Brigid Wittman - 2015 Program Participant

River Liffey in Ireland

The beautiful River Liffey in Ireland

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I was very unsure about my decision to study abroad at first. As a microbiology major, I was only able to get general education requirements taken care of abroad and it seemed like I was putting my education on a bit of a hold. However, I worked hard both my freshman and sophomore years to be able to make the opportunity work for me.

What really pushed me to apply for an international program was the realization that I would never get an opportunity like this again. I would never get the opportunity to live and learn in a new country, with people my age who were all as ready for adventure as I was. I have never been happier with a decision in my life; my decision to study abroad was one of the best I've ever made!

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Dublin?

I chose the IES Abroad Dublin program simply because I have always dreamed of going to Ireland. I toyed with the idea of going to a Spanish speaking country, because I am a Spanish minor; however, when it came down to a once in a lifetime chance like this, I chose to go with my heart and study in the place that I had dreamed of living in for as long as I can remember.

What was your favorite part about Dublin?

Although it is very hard to pick just one favorite part about Dublin, I would have to say my favorite part was the people. The locals were some of the kindest, most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They really loved helping you in any way they could, whether that was with directions or simply flashing you a smile as you walked down the street. The small businesses, restaurants and cafes make a huge effort to get to know you, and by the end of the first week the barista at the local cafe already knew my order.

The locals are so excited to share their culture and so willing to let you be a part of it. It is because of the people that I was able to feel so at home and become so engrossed in Irish society.

The cliffs in Howth village near Dublin, Ireland

Hanging out on cliffs in Howth!

What made your program unique?

The one thing that makes my program stand out is the staff. The teachers, advisers, RA coordinators, and even maintenance people were amazing. From tea and cookies in the middle of class or last minute travel information, the staff are what really made my trip what it was. They created such a positive and encouraging environment, and it really allowed my fellow peers and I to create great relationships while also enjoying our education. The staff of the IES Abroad Dublin program became a huge part of my "abroad family" and they are a part of some of my best memories of my semester abroad.

In what ways did the local staff support you throughout your program? 

As mentioned before, the staff was amazing. They supported me in every way possible! First and foremost, seeing kind faces and hearing reassuring words when I arrived in the Dublin airport was absolutely what I needed at that point in time. They made me feel welcome from the minute I stepped on Irish soil.

The teachers made our education really pertinent to our adventures abroad and it made me see my host country in a different way. Class was fun and engaging, often times our classes took an interactive turn and we held class at some of the points of the city that we were discussing that day. Getting out of the classroom was a fun way to keep us engaged and it made me really learn more about the city that I was living in.

Although the education aspect of my trip was very important, the staff realized that I was also there to grow as a person and travel was a huge part of that. The staff was always there to help you book flights, coordinate schedules, and encourage me to travel both in and outside of my host country. Having traveled throughout Europe themselves, there was an expert on almost every place that I wanted to visit; this was so helpful and encouraging!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

The one thing that I wish I had done differently was documenting my trip. When I started my trip I had both a travel journal and a blog. Somewhere around mid term break I stopped using these. I really regret doing this because I would love nothing more than to read through my experiences abroad now that I am back in the states. It was one of the most important experiences of my life and I really wish I had kept a better record of the small details.

St. Patricks Day celebrants at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland

Fun with friends at Croke Park on St. Patrick's day

Describe an average day in the life of a student in your program.

On an average weekday in Dublin, I would get up around 9 a.m. for my class at 9:30 a.m. I am not a morning person and it was really great that my housing was only about a five minute walk from my class center. I would have class from 9 a.m. to about 12 p.m. and then hit up a local cafe or restaurant for lunch. I would then spend maybe an hour or two on some homework/schoolwork.

After that I would set out and explore! I walked more than I ever have in my life just exploring the city of Dublin. Sometimes I would have another afternoon class, but on the days that I didn't I loved going running or simply walking the local parks and squares. Around dinner time I would either cook something for myself or go out for dinner. About twice a week the kids in my program would get together for dinner at one of our apartments and everyone would bring something. This was a great way to save money and get to know the kids in your program!

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite activity outside the normal day to day schedule was travel. It was so amazing to be able to experience so many different cultures and places on a simple weekend. It was also great because I was always able to have a travel buddy because most of the kids in my program would also travel on any given weekend. Whether it was in Ireland or outside of the country, travel was always so rewarding.

Another great thing about Dublin is that it is so well connected and so easy to travel from. The buses, trains, and tours within Ireland were so easily accessible and usually not too expensive. When traveling outside of Ireland it was nice that the airport was so close and there was a shuttle that ran back and forth from the city center to the airport every hour. Travel seemed daunting and intimidating at first, but once you take that first step and plan your first trip, you realize that it is so easy and fun to accomplish!

What was your accommodation like?

I lived in an apartment that was actually right above a grocery store. I can't say enough good things about my housing. The apartment was very modern and spacious and all of the appliances were great (not what I was expecting). It was in a great location, close to nightlife and restaurants, and also close to the IES Abroad center; I only had a five minute walk to get to class! It was also very close to bus stops and shuttle stops, so travel was very easy.

One of the best things about my apartment was how safe I felt. The apartment building had many security measures and was in a very safe part of town. My Dublin apartment became a home so quickly, and was really a great environment to live in!

Hiking trail at the cliffs in Howth, Ireland

Beautiful weekend hikes!

Now that you're home, how has studying abroad impacted your life?

Looking back at the person I was before I spent a semester in Dublin is like looking back at someone completely different. Before I left for Ireland, I was a very shy and reserved person. I came back from studying abroad a completely improved version of my past self. I gained skills that I didn't even know I was missing. I became a more energetic, outgoing, and confident person. I learned how to deal with situations in which I felt uncomfortable and turn them into great memories. I became so independent and self sufficient, which has helped in so many other aspects of my life.

When learning to travel and finding your place in a foreign city, you gain such an open minded perspective and a respect for cultures other than your own. Adventuring abroad also gives you a better perspective on your home country and a generally improved worldview. I grew so much during my time abroad and the skills and strengths I developed abroad are something that I can apply in everyday life.