Alumni Spotlight: Kathleen Grebe

At 22, she returned to school to work on her undergrad. At 25, she decided to do a semester in Ireland.

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Why did you choose this program?

This might not be the best reason, but I was having a terrible day at my home university. I haven't ever really felt comfortable there, and one day last January I felt particularly out of place. I didn't want to finish the semester, let alone return in the fall, but I knew I had to, unless I went abroad.

I immediately set up an appointment with my university's study abroad office. I needed a school where I could take courses on Ancient Greece and Rome in order to finish my major and graduate on time. That narrowed it down considerably (basically either Cork, Ireland or London, England). I had always wanted to go to Ireland, and didn't know if I'd ever get the chance again, so it was an easy choice.

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

My university was incredibly helpful in getting me to go abroad. They knew exactly what I needed to do, so I really didn't need to organize anything on my own. I had some paperwork that I had to take care of, obviously, but almost everything (including accommodation) was organized by my university.

The only thing I had to organize, which other students didn't, was booking my flights to and from Ireland. Being able to do that myself was nice, though, because I arrived a week before I needed to and toured around with my brother, which I wouldn't have been able to do had my university organized my flights.

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

Don't always rely on the bus for travel. A lot of places offer student discounts for the trains, and in some cases that makes it cheaper than the bus (and it's usually a lot more comfortable, too).

Also, be careful with what you buy during your travels outside of the country in which you are studying. It's tempting to buy a sweatshirt or a magnet, but these take up a lot more space (and weight) than do a t-shirt or sticker. Basically, don't forget that you do eventually have to come back to the States, and you'll want to bring back the things you buy, so be mindful of space and weight.

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

It varies depending on what you choose to do once you're there. I joined the university choir, but didn't get involved in any sports, so I really just had my classes every day and choir rehearsal once a week. I had friends who joined sports, some involving travel, as well as friends who arranged their schedules so they only had class two or three days a week. It all depends on what you want to do to make the most of your time abroad.

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

I commute to my home university, so I had never lived with roommates. I was nervous about how that would go, both logistically (when people were coming and going, sharing responsibility for cleaning, cooking, etc.) and socially (being a little bit older than my academic peers has been problematic at my home university, and I was terrified that it would be abroad, too).

Fortunately, everyone was mindful of the fact that they lived with other people, so the logistics were a non-issue. The social aspects were a bit of an issue at first, largely because I'm a very quiet person, which my roommates understood as rudeness. It took until our last roommate arrived for this to change. He and I quickly became friends and eventually the others came around.

What did you do about your phone?

There were several different approaches to dealing with cell phones. Depending on what service provider you have hear in the States, you have different options. With Verizon and AT&T phones, you can simply get a SIM card from one of the providers abroad. I would recommend Vodafone, because that will work regardless of where in the EU you travel, without any concerns of roaming charges. One friend had T-Mobile and wasn't able to switch his SIM card, but they seem to have a plan which allows for maintaining service while being abroad.