Why did I first come to Ireland and why did I keep coming back? I don’t have an easy answer for the first part of that question, but the second part is easy enough.

I came to Ireland to go to college as an 18-year-old in 2008. My family had lived in Europe for five years when I was very young, and my brother had gone to college in England, so the idea of living outside of the States wasn’t totally outside my realm of comprehension. A few generations ago my family was Irish, I loved the accent, I loved the music, I loved the pictures I’d seen…and that was all, really.

Read more: Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones tours

Ireland, sure, why not? I googled “Best college in Ireland,” and printed out an application to Trinity.

Trinity was the only school overseas that I applied to, and it was by far the simplest of all my applications; they basically just wanted my address and my SAT scores. I filled it in and sent it off and didn’t think too much about it, so when I was offered a place there, I wasn’t entirely prepared to accept – in fact I nearly went to a small women’s college in the States instead. I agonized over the decision!

I had never been to Ireland in my life, I didn’t know a single person there, and it was such a different educational structure. In the end, this is what sealed it for me: I have this chance sitting in front of me. If I don’t take it, I will wonder about it and regret it forever.

So I packed my bags and got on the plane, and had a wonderful year. I ended up transferring back to an American university for the rest of my college career (I never quite warmed to that different educational system), but I didn’t leave Ireland behind at all – I went back at least twice a year for the next three years to visit a boy. That’s why I’ve kept coming back, and why I’ve moved over here for a year now. Well, that and McCambridge bread with Tesco hummus.

Read more: Farewell Ireland, Hello USA - moving to America 40 years ago today

Kev and I met just a few weeks before I left Ireland, and when I did leave I cursed fate’s poor timing, but was prepared to forget all about it and keep him as a lovely memory. I hadn’t been home long though, before I got an e-mail from him. We wrote back and forth constantly, he came to visit, and that was that – three and a half years of transatlantic long distance later we’re still going strong and I’ve come back to Ireland to give us a real shot at a “normal” relationship. How exciting to be able to meet up and go to dinner, to have more than a week at a time together, to go to the movies!

Ireland is inextricably tied to my maturation from a child to a young adult. When I am here, I am completely responsible for myself and entirely self-sufficient, for I have no family here – I have built my network of contacts myself, set up my banking myself, found housing myself, learned my way around the streets and grocery stores and public transportation and slang myself. I funded all of those plane tickets for all of those visits myself. I have earned my level of comfort here, and because of that, I enjoy my own sense of belonging and ownership in this place. And now that I have graduated from college, I am taking my first steps into an adult life here (renting a house, finding a job, etc.)

Read more: Kerry and the Wild Atlantic Way tours

Living here is terribly frustrating at times, and extraordinarily liberating at others. It is a constant challenge, and it teaches me more and more about myself with every passing day. For me, this year is very much about Annie+Kev, but it’s equally about exploration and growth. It’s a “year out” of sorts, but I am going to make sure it is productive in as many ways as possible.

Read more: Galway and the West tours

* Originally published in 2013.