Studying abroad in college is risky. Many students wonder if they can get the classes they need and get good grades, while also being able to travel. To me, it’s like starting over again; you have to adjust to a new school, make friends, find a place to live and have access to reliable transportation. I went to Dublin, Ireland last January to gain independence while pursuing school and travel. I was able to achieve my goals and this accomplishment makes me believe that I can conquer anything, as long as I try.
I had a lot of freedom during my first two weeks in Dublin. I enjoyed navigating the city by myself using a map and a guidebook, planning out fun itineraries that covered the tourist attractions. Over a meal of scrumptious fish and chips, one of the locals told me about a Dublin suburb that I had to go see for myself — I took the train about 30 minutes outside the city centre and spent the next three hours taking photographs and contemplating the cold morning at the harbor. I also visited University College Dublin, the school I would attend through the Education Abroad Program (EAP) during spring semester, and found housing close to the school.
Dublin was always a magical place to me. To get to the city centre I would take the Luas (tram) and arrive at St. Stephen’s Green with either the sun creeping up over the buildings or the buzz of nightlife in full swing on Grafton St. One of Dublin’s best features is that the old architecture, especially the Georgian brick houses, Trinity College and Christchurch Cathedral, complements the modernity of department stores and American restaurants. The numerous pubs add a festive and colorful feel to the place, with buskers playing traditional Irish and popular cover songs on the cobblestone. I lived south of the city centre with my landlady and self-appointed host mom, Clodagh. We had a similar taste in music and books, and it was wonderful seeing her perspective on Irish culture and politics.
As for the people there, I enjoyed interacting with them. The Irish are so friendly and helpful — shopkeepers are genuinely happy that you chose to walk into their store and they won’t let you go until you find what you’re looking for. One time I was at the store and asked about food preparation for a recipe I was planning to try, and the manager whipped out his iPhone and showed me what I could do. Another time I was walking down the street with my map and saw a woman coming towards me. She asked me if I needed help getting to my destination, and I hadn’t even opened my mouth! It is really their thoughtfulness that sets them apart from other cultures.
I spent much of my time at University College Dublin, either sitting in class or studying in the James Joyce Library. The campus itself isn’t beautiful — it’s austere. Since there is an abundance of empty space between buildings, the wind can slice right through your jacket.
On at last three occasions when I biked to school, the rain was so heavy that I had to wring out the pant legs of my jeans. One time there was a mini flood on my way home and the wind forced me to careen off my bike. It was days like these, when I was sopping wet, that made me both laugh and wonder what I had gotten myself into.
At school, my focus was on political science and Irish literature. I wanted to get credit for my major and minor, which I was able to achieve with five out of six classes. The politics classes all scared me to some extent, as my professors expected us to read scholarly articles and write 2,000 word essays to succeed. Irish Politics and Policy was perhaps the class I feared most, simply because my understanding at the beginning was so elementary. By the end I really liked the class, and did well, but I still feel like it was a miracle that I passed. Most of my professors taught me to analyze complex scenarios and see multiple viewpoints. I liked the Irish professors and they were quite personable. They really did want us to voice our opinions on the issues that mattered to us.
I spent my weekends and free time exploring Dublin and its suburbs, traveling to other parts of Ireland and foreign countries. Belfast in Northern Ireland was an eye-opening trip; I could sense the remnants of the bloody and violent history of the Troubles, which made for a somewhat depressing place. My parents and I went to Oranmore, Galway and Connemara together after they came to visit me in Dublin. I also spent a few days in Paris, France and Edinburgh, Scotland and saw the highlights with my friends.
Overall, my study abroad experience was a terrific opportunity for personal growth and cultural knowledge. I realize that I sacrificed social activities for good grades, but that in the long run it was worth it. I learned that the Irish don’t worry about trivial things, and that they fully enjoy life. It’s great being back at UCI and I adjusted to life here quickly, but I definitely love reminiscing about my time in Ireland.