|Vicki Brooks and friends visit the Guinness Factory in Dublin|
When I studied abroad in Galway, Ireland in the summer of 2008, I had no idea what to expect. I had never traveled without my parents or someone I knew, had never been away from home for longer than two weeks, and had never experienced anything remotely similar to studying/living in another country. Needless to say, when I arrived at the Shannon Airport after traveling 14-plus hours from Texas to Ireland, I was exhausted, nervous, and remarkably unsure of what was to come next.
Long story short, I happened to find two other lost-looking girls who were with CEA, and we eventually met up with one of our on-site CEA mentors, Brian, who gave us bus tickets to get to Galway. After a slightly-less-than-two-hour bus ride down winding road and through stone-walled pastures, we finally arrived in Galway, and were met by Monica, our other on-site advisor, who put us in a taxi headed for Gort na Coiribe apartments, gave us room keys, and instructed us to meet her outside the gate of the apartments the next morning for our school orientation, followed that afternoon by a walking tour of the city centre and dinner - graciously paid for by CEA.
After arriving, I explored the apartment, unpacked, and walked around the complex grounds before my roommate arrived. After she unpacked, the two of us, along with one of the girls I’d come into town with, went to the Dunnes grocery store across the roundabout from our apartments, where we bought basic food and necessities — milk, bread, soup, coffee, tea, and an umbrella. It was here that we had our first “foreigner” experience; we did not know that you are charged for shopping bags in Ireland, and that most people bring their own, and couldn’t help but laugh as we carried armfuls of groceries back across the roundabout in the rain.
|Shop Street in Galway, Ireland|
When you arrive at your destination, the best thing you can do is stay optimistic and positive, and be open to the things you see around you. There is no way to predict exactly what will happen upon your arrival, and, as we all know, there are many things that can go wrong (lost bags, flight delays, etc.) But, if you keep a positive attitude, despite being exhausted and covered in the wonderful smells of travel, it will make your day a whole lot easier.
As far as Do’s and Don’ts:
• Plan ahead when packing—make sure you check the weather for the day of your arrival and pack for it.
• Be friendly to your CEA group and locals. I met some of my best friends while studying abroad, and you’ll probably never get another chance like it.
• Be aware of yourself and the way you depict yourself. Don’t be the “Ugly American.”
• Take in as much of the experience as you can, and do as much as you can while you’re there.
• Remember why you wanted to study abroad in the first place. What did you want to learn or experience?
• Keep an open mind to new experiences.
• Have FUN!
• Make assumptions that things will be the way they are where you’re from. If that were true, why would you go abroad in the first place?
• Shut down things that are radically different from what you know.
• Be afraid to try new things — every city in the world has something that is unique to it, whether it’s food, people, sights, or experiences.
• Be afraid to ask questions. The people around you will be more than happy to tell you about or show you their country. Just make sure that you’re willing to take whatever answer they give you with criticism.
If you let it, studying abroad can be one of the most enriching and amazing experiences you’ll have in your life.
Since I've left Ireland, I have traveled to Wales, where I met up with the two amazing women I met in Galway. I also have been fortunate enough to go back to Ireland while traveling in the UK and Ireland with my boyfriend. Studying abroad made me aware of an interest I have in western cultures, has had a huge impact on my career plans, and has helped to shape me into the person I am today.
Vicki Brooks is a CEA alumni from Summer 2008.
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