As a person who loves nature and the outdoors Sligo is shaping up to be the perfect playground. Each morning I wake up to beautiful views of mountains and rolling countryside (that is, when it’s not raining). The locals think it’s funny when I refer to their “hills” as mountains, but they’re much bigger than anything I was used to in suburban Philadelphia. Since the moment I got here I’ve been itching to get out and explore the hiking trails, rugged coastline, and waterfalls in the surrounding area. Without a car (and no luck buying a bike), I needed to find a way to access the beauty around me through other means.
After searching around online I found a few outdoor clubs that meet weekly for nearby excursions and trips. One of them was the Sligo Walking Club, who meet each Saturday morning and carpool together to that day’s adventure. Their meeting spot? The IT car park, which is right across the street from my apartment! No car, no problem.
That night I contacted Veronica & Vinny, two of the coordinators of the club, and asked if Connor and I could join them tomorrow for their coastal walk across Raghly Peninsula. They responded quickly, welcoming us with open arms and even sending us a list of things telling us what to pack for lunch and how to prepare for the different weather conditions we might face (we didn’t do a great job listening).
When Connor and I showed up the next morning in the car park we realized that we were very much outsiders. All of the walkers had raincoats, boots, hiking gear, and even walking sticks. Connor was wearing basketball shoes and I had on gym shorts. We had one umbrella between the two of us. And to top it off, we were the only members of the group that was below 50.
It’s human nature to surround yourself with people who look, think, and act like you because it provides a sense of belonging. Meeting new people is hard, and being in the position of an outsider trying to break in is one that we all know to be uncomfortable and stressful. When you move to a new country and leave all your friends and family behind you find yourself in that position quite often. The best way to handle these difficult situations is finding ways to relate to the people around you and create a common ground. This can be easy, like it was for us Victory Scholars who arrived in Belfast as individuals but left a tight-knit group of 34. Or it can be much harder, like it is for my oldest friend George Stern who recently moved to Beijing and is required to speak Chinese every day as one of two Americans in the 500 person company. If you know George, you’d know that even a challenge this big is one he welcomes with open arms. Over the years he’s helped me realize an amazing life lesson; the further you exit your comfort zone the more you are forced to adapt and grow which creates new perspectives and conquers fear. It’s those experiences that you’ll look back on as the most memorable.
Today’s hike was a great example of what can happen when you step out of your comfort zone. The members of the walking club were so friendly towards us, even though we stuck out like a sore thumb. Throughout the duration of the 4 hour hike there was never a moment without conversation and friendly company. Even halfway through when it began to rain, spirits remained high (even Connor’s, I think). By the end of the walk we’d made a new group of friends and seen one of the most beautiful parts of Irish coastline in the country. I look forward to joining the Sligo Walking Club again this weekend, and for many weekends to come.
To all reading back home, use today to exit your comfort zone. You might like what you find!
Some pictures from our walk…
Horse & Cow Horse
Remnants of Knocklane Fort. Man-made bunkers built during the Bronze Age – 5000 years ago. Older than the Great Pyramids!