Alumni Spotlight: SJ Leck


Just a kid from Ohio trying to experience the world, visiting unknowns.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose an MA in International Relations to step away from my undergrad spheres of accounting and English literature, as well as my career as a weather forecaster, to engage in the debate of foreign policy, ideologies and theories outside of my home country and to be exposed to the perspectives of citizens across the globe.

That being said, I chose Ireland specifically for the culture and beauty, which it has lived up to spectacularly. In addition, I chose Cork specifically because of the desire to not be in a mammoth city, yet be in a city with enough to do. Cork has an insane charm and odd magnetism to it that is quite difficult to explain without knowing the personality and hospitality of the people. For instance, I was sitting on the southern coast of Portugal, a gorgeous view of the ocean and the sun levitating in a clear blue sky, and out of nowhere I found myself missing the brisk and rainy days of Cork... Wild stuff.

Furthermore, I chose this program, International Relations, because I knew I would meet people from all over, which turned out to be true. I am now friends with people from France, Iran, India, Latvia, the UK, Malta, and, of course, Ireland. Friendships that would have never happened without this program. Just incredible.

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

My program advisor and the university's U.S. ambassador were outstanding. Answering my questions from culture to academic requirements and expectations, along with the minutia of registration and finances. Tremendous people. Pure class.

The biggest entity on my own, however, was finding an accommodation, which turned out to be incredibly difficult. The university did not help out with this, at least from my experience, and I will say, where I ended up living is not the greatest. There could be some improvements by the university in aiding students, especially foreign students, in this area.

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

Be uncomfortable. Say yes to situations you wouldn't normally want to do and explore on your own. Get out, and it's okay to make a fool of yourself: the Irish are incredibly nice and understanding. These will be the experiences that are so unique to your own trip that you'll always be sharing them out of near disbelief that you actually did them, and it is one of the greatest feelings to know you pushed yourself and are able to carry the story with you.

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

The isolation. Almost everything is new: currency, transportation, language barriers and customs, and it is essentially on you to figure it out. Your friends & family are an ocean away, hanging out and getting together, enjoying holidays, and you're missing it all. However, technology helps a lot with this, either through Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc., because you're still connected in a way; though it's not quite the same, it still helps the transition.

But, this isolation has led to a growth that is beyond anything a classroom can teach you. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn how to live internationally on your own, what you truly like and what you don't, and then you start hanging out with people from class, grabbing pints, coffee, or food; you realize the similarities and appreciate the differences. Their friends become your friends, and soon enough, you're meeting up and doing things all the time, laughing and having the craic. It really is a beautiful thing.

Is there any other advice you'd like to share with prospective travelers?

Well, the stories are there for you to discover and create, but I will say, I do wish I had joined a club or society early on in the first semester. I believe that would have been a nice way to help with the isolation and to introduce myself to a new subculture. If there were something I could have done differently, it would have been that.

Also, make sure to go to Dennehy's in Cork. Incredible pub.