Alumni Spotlight: Bridget Haley

Bridget is 22 years old and from Park Ridge, Illinois, on the northwest side of Chicago. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BS in integrative biology. While at the University of Illinois, she was a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and served on the Illini Pride Student Athletic Board. She studied biology with a pre-med focus and hopes to attend medical school next fall.

Why did you decide to intern abroad with Connect-123 in Dublin?

Bridget at the cliffs of Moher

Bridget: I graduated a year early from college, and was planning on using that year off to find a job and earn a little money while I was applying to medical school. When I mentioned this to my academic advisor at my university, she told me as a matter of fact, and rightly, that it might be a waste not to take advantage of my time off. Instead, she suggested volunteering or interning abroad. Taking her advice, I went online in search of internships. Connect-123 was one of the first organizations I found, and I was drawn to it because of the range of opportunities and the many positive testimonials on the site. I had originally been thinking about going to London, but having been to both Dublin and London before, I was more interested in the culture and people in Dublin. The Connect-123 application was straightforward, and I was able to hear back from them quickly in order to begin the whole process.

What made this experience unique and special?

Howth, a coastal town near Dublin

Bridget: The experience was really special for me because of the people I met. I am not exaggerating when I say I have met friends that I will be in touch with and see for the rest of my life. Not only did I get to know people native to Ireland, but I also got to live with people from several other countries, including Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil. With them, I gained a whole new understanding of other cultures and a new perspective on the world and my own country. I found this whole experience to be especially unique because I was not studying abroad like many of my friends have. Doing an internship and living in a house in Dublin, I was able to feel like a citizen and really make a home for myself there. Being away at college, I had to do many things for myself, but this experience provided me with a whole new level of independence that was extremely influential in helping me grow as a person.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Bridget: Through this experience, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge that I could not have gotten from a classroom and which I will carry with me in future jobs and educational endeavors. I had the opportunity to intern with people who are very successful in their field and who helped me and allowed me to have a lot of hands on experience in research. It will certainly be something I can put on a resume, but it also provided me a lot of confidence in myself whether or not I decide to pursue research. I improved many basic work skills, such as communication and problem solving and also developed a high level of responsibility. This experience made me realize that there is so much of the world, in terms of places and career opportunities, which I have not yet considered or explored. I have been to many countries during my lifetime, but living in Dublin for an extended period was really the only time I had the chance to completely understand the culture in a place other than my hometown.

Bridget and her roommate at Phoenix Park in Dublin

What was the highlight of your experience?

Bridget: The highlight of my experience was traveling around Ireland. I absolutely loved Dublin, but was also amazed by all the beautiful places around the country as a whole. The incredibly rich history can be seen everywhere and is such a contrast to the youngness of the United States. On a tour during one of my first weekends there, I went out west to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. The impressive sights and absolute beauty at the Cliffs was something that I still remember very clearly, even months later. I literally had to pinch myself to believe it was real and took the time to truly appreciate where I was and what I was seeing. To many native Irish people, places like this are almost taken for granted, but for me, everything was new and extraordinary. In addition to traveling, I was also fortunate enough to experience many simpler things that I would not have anticipated. For instance, one weekend my roommate and I were able to go to an Irish wedding, which was not only fun, but also a way to get an intimate view into Irish traditions and daily life.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in Dublin?

Bridget: Some advice I would give to someone considering interning abroad in Dublin is to not let the idea of being far from home or in a foreign place to discourage him or her from taking the opportunity. When I first began searching for internships, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to live away from home for a few months and go somewhere I wasn’t familiar with completely by myself. Instead of letting nervousness prevent me from going, however, I put myself out there, applied, went, and had the best time of my life. Sometimes new experiences aren’t comfortable because we don’t know what to expect, but not knowing what I was going to do the next month, weekend, or even day for that matter, made my time there that much more exciting and worthwhile. Coming from a big city, Dublin was an easy transition, but one of my best friends in Dublin came from a small town in Michigan, and, although it was intimidating at first, she became accustomed to city life very quickly and is dying to go back. The people there are so friendly, and the whole atmosphere is so welcoming that it is very easy to fall in love with the city and find a niche there.