friendships that could develop in such a short period. I knew my host family would always have a place for me (and they did; when I returned in 2001 for a visit the family had grown in number but embraced me just the same.) And the people who I sat next to as strangers on the flight to Ireland were by the time we boarded the plane back home good friends (so much so that in 2003, I would be a bridesmaid in one of their weddings).

The world was, at once, both much smaller and much bigger than I’d ever believed it to be. A door had sprung open, and I couldn’t wait to push through it, to see what else lay beyond my immediate field of vision. I was ready to be shocked and surprised, challenged and charmed. And as I flew back, still stealing soda cans, still pressing my face against the window, I promised myself that that trip was only the beginning.

4 Replies to “My First Time Abroad”

  1. The first time is always a great experience. So many emotions…. I too have just learned that july does not always mean warmth as I’ve had to layer up here in England while all my english friends are taking about how hot it is.

    That was a lovely story. It really gets the first time of travel and makes me excited that your heading out on a new adventure soon!!

  2. What a lovely story, Theresa!
    My first trip overseas (to U.S.) was also when I was 15… and I guess the age makes a huge difference.. your life experience is so little when you are 15, yet you think that you know everything!
    Then you get in that enormous plane and realize for the 1st time that you know nothing and you’ll never know everything.
    It’s awesome! 😀

  3. Sadly I don’t remember my first time, I was too young, only a few months old. But I do remember my first solo trips as an adult, and like you I felt the same sense of wonder. I haven’t stopped traveling since then, and it’s nearly been 20 years. Keep going, this little blue ball we call home is actually huge when you’re on it, and there is a lot to see.

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