A week ago, I arrived back in Miami after a long year studying states away at Washington and Lee University, separated for months at a time from my family and friends back home. This homecoming was especially important, because I had just arrived home from my first time abroad alone in Dingle, Ireland.
I'll admit, making the decision to go abroad was easier for me than some, because I knew what I wanted. I’m obsessed with traveling, and knew that I wanted to get a taste of it the moment the school would let me. I do not regret a single moment of my magical month in Ireland, a country that I became obsessed with at a frighteningly speedy rate. I encourage everyone, even those who feel they would not be able to survive abroad for that long, to seriously consider this unique kind of adventure.
Everyone should go abroad at least once in their college career. I came home with two conclusions from my time in Ireland: I want to go abroad again, like literally as soon as possible and for a full twelve weeks this time, and that this experience was too amazing to keep to my self.
If you do study abroad, it’s easy to waste your time away, so I came up with a few ways to keep that from happening and maximize a beautiful opportunity.
1. Eat local
While I understand from time to time we feel a little homesick and just need something deep fried and American (I went to a restaurant called the Diner boasting American food three times in the span of four weeks), you should try to experiment. Food is never better than when it is served in its homeland. If you can’t make yourself be adventurous every meal, seek out the most iconic meals of the place, or the ones recommended by the locals: they never lead you astray. I tried fish and chips and Irish coffee, two things I knew I would not like, and I was right, but at least I can say I did it rather than regretting the fact that I didn't even try.
2. Make as many friends as possible
While this may not be the same everywhere, in the small town we were staying in, the locals were friendlier than any people I have encountered anywhere (and certainly in Miami), and they were genuinely interested in us and where we came from. Talk to people from the grocery store, your favorite coffee shop (you will pick one), people hanging out at the local bars, anyone. Sometimes they’re funny, but sometimes they have incredible, eye-opening wisdom like they were snatched out of a coming-of-age movie, and it’s awesome.
3. Be willing to work for the aesthetic
And by the aesthetic, I mean the incredible views you’re likely going to have the chance to take in, as scenery is always an important part of your study abroad experience. I hiked for the very first time on my trip, and I was 100% not a fan, but on my second hike I got some pretty beautiful pictures and had an incredible time, so I guess enduring hail the first time was about half worth it.
4. Take advantage of local hot spots
Take a day to grab your camera and your wallet and just wander. Step into local shops for unique souvenirs and bypass the tourist traps. Find out what the town has to offer beyond what is on your trip’s planned docket. Search through every alley and find the hole in the wall places to eat and drink, especially, and I can not emphasize this enough, if they have live music. Nights I spent listening to local, dizzyingly talented artists were some of my best. Do things that are unique to where you're staying, or you will regret it.
5. Breathe it in
This applies to everything you’re doing, from seeing once in a lifetime spots to getting to know new people to just being in the classroom. Appreciate the unique advantage of being able to take material and see it in action all around you. Write it down, take pictures, do whatever helps you remember, but once in a while remember to just soak it all into your skin.