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For Shannon Irby, In Moving From Japan to Ireland, What Else Could Go Wrong?

Shannon Irby (Photo courtesy Shannon Irby)

Culture shock has a honeymoon phase at its beginning. Shannon Irby, a former Military B.R.A.T. and current postgraduate student living in Ireland, was reminded of this while scrolling through Instagram one day.

‘EVERYTHING WENT WRONG FROM THE BEGINNING’

“I laughed a bit sardonically to myself because I’d somehow missed out on that part during this latest move,” she says. “Everything went wrong from the beginning.”

Shannon Irby (Photo courtesy Shannon Irby)
Shannon Irby (Photo courtesy Shannon Irby)

There are many things to worry about when preparing to move, but Irby didn’t expect two typhoons to disrupt and derail her outbound travel plans. Reservations made well in advance became lost expenses. She could only salvage her flights from Okinawa, Japan, to Dublin, Ireland.

“I was already on plan C, and I hadn’t left yet,” she says.

Irby had been having money transfer issues in the weeks leading up to this. It cost her more than planned to send tuition money to her school. The university’s third-party money transfer company wasn’t making things any easier.

“It took me way too long to figure out they were only a suggestion, not a mandatory method,” she says.

Irby watched the currency’s exchange rate gap grow further and further away as the days went by — so much for saving.

After typhoon #2’s return visit, they had a slight reprieve in the weather. Everyone was scrambling to complete their travels through the region, herself included. Irby was finally on her way.

ARRIVING IN DUBLIN

“I hadn’t researched a whole lot about Dublin. I mostly decided to make the effort once I arrived,” she says. “I reasoned that postponing this would keep me busy and interested in getting to know my new home.”

Irby spent a week of vacation in London to symbolically separate two life stages. There, her ears got reacquainted with hearing English all around her.

“The accent was a fun challenge,” she says. “But I wouldn’t say I was having fun. I spent that whole trip in a kind of exhausted state of existence, never fully enjoying my stay. Although, I was happy about things like food and meeting up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. There were a few problems during the trip, but it ended quite quickly. Before I knew it, I was boarding a flight to my final destination.”

The wheel on Irby’s largest suitcase broke off when she picked it up at the baggage claim.

I spent that whole trip in a kind of exhausted state of existence, never fully enjoying my stay.

“I looked around, saw a mostly empty room, and decided it wasn’t worth it to bring it up,” she says.

The taxi driver welcomed her and told Irby how good things would be if she made an effort. Irby was grateful for and encouraged by his words.

However, that’s about as long as her “honeymoon” lasted, she says: “A car ride from the airport to my hotel.”

Ha penny bridge over the Liffey river at sunset, Dublin City, Ireland
Ha penny bridge over the Liffey river at sunset, Dublin City, Ireland (Photo via Envato Elements)

ACCOMMODATION ISSUES

Immediately, things went wrong. Irby had issues with her accommodation, and when she asked for help from multiple sources, none came.

“I struggled to process the situation,” she says. “Was this the norm or something unique? I decided it was unique, and I was just having bad luck. I sent another email requesting help and attempted to ease my problems by spending some more of the money I’d originally wanted to save.”

But this theme of asking for help and that request being rejected or misunderstood got repeated over and over. Irby felt like she was having trouble communicating with people everywhere.

“Which was extremely odd because we were all speaking English,” she says. “I was prepared for accents, but perhaps I wasn’t prepared for nuances in tone and vocabulary. Maybe there were things you just didn’t ask for here? The hidden differences threw me for a loop, and I made a mental shift to focus on those deeper differences.”

Irby had huge misunderstandings with immigration and panicked about preparing her student visa application.

“Believe me, I had tried to prepare for this part in advance,” Irby says. “There was just so little information for my nationality. I felt like I was going crazy when I suddenly found an official webpage full of additional application requirements.

I was prepared for accents, but perhaps I wasn’t prepared for nuances in tone and vocabulary.

“I’ve been an adult for several years now, but things felt so overwhelming that I decided to get my family involved,” she adds.

Trinity Collge Library, Dublin, Ireland
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland (Photo via Envato Elements)

APPOINTMENT DAY

By the time her appointment day came, Irby was frazzled. The immigration officer asked her for two of the 20+ documents she’d prepared and told her she was all set.

“I stared, incredulous, and asked if he was sure that was all he needed,” she says. “He calmly told me, ‘Yes,’ and refused to receive anything else. I wanted to cry.”

Months into the semester, Irby had further issues with her school. The scholarship they’d awarded her wasn’t in their system, and they had trouble applying it. She traveled an hour from her dormitory to make a local bank account as part of the solution. All the banks closest to her had month-long waiting lists.

Then, in her school accommodation, the large single kitchen she had to share with over 40 residents in the building.

“If you can imagine sharing a single kitchen with four people from different countries, you can imagine the chaos that unfolded in my building,” she says. “I and many other residents asked the reception office for help in communicating and resolving issues, but everyone was denied that help. Every time the washing machine breaks or the hot water stops running, I remind myself that no one will help solve this problem. I just have to accept it.”

Irby couldn’t have imagined how this culture shock would affect her.

“Everything that happened because I wanted to come here was nothing like I had experienced before,” she says, adding that it was a surprise when she came close to having her first panic attack.

“I didn’t want to go outside. My body started refusing. I didn’t want to enter the kitchen or even go pick up my mail in the reception office,” she says. “I didn’t want to walk around outside unless I could be as far away from people as possible. I didn’t want to go anywhere except class and back to my room. Even from my room, the sound of doors slamming shut in the hallway grated on me.”

Everything that happened because I wanted to come here was nothing like I had experienced before.

Despite all that anxiety, Irby says she forced herself out. In previous moves, she’d learned what she needed to do to make friends and feel settled in a new place. Irby tried to do the same in Dublin, going to a few language exchanges and international meetups, leaving each meeting feeling a mixture of hope and hopelessness.

“Every time I thought I was making a friend, it turned out I wasn’t,” she says. “All the other languages in my head weren’t in demand here; I needed to learn others, and I was burnt out from studying languages. I didn’t really have the money to try other groups or events, so I stopped going altogether.”

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland
Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland (Photo via Envato Elements)

SILVER LININGS

The silver linings in all this were Irby’s classes and classmates.

“We were a small group, and it would take me months to get to know them (I’m still getting to know them), but they have been the positive points in this new chapter,” she says. “It’s been six months since I arrived, and I think I’m finally making it down the horizontal axis of the culture shock chart.”

This move has taught Irby to adjust and adapt by taking it easy, giving herself a break, and allowing her to immerse herself slowly.

“I see now that it was all too much to handle at once and that what worked for me years ago now seemed to hinder my progress and block my ability to enjoy this new home,” she says.

Irby often thinks back to all her childhood moves. She moved five times before age 18 and lived in four different countries.

“As hard as they were, I was never alone,” she says. “I’ve moved several more times as an adult, always on my own. It’s different, but in a way, it’s always going to be different. Moving, leaving people, and starting over never gets easier. I don’t think we can ever be fully prepared. But each new place presents new lessons to be learned.”

In conclusion, Irby says: “When I leave here, people will ask me how I enjoyed my stay, how much I saw, and what touristy things I did. I’ll have to be honest with them. Tell them that I spent most of my time in my room or walking through spacious parks, healing and acclimating. And that’s OK.”

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