Before winning a scholarship to study abroad in Ireland, I had not processed the magnitude of studying abroad for a semester on my own. I couldn’t believe I would be living in a foreign country, I would be going alone, and that I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that would cover the expenses of my study abroad experience. It was all so overwhelming, yet surreal.
It only felt real when I landed in Ireland and stepped off the plane into my new adventure as a student in Ireland. For nearly five months, I learned new things every day — often without even realizing it. I was taking in so much new information and so many unfamiliar experiences that I could not keep up with it all, so I simply opened my mind and let myself absorb as much as possible. Now that my semester is over and I’m back home in the US, I’m able to reminisce and reflect on all that I learned.
Here are the ten things I learned — both in and out of the classroom — while studying abroad in Ireland.
1. How to Be Confident, Even in Nerve-Wracking Situations
I learned that yes, I do have confidence in myself and I can use it to approach other students and travelers, to speak up in a class where I am the only American, and to travel alone.
2. How to Travel Like a Pro
My time in Europe taught me to be an expert traveler, whether I’m traveling alone, in a group, with a tour, or with friends. I learned to travel smartly, cheaply, and easily, while creating amazing memories. I traveled around most of Ireland and was lucky enough to see its beautiful, magnificent countryside and adorable towns. I also visited Northern Ireland, Prague, Amsterdam, Madrid, and Lisbon.
3. How to Be Comfortable Alone
I traveled to Prague by myself and learned to be a responsible, alert, tourist. I booked a walking tour my first day there to learn about the city, what I should see, and how to get there. The second day I walked through most of the city and saw the splendidly gothic Prague Castle and Cathedral. I made friends with people at the hostel where I stayed. I was even mistaken for a local by another tourist!
4. How to Navigate Even the Most Confusing Public Transportation Systems
The public transport was different in every country but I learned to figure it out regardless of where I was because it was often the only way to get around (at least without exceeding my student’s budget paying for expensive taxis). I go to school in Chicago, so public transportation was not new to me, but each country has its own system that I had to become familiar with.
5. How (Responsibly) Sampling the Local Drinks Can Teach You About Culture
Many students who study abroad are hesitant to divulge this information, but I think it is an important aspect of study abroad and a way to learn about the culture. Plus, the legal drinking age in many countries is 18. Being in Ireland, I learned quite a bit about beer (and its many variations) and whiskey. In Spain and Portugal, I developed a taste for sangria. And in Prague, I sipped on beer that was cheaper than water.
6. How to Build Friendships
I made friends I never thought I would have. Traveling and living in a foreign country with others creates a bond before you even know each other properly. I met my best friend on the first day! We were on the same bus from Dublin Airport to Cork City. When we first met, I never thought we would grow to be so close.
7. How to Be Independent
I had lived alone and away from home before, but never thousands of miles away. Living abroad so far from family, I learned to take care of myself (physically and mentally) using the resources available to me.
8. How to Deal with a Crisis
Something always, inevitably went wrong every time I traveled, whether it was inside or outside of Ireland. I learned to accept these crises either resolve them or even embrace the disruption.
9. How to Feel True Apprecation
Every day, I witnessed the unbelievable beauty and diversity of our world, which no photo could come close to capturing. I learned to appreciate this and not take it for granted, to take care of it and respect it.
10. That Curiosity is One of Our Greatest Gifts
Traveling in Europe piqued my curiosity about the world, and now that I am back home, I remain just as curious. I’m looking forward to traveling again and I think this unrest is good. It will keep pushing me out of my comfort zone to continue learning, wherever I go next.The education I gained from studying, living, and traveling abroad cannot be taught through books or classrooms, only experience. Studying abroad in Ireland provided a truly unique education and it’s one for which I will always be grateful.