Studying Abroad: the Dream, Reality & Value

> “ABROAD” <

When I received my acceptance letter from the University College Cork in October of last year, the excessive Googling of Irish weather, Irish fashion, Irish food, Irish EVERYTHING began. I’d say goodbye to my family, friends, 3G data usage, and Jimmy John’s for FOUR SOLID MONTHS to become a student at an Irish university. After stuffing a rain jacket, waterproof boots, shamrock earrings, and 5 scarves into my suitcase along with reading up on some Irish slang, I was “prepared” for my adventure in Ireland.


UCC’s West Wing


The question I get most often from my friends and family back home is “What’s it like in Ireland?” My automatic response is usually “Well, it’s really green here. And it rains a lot.” It’s true – Ireland is brilliantly green, and the rain here is worse than Nebraska’s winters in my opinion. There is more to Ireland than what meets the eye, of course, and there is more to studying abroad than traveling to a foreign land. Studying abroad challenges you in far more ways than navigating yourself through unfamiliar lands. I have learned more about myself, my passions, and my fears in these short four months than I have in 19 years.

The Dream

Studying abroad truly is an experience you’ll “never forget.” I could hardly even blink after the 19 hours of travel and three flights it took to get to the Emerald Isle – I didn’t want to miss a single thing. My initial days were full of exploring Cork (the “Rebel City”) and getting pleasantly lost nearly every turn I made. Even with the cold, harsh Irish rain soaking my shoes all the way through, Ireland was my oyster. Thanks to Cork’s pesky elevation levels, I faithfully argue that my legs have never looked better since I walk absolutely everywhere. I spent the bulk of my mornings looking out my cozy bedroom’s eastern window, carefully sipping endless cups of tea at my desk.

On campus, just a short 3-minute’s walk from my door, I’d smile at the ridiculous amount of men in tracksuits and tally up the number of Superdry Japan logos I saw before noon (an outrageously expensive English clothing label which incidentally has no real connection to Japan). My classes were each held once a week, and my Wednesdays and Fridays were completely free. I embarrassed myself every time I arrived to class 5-10 minutes early because no one does that. Irish time is quite relative. There is a 6-hour difference between Ireland and the Midwest, so many a time did my Skyping sessions go until the sun came up. Oops!

Cork is the Food Capital of Ireland, so my taste buds have never been happier. My favorite restaurants in Cork are 1. Café Paradiso, 2. Orso, 3. Pompeii Pizza (in Franciscan Well Brewery), 4. Natural Foods Bakery, and 5. Loving Salads.


My wee unruly desk

The Reality

Although the first weeks of my adventures in Ireland were glamorous, I cried everyday. I missed my family, friends, cats, dryer (doing laundry on a cold island that is prone to incessant rain is not fun), and the snow. What was the point in experiencing Ireland’s beauty without my loved ones? The few friends I made here were all incredibly sweet, but we didn’t hang out much outside of class. I was content with my independent trips around Ireland. However, when waiters would seat me and ask, “Just you?” with a frown, I’d feel lonely rather than independent. “Yes,” I’d reply. “Just me.”

As for academics, the grading system in Ireland is sorely different than what I’m used to back at Iowa State. Only having 12 class periods per course made ecstatic at first, but I quickly realized my classes became less of a priority too. There was no homework. My professors included extensive lists of recommended texts in their syllabi, but no reading was actually required. That might sound like heaven to you, but I can assure you that taking final exams over courses that did not have any proper direction is quite daunting.


Fenn’s Quay in Cork City


The Value

The unpredictability of Irish weather has made me realize that the Midwest’s weather isn’t all that awful. I also appreciate even the weakest rays of sunshine. Without my bike or CyRide, it took more energy and time to get to where I was going, and that’s okay. Now I actually pay attention to the littlest details on things as ordinary as the cement on a sidewalk. It’s a funny thing, being so aware.

In one of my final journal entries whilst in Ireland, I conclude that although my time in Ireland has been priceless, Ireland is not my home. No matter how green, fresh, fun, or unique it may be, it could never replace Nebraska in my heart. My longing to go back home never ceased during my semester abroad, and I think that’s a good thing. Had I not gone across the pond all alone, I would not appreciate the little gifts of family and friendship as much as I do now.


Blarney Castle and Gardens



What has leaving home left with you? Tell me in the comments below!

Until next time,

Aspen +


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