By Maureen McGarry
Before leaving for Ireland, I was beyond excited for my study abroad experience and all of the new opportunities I was going to have. Everyone told me what a fun time I was going to have, and how great my time abroad in Ireland would be.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still excited to be here, but the first few days and even weeks weren’t the blast I though they would be. I was overwhelmed, culture shocked, homesick, and thinking that I was the only person who studied abroad and didn’t have the time of their life. If you’re reading this and are considering studying abroad, please know that there will be challenges, but with those challenges will also come many victories. You are not alone in your struggles or loneliness!
Since I’ve arrived in Ireland, I’ve been focusing on seeing the country I’m studying in, rather than traveling across Europe. I love the city of Galway, where I’m studying at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). I do a lot of walking, as the city is really the size of a small town, and most places are within a 20/30 minute walk from where I’m living on the NUIG campus. Galway is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen- it’s quaint, very green for a city, and has many rivers and streams running right through it’s center. Fun Fact: Galway is home to the fastest running river through a city in all of Europe- the River Corrib!
I’ve spent a couple weekends exploring Galway, but have also traveled to other cities and areas in Ireland. So far I’ve been to the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, Sligo, Westport, Dingle, Bantry in County Cork, Dublin, and most recently, Carrick on Shannon in County Roscommon. I traveled to both Bantry and Carrick on Shannon with the NUIG sailing team. I’m involved in sailing back home, and it had been really cool to experience something that I love in another country. One of my recommendations for studying abroad is to get involved in one or two things that you enjoy and gives you the chance to meet new people. I’ve gained a new level of understanding of the Irish culture and Irish way of life from being immersed in a group made up of primarily Irish students. They are an awesome resource for understanding contemporary Irish culture and have taught me neat things like how to read Irish license plates and how the Irish political system functions.
Studying abroad has been full of new experiences, places, people, and opportunities. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing new places but, more than anything, I’ve treasured the small lessons I have learned that I know I will carry with me back home to the U.S. One of the greatest comforts I had in the first couple weeks, when I was convinced that I had made a massive mistake in studying abroad, was a friend who told me that I would be reaping benefits from this experience long after returning from Ireland, and possibly more after returning home than when I was actually residing in country. I’ve learned that different is not good or bad, but simply different. There is joy to find in all experiences, even suffering, and a new adventure is always right around the corner!