Going abroad is a funny thing: you are introduced to brand new people in a brand new country but it is the best couple of months you could ever imagine. When I first stepped on the plane to go to Dublin, Ireland I felt what seem to be every typical emotion of someone who is going abroad, excitement but a little nervous as I was about to do something I have never done before. When I look back at it, that unfamiliarity and foreignness are what made my experience so true. It was going to big classes for the first time, traveling to different European countries every weekend, and living in a second home that helped me discover new things about myself.
I go to Colgate University, a small northeast liberal arts school in Hamilton New York, also known as the middle of nowhere. The student body is close to three thousand students and the biggest class I’ve been in had 30 people.
That was not the case at the University of College Dublin.
UCD is a humongous, public research school with close to 35,000 people and a plethora of undergraduate/graduate programs. I was in lecture halls with three hundred other students, something I could have never imagined doing. But this put pressure on me. It forced me to learn differently and stay organized. I was unable to send teachers follow up emails about confusing parts of their lectures or meet with them one on one. But I figured it out. If that meant sending the teaching assistant an email and getting a coffee with them or going back in the textbook and reviewing, I was able to make it work.
This academic perseverance really showed me that knowledge can be uncovered in so many different forms. Not only in a big vs. small classroom, but by learning how to take the bus into the city or navigate an airport. While we all have things that we are used to and enjoy, trying something new is exciting. And what’s even better, is I am now able to use some of the tools I learned academically, while I was abroad, at Colgate. Seeing how big classes operate and function not only made me appreciate the tight-knit and collaborative learning atmosphere of Colgate but also allowed for a new style of learning.
In addition to the way of learning, another new thing for me was the travel. Never in my life will I travel as I did abroad. On a week by week basis, I was lucky enough to travel outside of Dublin and experience European culture first hand. Just to name a few I went to Prague, Italy, Amsterdam, and London, and I have all of the passport stamps to prove it. But in addition to this international travel, IFSA sponsored two trips within Ireland.
These trips were to the West of Ireland and Belfast, where we were able to interact with all of my fellow IFSA Ireland mates. The weekends were filled with informational excursions but also just fun activities. I will never forget going trap shooting with my buddies Bryan and John in the West of Ireland! Needless to say, getting out and exploring the world is fun and something rare.
That exposure and discovery of different countries really exposed me to how different people in different settings go about their lives.
Lastly, Dublin was a completely new scene. Dublin is an awesome city.
Colgate is in the middle of nowhere- surrounded by cows and farms, and nothing else. But that’s what makes it special. The campus is the way it is because the students make it, there is really no town to go into or big urban surrounding neighborhood so all activity is driven by the students.
In Dublin, it was the exact opposite. Given that I went to the University of College Dublin, I was on the outskirts of the city. It was just a mere 15-minute drive from campus to the heart of Ireland’s capital city. There was any type of cuisine you wanted to eat, taxis always driving by, a ton of different parks and cafes, and endless city streets to walk down.
My experience was as great as it was because of the city.
In all of these examples and most of abroad, I was exposed to the other side of the spectrum. For three months I was able to live a different life and with that, I learned so much about myself. It was a time for me to reflect and realize who I truly was in this new environment. I learned that I am stronger than I know and capable of amazing things. In addition to this independence, I learned little things like how to keep a schedule and stay organized, especially if you are in three different countries in the course of a week. This new environment created so many memories and friendships that I will cherish forever.