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The return

Time June 5th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“Not all those who wander are lost.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

Well, the adventure has officially ended.  For the first time in four months I’m writing one of these blogs from Texas, enjoying the warmth and soaking up the sun.  It was a week ago today that I boarded the plane and left Belfast behind me.  Time, always confusing, seems to have both stretched and shrunken since I flew away; while it still surprises me that I’m waking up in the United States, it also feels like I never left home, almost as if my semester in Belfast lives in an undisturbed bubble.

I’ve had sometime now to reflect on the semester and the things I learned while overseas.  As I’ve said in the past, most of what I learned was not about Poetry, Theology, or Irish Studies (although these classes did teach me some…); instead, the experiences I’ve had have revealed more about me and myself as a person.  I have gained confidence and some self-assurance, appreciation for all the wonderful opportunities at my home university–Austin College–and I have become more calm about uncertainties in my future.

I have come to terms with the fact that my time in Belfast is over.  Endings are always sad, and it feels like I wasn’t just leaving behind a group of friends, I was also saying good-bye to a city.  But endings can also be quietly beautiful.  My relationships with my friends in Belfast didn’t slowly fade as we drifted apart, and my love for the city didn’t fizzle; instead, I left abruptly with just enough time to say a last farewell.  There was no chance for anything to be tainted by sourness and my semester in Belfast will live in my memory as a perfect experience.  I know that it wasn’t always easy to be in away from my family (and it wasn’t fun to learn the power of culture-shock), but I came to love Belfast and to love the friends I made there.  I will treasure these memories for the rest of my life.

It feels like I have changed and grown so much in this semester, but everything here is exactly as I left it.  At first this made me sad, like everyone here was missing out or simply couldn’t understand my transformation, but I have realized something since.  Just as north Texas didn’t change in my absence, Belfast wasn’t altered because of my presence.  Belfast will continue on, just as it did before I got there, just as my hometown did after I left.  But the way the places have influenced me will stay with me forever.  It seems sort of fitting; we are just fleeting influences on places, but they can come to define us.  And maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t good-bye for me and Belfast.  Perhaps someday our paths will cross again and she will influence me while I simply pass through.   I look forward to that day.

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The denouemont

Time May 24th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn) and a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep!” –The Byrds

It’s hard to believe, but my time in Belfast is coming to an end.  In less than a week I’ll step onto a plane and my semester abroad will officially be over.   Just like when I was preparing to leave for Belfast, my feelings about going home are mixed.  I’m excited to go home, be with my family and friends, enjoy the Texas warmth, and to no longer live in a dormitory.  But there is something undeniably sad about endings.   I can already feel myself missing the people from my IFSA-Butler group and the great times we’ve had together will live as perfect moments in my memory.

I’ve been busy trying to make the most of my last few weeks, visiting some of Belfast’s famous bars–the Crown, Robinson’s, Filthy McNasty’s (which is actually neither filthy nor nasty), White’s Tavern (built in 1630), and the Duke of York–and some sights that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, like the Newgrange Tombs and Stormont Parliament Buildings.

For now I’m focusing on studying for final exams and managing (what’s left of) my budget so that I can enjoy my favorite restaurants (The Elms Bar and Maggie May’s) one last time.  It’s been a whirlwind semester and I can’t even begin to process everything I’ve learned during my four months in Belfast.  The time here has passed so quickly and the next five days will be over before I can blink an eye, but I have no doubt that these last few days will be just as good as the 125 that have preceded them.  As the clock ticks closer to my flight I find myself more excited and more wary, but I know that everything has a season and everything must end.

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Advice to First Generation Scholars

Time May 13th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.” — Chuck Norris

As a first generation college student, studying abroad certainly presented some challenges.  My major concerns could be boiled down to academics, finances, and family.  When I first considered studying abroad, much like when I first began to tackle the obstacle of college in general, I found myself worried that I wouldn’t stand up academically. I was afraid that I wasn’t prepared for the system, that my writing wouldn’t be up to par, that it would reflect poorly on my transcripts…the list goes on and on.  But to any students worrying about this, the only advice I can give is to keep working just as diligently as you always have.  Yes, the grading system in foreign countries is different than in the United States (I nearly had a panic attack when I got a “63” on a paper, only to realize that’s the equivalent to an A-), but it seems to me that intelligence is intelligence everywhere.  I am still very anxious about the upcoming finals, but I would be nervous back home too; if you study hard and trust in your abilities, you will be just fine.

As far as finances go, I was doubly nervous about how much things would cost and about not having my usual slew of on-campus jobs to offset the price of school.  Preparation and self-control have been my greatest help in this area.  I would simply advise saving money in the semester and/or summer leading up to your time abroad, and then careful budgeting whilst overseas.  In no way does this mean that you can’t have fun–every city has places to explore for cheap or even free; in Belfast there are museums, the Botanic Gardens, St. George’s Market, and many others.  My point is that, with the help of financial aid and budgeting, I have had a brilliant time and have not exceeded the limit I allowed myself.  It is very possible.

And finally, I worried about leaving my family and friends behind.  As a first generation college student, it’s always felt like I was exploring uncharted territory in my academic adventures.  But at the very least, the uncharted territory was in a familiar location with students who were all just as nervous and excited as me.  As a study abroad student, I found myself nervous about entering an academic system where everyone already knew each other, where all the local students were familiar and comfortable while I was still trying to get my footing.  But, it turned out to be all right.  Was it always easy to be away from my family? No, but I survived and even thrived abroad.

Basically, as a first generation college student I was nervous about what going abroad would mean for me.  But I realized that the same skills that helped me get to college in the first place would help me excel here.  It hasn’t all been easy, but it has most certainly been worth it. (And you should trust me; I quoted Chuck Norris, so obviously I know what I’m talking about.) To all the other first generation students out there, you can do it!

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Studying abroad and my future goals

Time April 25th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” –Malcolm X

My time abroad has certainly had an effect on my future goals, both specifically in my area of academics and in my plans for the future.

As a student focused on Religious Studies, going to school in Belfast–a city with a long history of conflict, both religious and otherwise–has been a particularly enlightening experience.  One class that I have taken focuses on several of the world’s largest religions and is taught at Union Theological College, a religiously affiliated school which specializes in preparing students for ministry.  In this course, I came to realize the little-to-no exposure my fellow students had had to people of the faiths we were learning about.  There were even times in class when students would openly mock the religion we were learning about, calling the beliefs juvenile or ridiculous.  As a student of world religion with a personal passion for religious tolerance, I was shocked by the ignorance of my fellow students.  However, the professor explained to me that even to have a class offered on religions other than Protestant Christianity was a very new phenomenon for the school and for students in Northern Ireland in general.  This experience made me extremely thankful for the climate of religious freedom that I have learned in back home, but also made me respect the progress people are making here; whereas a decade ago students might not have even learned about a denomination other than their own, now they have the opportunity to learn at least a little about religions from other parts of the world.  It has been interesting to witness people being exposed to new religions for the first time and I think that I would enjoy studying the phenomenon anthropologically.

On a broader scale, studying abroad has impacted my outlook on my personal future.  For some time I have been interested in studying religion in graduate school, but I spent countless hours fretting and stressing over what exactly that would lead me to, what my future would look like, and how I would be able to make a sufficient living.  However, as I’ve met people from Belfast and other places in my travels, I’ve come to admire the attitude many people seem to have of letting life take them where it may.  That isn’t to say that I’m going to suddenly drop everything and travel around the world; I know that I want to go to graduate school and hopefully get a Ph.D.  And I could see myself someday doing research or being a professor in world religions.  But I don’t know yet, not for sure.  And in studying abroad I have realized that not knowing is okay, and even a bit exciting.  My appetite is certainly whet for learning about religion through other people’s eyes, and I would love to be able to travel around the world, but all of that is still to come.  For now, I will continue devoting my time and effort to my undergraduate degree and then I will see where life takes me.  If education is a passport, as Malcolm X said, then I intend to get as many stamps as possible.

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My travels!

Time April 17th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine

Being abroad in Europe has provided me the opportunity for travelling around at relative ease.  First, I returned to Dublin by train and experienced my first hostel stay ever–not nearly as uncomfortable as I’d imagined.  I walked around the Trinity College grounds, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, toured the Guinness Brewery, and wandered around the world famous Temple Bar.

Next I flew to Edinburgh and enjoyed walking around the city at night and trekked up to Edinburgh Castle where I had a lovely vantage point of the landscape.  Then I went to the “Scotch Whiskey Experience” which housed the largest collection of Scotch whiskey in the world.  And last, but certainly not least, I enjoyed coffee and a scone at the cafe where J.K. Rowling first penned Harry Potter, the Elephant House Cafe.

Then I traveled up to the Antrim Coast where I saw Carrickfergus Castle, walked across Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, explored the Giant’s Causeway, and saw some beautiful scenery.

I was able to do some additional traveling over the past three weeks due to Queen’s University Easter Break.  I started off by travelling to Munich.  I saw the Glockenspiel in Marianplatz and the world renowned Haufbrahaus where I had my first taste of a famous German pretzel.  I learned a lot about the city during a walking tour and was able to see places that were important  in Munich’s history, including the place where Hitler led a failed coup and was shot as part of the newly formed Nazi party.  Then I took a train to Neuschwanstein Castle in the Alps, which Walt Disney used as the inspiration for Disney Castle.  Other than the beauty of the architecture, I was able to see the gorgeous scenery blanketed in snow.  The next day I took a train to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site which housed a museum, several restored buildings, and memorials to the victims.

Then I took my first night train (a long and arduous experience) to Amsterdam.  The highlight of my visit was seeing an exhibit of my favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh, on his birthday.  I spent a lot of time walking around and admiring the architecture of the city and its canals.  I was even able to take a canal tour, which allowed me to see many of the most well-known parts of Amsterdam.  Finally, on the recommendation of a friend I tried Dutch pancakes, which turned out to be a mix of a crepe and a pizza; a delicious end to my adventure!

I’m hoping to be able to explore more of Northern Ireland and the UK during the rest of my semester; if the world is a book, I intend to read as many pages as possible!

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Adventure Weekend!

Time April 1st, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” –Helen Keller

One of the fantastic things about studying abroad with IFSA-Butler has been the weekend activities.  First there was the Coast, then there was Dublin, and finally Killary Adventure Weekend; in my opinion, they saved the best for last.

The weekend began with a five hour bus ride from Belfast to Leeane, Co. Galway in western Ireland, taking us through some absolutely beautiful countryside and a whole lot of sheep.  As the drive progressed, we found ourselves surrounded by hills and then we were in the fjords of Ireland.  I never believed I would actually see a fjord!

The first night was eating and chatting with students from all of IFSA’s Ireland programs, but the next morning the adventures began!  I signed up for kayaking and gorge walking, but since it was too windy to kayak safely the guides decided we would start off the day with Killary Adventure Co.’s famed “Turf Challenge”–basically an obstacle course through mud, lots and lots of mud.  We put on wet suits and began crawling through streams, jumping into ponds, balancing on ropes, and wading through neck-deep sludge.  Then we went straight to the gorge walk to clean ourselves off a bit.  These activities were both SO much fun, though it was a bit too cold for  this Texas girl.  After lunch I went on a hill walk to see the gorgeous landscape around the camp.   That night there was a disco after dinner, though I was too exhausted to stay for long.  The next morning I took advantage of the giant swing, quite a thrill!

After a large lunch we got back on the bus and headed to Belfast, though it was much quieter…all exhausted from the  weekend’s adventures.  It was quite brilliant to get out of the city and breathe fresh country air, and I doubt I’ve slept so soundly as the night I got back to Belfast in quite a long while.  What a great adventure!

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Experiencing Ireland with IFSA

Time March 11th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“Geographically, Ireland is a medium-sized rural island that is slowly but steadily being consumed by sheep.” –Dave Barry

One of the brilliant parts of studying abroad with IFSA-Butler has been the opportunities to see Ireland.   So far we’ve had two excursions, one where we were able to explore Belfast more thoroughly, and anther were we adventured in Dublin.

For the Northern Ireland Weekend, there was a trip to see the Antrim Coast (unfortunately, I missed this portion of the trip because I had classes) and then then we had an opportunity to go  on a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast.  On this tour we were taken to different parts of the city to places significant to the Troubles.  Our taxi driver grew up during the height of the Troubles and was able to tell us not only the history, but also his personal experiences.  We saw some of the famous (or infamous) wall murals of Belfast, as well as the “Peace Wall” that separates some of the more sectarian communities.  At the end of the tour we were given the opportunity to sign the Peace Wall where figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Bill Clinton have left messages encouraging peace in Northern Ireland.

The Dublin Weekend began with a train ride down to the city after classes ended on a Friday and were then given a chance to explore the nightlife of Dublin.  The next morning we had tickets to ride a City Sight-Seeing Bus which allowed us to hop-on and hop-off at many major sights in Dublin.  On the tour I saw classic landmarks like Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Laney–the other First Generation scholar in my group–and I went to the Jameson Distillery to take a tour and sample some of the famous Irish Whiskey.  Sunday morning before we left, we went to wander around St. Stevens Gardens, a lovely part in the heart of the city, and then to the National Gallery of Ireland, where there were numerous beautiful paintings, including an early Van Gogh.    The weekend ended with another train ride, though it was much quieter seeing as most of us were asleep.

There is still one IFSA Weekend to go–the “Adventure Weekend”.  I can hardly wait to see what’s in store for that, though I’ve been told to expect lots of climbing, swimming, and becoming completely covered in mud…

I plan on seeing some more of Ireland on my own–as much as I can–but with IFSA I’ve gotten off to a great start!

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Thinking of home, sweet home

Time March 4th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” –C.S. Lewis

Today is the 40th day since I’ve seen any of my friends or family from Texas.  Though I’m having a brilliant time in Belfast with new friends, I must admit that the time away from home is starting to take its toll.  Throughout these weeks I’ve had a steadily growing desire to see their familiar faces.  Fortunately, I’ve had many opportunities to remain in touch with them.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, connection to home is the through the internet. Thanks to the magic of Facebook I have been able to maintain contact with posts, comments, and messages.  I have also continued emailing with my dad, a nice supplement to social media.  I have used this blog to keep friends and family updated on my goings on while abroad. (To all the family and friends reading this, I’m talking about you!)

More than the internet, I’ve enjoyed “snail mail” contact with the States.  I’ve sent postcards home to family and friends, and received some back in return, but this method–while certainly romanticized–is very delayed.  With about ten days for something to arrive to its destination, there has been fairly little opportunity for consistent replies.  The wait, however, is worth the excitement of having an envelope handed to you with a postmark from home, and inside something handwritten in a recognized scrawl.  It’s somehow much more personal than an email or social media post can ever be.

The absolute best method of contact, however, has been Skype.  I’m able to talk to my dad every few days, and have face-to-face conversations with my boyfriend daily.  Though the connection is not always completely reliable, it certainly makes the 4441 miles seem a little less. (The six hour time difference does pose minor difficulty from time to time.)

So, 40 days into my 4.5 month adventure I’m undeniably missing home and all the amazing people there, but it’s nice to know that they are only a click away.

 

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The “Study” in “Study Abroad”

Time February 19th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“Don’ you worry, Harry. You’ll learn fast enough. Everyone starts at the beginning at Hogwarts, you’ll be just fine. Just be yerself.” –Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

When my IFSA-Butler group first passed the main campus of Queen’s University Belfast, the bus was full of gasps and and one awed phrase repeated from nearly every mouth: “It looks just like Hogwarts.”  And it does.

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Though QUB is not a school for magic–or, at least not in the departments I’ve worked with–sometimes I feel as out of place as though someone has asked me to wave a wand and levitate a feather.   Even very simple things, like what you call your professors, are different here.  In the case of teachers, it is not acceptable to just refer to all of them as ‘professor’, but instead you must know who is a “Professor”, who is a “Doctor”, who is simply “sir” or “ma’am”, etc.  When referring to them in the third person, I’ve simply taken to calling them “instructors”, but I’m not sure if even that is proper.  At my home school most of the professors were upset if you didn’t call them by their first name, so this has been a bit of an adjustment.

And then there’s the instruction.  The lectures are pretty much what I’m familiar with–someone standing at the front of the room, often with a PowerPoint behind them, talking for an hour.  The lectures are often coupled with a tutorial or seminar, which are still fairly new to me.  Typically led  by a PhD candidate, the seminar/tutorial is a session in which the students have a chance to ask questions, or sometimes demonstrate their knowledge in a presentation to the group.  All in all, there is significantly less class time then back home; I have two weekdays with no class at all.

As far as homework, there is reading.  And more reading.  And then a bit more reading. It’s not homework in the sense that you turn it in for a grade, but instead provides context for the lectures and discussion content for the tutorial/seminar.  Some of the classes come with pretty hefty reading lists.  For example, in my Irish Studies class there are around five required books–yes, entire books–per week, and a suggested reading list of about fifty additional.  Fortunately, students are not expected to buy all of these books, but instead check them out from the library.  As such, I have spent quite a good deal of time in this building…

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…the McClay Library.

What has been the most different, though, is the assessment.  Whereas back home we’d have tests and/or essays spread throughout the semester, here my classes have an essay due the last week of class and a final exam.  This leaves no way to gauge one’s performance in a class and puts all of the proverbial eggs into one basket.  It also means that without quizzes, tests, or essays until the end, there is significantly less immediate incentive to read the required five books a week.

I’m made even more nervous by the fact that a 65 out of 100 will correlate to an “A” back home–is the grading that tough? Of course, I won’t know until August when I receive my transcript, so all the advice I could give at this point is to work hard, learn fast, and “be yerself”. Hopefully, Hagrid is right.

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Budgeting while abroad…or trying to, anyway

Time February 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” –Benjamin Franklin

When I was first preparing for this semester, I was told the statistics of American study abroad students: overwhelmingly white, female, privileged students from small liberal arts schools.  This has proven to be quite reflective of the group I came abroad with; all but two people are white, there is only one boy, and nearly all of us described our home universities as small liberal arts colleges.

There is no doubt that compared to the rest of the world, I am very privileged.  But there is a definite division between the rest of the group and the First Generation Scholars (myself and a friend).  While others buy a coffee every morning on their way to class, eat out at cafes for lunch, order pizzas for dinner, and go to pubs several times a week, I’m still caught up on the exchange rate from the dollar to the pound.  When someone tells me that a Guinness is “only four pounds,” all I can think is, “That’s nearly $8!”  Instead, I’ve been having a competition with myself to see how little I can spend on weekly groceries.

Fortunately, Laney–the other First Generation Scholar in my program–and I have been able to share our  money-saving concerns and find things to do that are inexpensive (and walking there together rather than taking a cab). The truth is, in a city as fantastic as Belfast, there are so many things to do that are free.  There are libraries to visit, like the Linen Hall Library…

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There are buildings to tour, like the Ulster Museum and the City Hall...

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And on every Saturday, there is a farmers' market, St. George's Market, where it's fun to just walk around and people-watch.

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Living on a budget while studying abroad is difficult, especially when it seems like no else around is, but it is certainly doable. There is always something fun going on for free--tonight I'm going to a poetry reading at a local bookstore, for example. And it's much easier with a friend who is willing to walk a little further to save a couple pennies. Or in this case, pence.

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Living Where the Streets Have No Name

Time January 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“I want to run.
I want to hide.
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
And want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.”
–U2

Perhaps it is a little cliche to quote U2 when writing about my daily life in Ireland, but it is certainly appropriate considering the difficulty involved in locating street signs, even in the metropolis of Belfast.  It took me no less than three days to realize the reason I couldn’t find the signs was because the aren’t on posts or streetlights, but rather attached to buildings.  After a good, long look at a map I’ve finally started to learn my way around.  I’m proud to say that I’ve only gotten lost once, and I got myself un-lost again without any help (though admittedly, this resulted in an hour long detour).

It is my seventh day in Belfast and I have finally begun to settle into a daily pattern of life here.  For the most part, things are the same as they were back home: I’ve spent my days registering for classes, taking trips to the grocery store and the bank, and exploring the city with the friends I’ve made.  However, there are certain things about living abroad that are different from living in Texas.

The greatest difference is the weather and how the locals react to it.  The temperature here has been 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit–I can’t describe the shock I felt when the Captain of our airplane announced that it was -1 degrees where we were landing, nor my relief when I realized he was using Celsius rather than Fahrenheit–and either drizzling, raining, sleeting, or snowing.  A local told me that if you could see the mountains across the water, that meant it was going to rain; if you couldn’t see them, that meant it was already raining.  Coming from a hot, dry climate to this cold, incessantly damp location has been quite an adjustment.  However, what surprised me all the more was the perspective on heating.  Basically, heating is considered unnecessary at night and, in university housing, shuts off automatically at either 10pm or 11pm, along with the hot water.

My Room

Additionally, people spend a lot more time outside than back home; rather than running through the cold and rain from the front door to the car, many people walk as much as possible.  The twenty seconds in the cold-damp stretches to a twenty minute walk to campus, or the grocery store, gym, or bank.  That’s not to say that people don’t drive, but coming from a place where most people get cars as gifts for their sixteenth birthday, I’ve been doing a lot more walking than usual–a fact which my calves remind me of every morning when I first step out of bed.

Over all, though, I love the city and I am so excited to have this incredible opportunity.  After orientation from IFSA-Butler and orientation from QUB I feel prepared to explore safely and cheaply, and still enjoy myself to the fullest.  Honestly, the people that I encounter while doing simple things, like running errands, have been the highlight of my trip.  At every cash register you have a conversation with the cashier, and the second I open my mouth they have a million questions about America.  Every time the conversation has ended with the same sentiment: good luck and hope you enjoy Belfast.  Well, I certainly am.

Tomorrow the semester officially begins and I’ll attend my first lecture at Queens University Belfast.  I doubt I’ll ever be used to the beauty of the grounds.  I’m thrilled that I’m able to go to school at a place with as much history as this campus.  The first week is over, but I feel the adventure is just beginning, and I intend to experience everything to the fullest; I want to “reach out and touch the flame where the streets have no name”.

Queen's University Belfast
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Musings and Jitters

Time January 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door….You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien

It was not much more than a year ago that I sat in the study abroad office at Austin College listening to an advisor list all the wonderful places I could travel.  The possibilities were endless and I decided without hesitation or fear that I would study abroad in Northern Ireland.  Now, however, as I face the reality of boarding a plane (“going out my door”) and leaving everything that is familiar to me–for an entire semester–I must admit that I am hesitant, and even a bit fearful of where I might be “swept off to”.

In a way, preparing to study abroad is similar to leaving for college the first time.  I’ve done research, applied, and been accepted;  I’ve shared the news with family and friends; I’ve read preparation guides, made packing lists, and had the occasional nervous break-down.    I’ve had to prepare myself for a new way of living and I’ve had to face saying good-bye to my friends–at least for a time.  However, Austin College is only a forty-five minute drive from my father’s home, from the city where I lived from kindergarten through high school graduation.   When I did eventually leave for college, I knew that the familiarity of home was only a short drive away.  Not so whilst studying abroad.  Next semester everything that is familiar will be 4400 miles away, 7100 kilometers.

Don’t misunderstand me; I am also very excited.  Dreams of the Irish countryside fill my head in every spare moment and I can hardly wait to see with my own eyes places I’ve read about in books or seen in movies.  Thanks to IFSA-Butler, I’m not particularly afraid of culture shock (though I know I will experience it).  I’ve spent hours reading pamphlets they’ve sent and books they’ve suggested about the history and customs of Northern Ireland.   On one level, the more I learn about Northern Ireland, the more I realize just how little I know; however, I also become more exhilarated with the idea of learning all that I can firsthand.   What gives me the “jitters,” though, is the idea of being away from my friends and family.  To make the distance more manageable, we will use the wonders of modern technology; email, Facebook, iMessage, and especially Skype will bridge the gap, so to speak.

As the reality of studying at Queen’s University Belfast approaches, less than three weeks away, I realize that I am not so much afraid of  boarding the plane for Northern Ireland as I am for leaving my loved ones in the terminal.  It would be dishonest to say that I am completely confident in my abilities to thrive in an unknown setting, but I am excited to take the plunge, so to speak.  And I can’t help but wonder what exactly I will find when I step of the plane and into a new world.

So, I agree with Bilbo’s warning to Frodo of the dangers of stepping out your door.  But I believe, there are some places worth being swept off to.  And I intend to see as many of them as I can.

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