In 2019, I was given opportunity to visit our customer site in Ireland on my company’s expense. This was the first I was
travelling to foreign country in my entire life. I was really very excited and a little bit nervous as well. With my current income situation, I couldn’t see myself travelling any place outside India in foreseeable future, but God has been really kind to make this happen last year.
I really wanted to share my experience in details but I could only manage to write down a little segment of it in the 2019 year summary.
For Durga Puja I visited my parents in West Bengal and that was the time most of the paper works and formalities were going on at the same time. There had a few cases where the travel was cancelled at the last moment, so I was very nervous and I did not share the news with any of my friends and family except my parents and elder sibling. In my team, only 2 people knew about this as they were helping me to apply visa and fill up the documents. Some people were upset at work for keeping it to myself.
Finally the day arrived. I had packed my bags in the most organized way, after all this was not like my 7 day trip to home. It was the longest journey of my life, I put on some comfy clothes- which were slighly better than wearing pajamas. My made 2 braids with my long hair… Overall my look was quite unique for the airport. I have seen women dolled up for airport, I was completely on the opposite side of the spectrum- ditched body hugging jeans and tops which could be very uncomfortable in long flights. I was pretty comfortable and confident.
The Flight from Hyderabad:
I had only been to Domestic arrival/departure of Hyderabad airport and in Uber it did not show to choose different drop for International. I managed to tell the driver at the right time. Having small talk or giving instructions to strangers is a big deal for me. I often choose to suffer from inconvenience than complaining which would require me to talk!
The check-in process was bit different for the internation airport. There were even more counters to go through. At first the order of security checks was not very clear but after observing other travellers and asking the staff I could manage to pass through. At Immigration section the officer was scolding the previous lady but was nice to me. He dropped few bengali sentences- first I couldnt make out any sense as it was completely unexpected. Actually he had been posted in West Bengal for few years and looking at my address he assumed me as a bengali and started testing in newly learnt language skills – it was good indeed!
The gate number and the sitting place were not clear either, the staff mis-guided me this time. But after observing other people and asking a more reliable person and I settled down for almost an hour. I snacked on some tea-cake which I didn’t get chance to eat before, facetimes my family and watched a little kid running from one side to another in front of me. Her mom looked not more 30 was running behind the toddler helplessly.
Then it was time to board into the plane. My ticket was booked in Etihad, it’s quite different from the domestic flights that I had seen so far. The seats were in three colums! There were a neck-pillow and a blanket! Well we dont get those in domestic flights!! I was seating on an aisle seat (thank God!) and a middle aged Indian person sat next to me. The flight mostly had Indian people. The destination was Dubai. It was almost 4.5 hours flight and I was determined to sleep the entire journey.
The only problem was, the staff did not allow me to put my backpack in the cab. It was quite huge and after keeping it down there was barely any space to fit my legs there. The person next to me was nagging to allow him to keep his bag in cabin with no use, he ended up in the situation as mine!
The complete cabin crew was foreigner and there was male a stuff as well.(A few years back I did not know males are even considered for this job role.) The food was served slightly before landing. The air hostess called my vegetarian meal, “Hindi meal” which is funny because Hindi is a language, not a cuisine. There was a tiny spoon of rice, a chapati, a mini gulab jamun, a daal and a curry. Also some crackers with butter. The food was quite good to be honest. They were wine, tea and coffee as well. I asked water for twice and the male stuff totally ignored it (I might have cussed him to die from thirst, lol!)
Transit in Dubai:
Landed in Dubai airport at 2:30 IST. I knew that none of family members was sleeping. My phone started ringing as soon it connected to airport wifi. There were huge line in security check, they were asking to remove socks also! My next goal was to quickly figure out the luggage situation and the gate number. The luggage was being taken care by the next flight and I quickly reached the gate- it was not hard to find out for a person like me- who never travels and is very clumsy.
In the restroom, I saw queue for the first time. There is no such concept in Indian restrooms, women usually picks up one of the doors and wait in front it- so it’s kind of random. There on the hand, ladies were waiting in queue and only the first one uses the stall. Fair enough!
After freshning up there was not much time left for flight from Dubai to Dublin. This time most of the travellers were from all over the world. In front of me, there was a white family with many kids, and 3 generations together. The grand-parents looked so young that I mistook them as parents first. The kids were watching some shows in tablet and the elders were chitchating among themselves. The baby in the stroller was chewing on some mc-nuggets. The parenting style is very differnt from India. In India, children of 1-2 years are not given any fast foods/ store brought foods. I saw people from many countries in a short while, having many visible behavioral differences. But the kids of all places were rolling over the floor like bed – no discrimination at all. There was a young couple of South Asian decent sitting infront of me… I could not understand what language they were speaking in even though it sounded very familiar.
There were 2 black girls seating behind me. They had braided their hair in cornrows. I had seen those in TV before but never in real life. There was a distinct smell of coconut oil, which is required to tame the hair before braiding them so intricately. The hair looked really nice in cornrows- I can’t appreciate the skills enough that went into braiding the complete hair like that.
Then came the time to board the plane. They were calling the passengers by zones- this is different from my previous flight journeys where we supposed to make only 2 line depending on seat number for front and back gate.
Flight to Dublin:
This time too, I got an aisle seat and next to an English couple. The wife had taken the window seat and the husband was sitting in the middle. For a change this there was a tab and headphones to pass the time. I chose sleep over that but woke up almost midway through the flight. The person next to me was watching Simpsons and I too started browsing. I could not figure out where to connect the audio jack and the person next to me showed it the most unexpected place, under the arm-rest. I watched Toy Story 4.
This time there were 2 meals. One sandwich at the beginning and 3 couse meal almost by the end of the flight. The sandwich was quite good and the meal was decent.
This time I did not have trouble with the leg space. 8 hours passed quite easily.
Heading for Athlone:
There was long queues for immigration. I was ready with all my papers but those fell on the floor while talking to the officer. The lady officer was not in a good mood to deal with my clumsiness. It did not take long time. Soon I came to the conveyor belt to collect luggage. Now was the time to find the exit and get into the bus for Athlone.
Luckily my senior in office gave me clear instruction on the bus and route. However it was very difficult for me to book tickets and do all the stuff with all my luggages. A kind man volunteered to look over my bags when I had to collect something quickly. It was windy and cold, about 2 degree celcius. Even on a sunny day like that one, the cold biting into my skin. I have barely seen 17 degree c on an average winter night back in India.
I had already missed the bus by 10 minutes. The next bus was after 1 hour. The ticket booking was similar to withdrawing money from ATM machine. The steps were intuitive enough for a new person to figure out. The bus finally arrived. We had to load the luggages first and then get into the bus. I chose the first seat beside the window. The screen was showing the stop along with time and temperature. Unlike India the buses have WiFi in Ireland. I quickly connected to the WiFi and called up my mom. The city looked nice and clean, there were not many people on the roads, I was facetiming my mom the whole time and to give her a virtual tour of the country.
The bus took a long route, I saw the fields and farms of the countryside, horses and other animals. I wasn’t feeling tired at all. I checked with the person who was to pick me up from bus stop. The stay and everything were not to be taken care by the company. Finally I reached my stay for the next 2 weeks- a 2-BHK flat with other Indian software engineers like me.
This flat was specifically for females who come from India. This Indian fellow (the owner) has started a business to rent his appartment to the Indian visitors.
The stay and the roommates:
When I reached the other 2 girls were not there. I freshened up, unpacked my stuff and ate a little. Surprisingly I had to share the bed with another girl. It was not much cold inside the room when I reached in the afternoon. The complete floor is covered with carpet. I saw heaters in every room. There was no fan (well, of course not required). The kitchen was differnt. No gas stove, induction oven instead. The dish washer and the oven did not look like being used in recent time. People who come for 2 weeks – 1 month are barely concerned use something which they haven’t used before.
As expected no jet spray in washroom- missing the jet spray overpowered the joy of using the bath-tub. The stay was cheap and every bit of the appartment was justifying for it.
The windows looked sealed or nobody dared to open them because of the cold air. Not sure how people in cold countries roll!
There was pin drop silence in the appartment, even though it’s on the side of a road. The silence was peaceful and uncomfortable at the same time. In India I can barely imagine such silence, also my home is at the most chaotic place of the city. The cars weren’t honking continuously, is that even possible?
My finally met my roommates – Sheena, was a technical manager, she was there for a long stay and was looking for a better place to leave. Bhakti, 2 years senior to me was to share room me. She was married and a mother of a 2 year old. She was working as a coordinator of onsite and offsite teams at that moment.
Even though I always have hard time in making friends or at least being comfortable around strangers in God’s grace these 2 girls turned out to be very friendly and welcoming to me. Sheena was Marathi, quite senior to us. Bhakti was native Telugu from South India and I was a girl from West Bengal. Even though 3 of us were from the same country, our native tongue and food habits are quite different. We used to communicate in English.
Bhakti took the lead in the kitchen, she used to make lunch box for both of us. Sheena on the other other hand used to do her own stuff. Bhakti and I became close as we both came for 2 weeks.
Meeting Clients and office environment:
We used to get into bus by 8 in the morning and reach office by 8:30. Here in India, it used to start by 10 AM. Morning routine was pretty much sorted. My work was to have breakfast, take shower, get ready and then pack our lunch and clean up. Bhakti’s work was making the lunch, taking shower and getting ready. It felt really weird to pay the bus driver with a coin – 1 Euro. Back in India, we couldn’t even buy a candy with 1 Rupee.
On the first day, my manager came to receive me. After I had not seen him until the last day. The office building was small. The people were chilled out. The work culture was quite different but not hard to adjust. I did not know anyone where I got my desk. People were so warm and welcoming… I couldn’t be more thankful to God. Some times I used to have trouble in understanding what they were saying because of the accent- but that was the least of my troubles.
The work was going fine in office.
The cafeteria had the most Irish impact. Out of 5 main dishes 2-3 used to be of potatoes. Luckily I was a huge fan of potatoes anyway. On Halloween there were so many sweet treat I ditched my lunch box that day and tried one of almost everything. Nothing was complementary but it was worth it. After all I need to know if our supermarket cinnamon buns were better or not.
Conspiracy and Drama:
When I went to customer site, there was no specific instruction from Indian team for work. So I was doing the work wrt my understanding. However the higher management had other plans. We have customer support work in the team – where we need to help customer deploying our product over call or screen share. The customer can be from any timeline and support is for 24X7.
In my short stay of Ireland, the hardest thing was to deal with the weather. I have a tendency to catch cold easily and after landing on the country- I was having fever and headache. There was regular office, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning every day. On top of that my manager was expecting me to take on the tech -support activity for those 2 weeks.
I used to cook dinner and finish the chores quickly to seat with the laptop again. The calls used to continue till 3 in the morning. The next day again 8 AM bus, 8:30 office and so on.There was not much flexibilty of the office timing for me as I did not want to go by myself. After continuing this hectic routine I fell even more sick.
Whoever comes to Ireland for two weeks usually plan the weekend for sightseeing. But my manager was clever enough to assign weekend work to me so that I do not plan anything. The irony was that the work could have been easily done on weekdays, the other team did not show up and work did not proceed any way. My teammates were upset with me more because I got the opportunity of onsite, that’s why they were not willing to share the work.
My previous manager too had shifted to Ireland recently with his family. He was a cunning man indeed. He was acting all cool and showing over-enthusiasm to plan our weekend (Mine and Bhakti’s). Bhakti and I wanted to plan ourselves (before I came to know about weekend work) but my old manager was interfering with our plan. Later when the actual day came, he just called Bhakti and picked her up. He did not care to ask me whether I could come managing my work or not.
My previous manager told Bhakti that he had a conversation with my current manager. My current manager told him not to take me on any weekend trip and inform me that there was no place in the car for me. Bhakti was little bit surprised to know that. She told me all this after she back from the trip. I was disturbed to know the sick mentality of the people I was working for. I didn’t ask anyone for a free ride or plan my weekend. They showed interest in the first place and did not know me on the day of the trip. I felt like trash on that day.
On Saturday and Sunday, I was sitting in my room, whereas my roommate utilized the weekend fully by sightseeing and shopping as planned. That Diwali I couldn’t light even a candle.
Similary on Halloween, everybody went to party after office hours. I was constantly getting calls from my supervisors from India for work (which was not very urgent and could be handled by anyone in the team for the day). My previous manager was texting Bhakti all the time and making separate plans. It was obvious for me to go with my roommate as I didn’t anyone better in that foreign country. Bhakti too didn’t want to go out with him, answering only out of politeness.
I understood my stand in the team and how intentionally all the extra works was placed on my way. It was beyond somebody’s capacity. One night I felt so overwhelmed that I cried helplessly… After all you want to be treated as a human, not a slave. In God’s grace there was one bank holiday in Ireland, which I could utilize to visit Dublin- my manager couldn’t plan any work to ruin that day. Sheena, Bhakti and I went to Dublin, walked on the streets of Dublin entire day and came back at night.
There’s not much to see in Athlone. There are a lot of bars, the only places where people go. We went to visit Sean’s Bar which is world’s oldest bar probably. By the time we reached it was already about to close. I did not want to get drunk in front of people whom I know just for a week. The music and atmosphere were reminding me of the time (also the only time) I went to bar before and had so much fun without sipping a single drop of alcohol. To be honest, I really miss having friends who are so fun-loving and who allowed my introvert self to take time to adjust.
We visited Dublin again along with my colleagues, visited Trinity University and St. Stephen Greens. Rest of the time we walked on the street of Dublin. I barely got some photos.
In the evening, there were so many street performers performing on the street. Some showing magic, some playing musical instruments, some singing songs. Most of the street singers seemed to be just practising, which their roommates/family members probably didn’t allow them to do indoors. One or two of them were really good, rest were pain to the ears. Nonetheless, I loved the vibe around. People from diverse backgrounds walking on the street, music in the background… We walked a lot on that day, my colleague wanted to get stuff from the shopping mall, the wait was unbearable since I was buying anything at all.
I came across so many Butler’s and pastry shops, gelato shops… I really wanted to try some, but nobody accompanied.
We also visited some castle, which was the most underwhelming experience there. Even my colleagues in Onsite office agreed to that!
Dublin felt like a city that I have always known but never visited. Every place was new to me yet I felt like same as walking in my neighborhood. It was quite sunny and very windy that day. Finally I had pampered myself with cup of hot chocolate on the way back to our stay- a hot drink was indeed a relief to my cold.
Shopping and stuff:
Groccery shopping was quite fun there- so many options to choose from. Bakeries were really good. Vegetables were quite pricey.
I already knew what ice-creams and chocolates I wanted to try. There was no question about it. I didn’t buy any clothes or bags… My roommate on the other hand bought bottles shampoos, oils, clothes for her family, Kg.s of expensive chocolates.
She was shocked to see me taking it easy on my wallet. After all, I should think what I can really afford.
I packed my bag on Thursday. On Friday, I took rest for a while after office and went to my colleague’s house for dinner. Then it was time for bidding goodbye to everyone. I had an early morning flight from Dublin and I had to take last bus of the day and wait in the airport at night. Bhakti’s flight was at different time, she went to the last party of her trip on that day with Sheena and 2 other people. I was waiting at the bus-stop with very less people. The bus was delayed by an hour or so, there was no other bus… My anxiety was building up.
I had high fever on that day. I was taking medicines. I was praying to God to save me from any mishaps. I had never travelled at night like that. The bus journey was shorter this time. The bus driver was singing songs and calling all passengers at every single stop as most of them were asleep. I did not close my eyes even for a minute.
Finding the right terminal and gate took me a while, the airport was empty and the signs were a little bit confusing. I found a seat nearest to the my checkin counter. During checkin they didn’t give me the second ticket (Dubai to Hyderabad) and suggested me to collect that before boarding at gate. A person suffering from anxiety would understand the state of my mind.
Whole night I was sitting in the airport and the sun rose by the time I finished check-in. My health deteriorated and I was getting concerned. My family did not know about it. The only thing the parent would have done in that case to give me even more anxiety instead of reassurance- that’s why I hate telling them anything.
The anxiety peaked so high that I couldn’t keep myself together anymore. I cried sitting by myself in the Dublin airport- a person who has never shed a single drop of tear in front of public in her life(including family, friends, acquaintances, total strangers). The world was crumbling down around me, the embarrassment did not matter. I wanted to hug someone so badly. A little girl next to me was staring at me all the time, she was probably talking about me to her mom as well. The strangers respect each other personal space and nobody walked up to me that day with a over-friendly gesture.
I did not get the ticket even at the time of boarding and I was startled. The staff told me to collect it on the flight. After boarding the flight attendant denied to provide ticket. The flight was about to take off and there was no update of my second ticket. I got an aisle seat again next to an elderly lady of Indian origin. The person next to her had similar problem with ticket as mine. At last the staff handed over the ticket and I was relieved.
I do not remember much about the rest of the journey. My fever was under control and I slept most of the time. I managed to watch Lego movie 2 this time. There was such a relied when I reached India. Even though I wasn’t with my family and it was Hyderabad, it felt like I came home.
I came to my dorm, had some food and slept for 7-8 hours straight! Must be the jet lag!
My Final Thought:
International travel wasn’t hard at all- this is coming from a person who hesitates even in domestic flights. I had talked with so many strangers which was a big deal for me. People in Ireland seemed really cool… very polite as well. Sometimes I could not even understand what they are saying sorry for! The person who used to sit next to me in office was quite senior in age and position – yet so friendly. He used to give chocolates/sweets almost every day. That’s the only thing I would not feel shy to take! LOL! I was very happy with the wide variety of chocolates that I got in supermarket.
The absence of jet spray was a big deal. Using tissue is never satisfactory for a person born and brought up in India. There are many other countries in Asia where tissue is not used in toilet. The food was okay for me. The weather is best for staying indoors. I always wish to visit western countries again, even though I don’t see myself shifting there permanently.