Alumni Spotlight: Melanie Margaret Spillane

Why did you choose this program?

Ever since I was a little girl I have always wanted to visit Ireland. The culture seemed so cheery and bright compared to my fast-paced New England life.

On my Father's side of the family, (the Spillanes), we have heritage directly from Galway. The feeling of walking the streets of Galway City on the first day I arrived was surreal to me. Just to think that four generations back my ancestors may have walked the same streets, even drank coffee in the same shops maybe.

Another reason I chose this program was because of its location. I was able to travel to other European countries and it was much more affordable to do so from Ireland compared to flying from Boston.

I chose NUI Galway because after some research I discovered that although Dublin is an incredible city, Galway was said to have an authentic Irish charm to it, and that it certainly did.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Moving to Ireland was a very smooth process due to the supportive and helpful individuals who organize the study abroad program. It allowed me to enjoy the whole experience a lot more and to adjust much more easily since I didn't have to worry about anything major and most things were in place before arrival.

When I got off the plane we all were told to meet at a specific place where our group would take a bus from Shannon to Galway. Once we arrived, Ann Monahan helped us move into our apartments and gave us all sorts of helpful advice. We had a few days to settle in, adjust to the time difference, explore and simply figure things out before academics began.

Ann was extremely kind and approachable. She was almost a mother figure for all of us students. She organized many field trips for us including the Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands, Guinness Factory, Connemara, and many others. We also had organized dinners and this helped me get to know everyone a bit better and was a remedy for any home sickness I had experienced.

As for the University, all of my professors were very personable and approachable. They want their students to succeed and that is evident. My Microbiology Professor specifically exhibited a notable deep passion for teaching and was kind enough to give me a book of his.

The teaching style was much different from what I was used to however the kindness and understanding professors of mine helped me to succeed and become more resilient to change, even to embrace it.

The courses were chosen when we arrived however we were given the resources ahead of time to figure out which ones we may be interested in taking and which ones were mandatory by our home University.

The apartment was arranged before we arrived as well as health insurance and other critical things. Food however was on our own but the study abroad program really helped us effectively create a budget for that ahead of time.

It took a lot of responsibility to budget efficiently while there, but I know that I was in good hands and that I had enough to sustain myself if I had the self discipline to stay on track with budgeting. This alone was one of the most valuable lessons and skills I developed while living abroad.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Ask Questions!

Don't be shy or afraid. As soon as I began the application process to study abroad in Ireland I reached out to another student at my home University who previously studied there.

She was incredible. She basically wrote me an entire book on all that she learned: where to eat, drink coffee, shop, do laundry, navigation tips, where the post office was located, best places in town to study besides the library, how to budget efficiently, travel tips, and so much more.

She was coincidentally visiting Ireland again when I was there and we met up over there for lunch. I was so thankful for all her help, and the sharing of her experiences and adventures. I can only hope that I could do the same for a student aspiring to travel.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fears initially were change, running out of funds, and feeling homesickness. These changed however because I learned so much, became resilient to change by adapting quickly and remaining open minded and hearted to new experiences.

The fear about funds was resolved by being conscientious about spending and budgeting frugally. I was homesick sometimes but only at night when I laid down to sleep. By the morning I was so happy to wake up in another country and so incredibly thankful that the experience was truly real. It took a while for that to really sink in.

By the end of the semester my new fear was returning home. Firstly because I loved Ireland so much and secondly, I was afraid at what change and challenges would be awaiting me there.

Once I returned home however I looked at everything so differently. I was more positive. I was more appreciative of New Hampshire. I was more appreciative of the people in my life who loved and had missed me when I was gone. I felt more confident and more free.

I felt like the experience was an accomplishment as well as a blessing.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The day in the life of a Biology major is very similar no matter where you are... I spent a lot of time in the library! However, when I wasn't studying I would take a lot of walks/ jogs along Salthill beach as well as hanging out in coffee shops in town.

Since it rains a lot in Ireland coffee shops were my favorite place to escape the rain. At home I have a car to get me from home to work and school, the gym, grocery store etc., but in Ireland I walked everywhere. That was one major difference for me that I had to adjust to.

In addition to going to school I also had time during weekends and breaks to explore other cities in Ireland and other countries in Europe. This was so exciting and the amount I learned in one semester was exponentially greater than any other year of college. The world is your classroom when you study abroad.

How did you document your experiences while abroad?

I took a lot of photographs and regularly blogged about my adventures and experiences. It was helpful for me to process all the change and to make meaningful reflections on my experiences. It was also a way for my family and friends to keep up with me and what I was doing abroad.

Although I am not a writer I really do think it was worth it to write a travel blog and I would definitely advise others to give it a try.