I never believed in the value of studying abroad until I did it myself. I had always heard that studying abroad is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, life changing experiences one will ever have. Every advisory meeting I ever walked into always ended with one sentence that always stuck with me. "You will regret it if you don't, take advantage of the opportunity while you can!" The sentence would repeat in my head like a broken record over and over, until I finally began truly thinking about it. I definitely did not want to walk out of college with any regrets, let alone let down an opportunity that was promised to be one of the best decisions I could have ever made. So, despite not knowing a single person participating in this program, or exactly what I would be doing for an entire month in a foreign country, I decided that I would bite the bullet and go. It was then that I realized that every information session I sat in on, every advisor meeting I dragged myself to, was worth every second of my time. Sure, I experienced a bit of homesickness here and there, but the memories, lessons, and experiences along the way were worth those few days of discomfort. Taking in all that this program had to offer and indulging in a different culture for three weeks has taught me more lessons than a classroom lecture ever could. This experience has shared with me a whole lot about myself, my friends, and my life. Now, nearly two months have passed, and I STILL can't stop fixating on Ireland and how this opportunity has made me soar to heights I never thought I could reach. While there are many, here are a few lessons I learned abroad that have influenced me the most.
1. Never Undervalue an Unfamiliar City
To be brutally honest, Ireland was never at the top of my, most-go-to countries list. I did not know much about Ireland, other than that the Irish themselves are heavy drinkers. Before becoming familiar with this program, I don't think I would have ever chose Ireland, as opposed to maybe Italy or Greece. And, granted, not everywhere you go is going to be an Italy or a Greece, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth it. Ireland had much more to offer than I could possibly imagine. On this trip, we explored two major parts of Ireland; Limerick and Dublin. I was excited about Dublin, but not too sure about Limerick, prior to arriving. However, Limerick's beautiful greenland, the people, the quaint and interesting town it is centered around, and the connections I shared is what truly made this half of my trip much more exciting than I had anticipated. Visiting Limerick has taught me to never judge a place its cover, and that even the most underdeveloped cities have so much to offer with an open mind.
2. Independence Leads to Friendships
As stated previously, making the decision to study abroad was difficult for me. While there are many reasons as to why this wasn't a quick and easy decision, one factor in particular was that I was worried to go alone. I knew nobody prior to going abroad, and that scared me a bit. A million questions would race through my head when thinking of all the "what-ifs" of going alone. What if I made no friends? What if everyone already knew each other and I was the only one friendless from the start? These thoughts would circle around my head every time the topic of studying abroad was brought to my attention. At the same time that I was worrying about this, I was also beginning to understand that all of these "what-ifs" were under my control. By being social and open to different personalities, I knew I would undoubtedly make friends. As long as I had the right attitude going into it, there would be no reason for me to travel three weeks on my own agenda. Two days into my trip, I knew my instincts were right. I immediately became friends with two girls who I hadn't even known existed and were students at West Chester. From this point on, we became a group of three, doing everything and anything together on our free time. We would devote our weekends to shopping and exploring parts of the country we had yet to come upon. Although me, Olivia, and Maddie were three peas in a pod, I eventually became comfortable and open to everyone else on the trip as well. Seeking friendships and willing to manage 13 different personalities has made me appreciate each and every person for who they were, and to this day, I have yet to meet a group that is as accepting and interesting and this one.
3. Studying Abroad Was the Happiest Time of my Life
While studying abroad, I truly felt that those three weeks were the first time I have ever been (for the most part) street-free, worry-free, and content. I was under no time strain aside from when I could take my next shower or watch the next episode of Stranger Things in the midst of everything that was going on around me. Each and every day was filled with excursions, checking out the greatest pubs, and walking a minimum of 10 miles a day exploring the inner city and everything it had, from the cool thrift stores, to the legendary sweater shops that Ireland is known for. Although studying abroad technically means taking a course and working your butt off to get that A at the end of the program, this trip was so much more than a letter on a sheet of paper. We hardly invested in classroom time, and instead devoted our days to learning through experience and observations. This unique way of managing this course is what made it much different from any other abroad experience I have heard of. The idea that learning was valued more than tests and experiences more than textbooks allowed me to enjoy Ireland itself along the way, while at the same time excelling at what I was really there for.
I will never stop talking about this trip because of how important and meaningful it was to me. Studying abroad was a significant part of my life when all i needed in the happiest of moments was Dr. Lordan, the Lucky Thirteen Ireland group, and a map directing us where to go next. I experienced things that some don't get to experience in their lifetime, with the greatest people by my side. I watched a Hurtling match in the heart of Limerick, went kayaking in River Shannon, saw the extraordinary Cliffs of Moher, attended a dinner in a Castle, and most importantly, in the midst of it all, I saw the value in going abroad and the lifelong, memorable, encounters I faced and will never forget in these short, but forever amazing, three weeks of my life.