Deirdre Scanlon - 2013 Program Participant
Looking over the Cliffs of Moher
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
Growing up, my mom always told me about her study abroad experience in Florence, Italy while she was in college. She described it as one of the best experiences of her life. Contrarily, my Dad talked about how he wished he had studied abroad. With these influences, it became a dream of mine to spend a semester in a foreign country. I would not call myself an adventurous person; I like my comfort zone quite a lot. However, I often find that my best experiences are when I push myself to go outside my comfort zone and explore something new. Studying abroad, especially with ISA, was the perfect way for me to do this, and it was the best decision I ever made.
Sitting eating Gino's gelato down by the Spanish Arch in Galway
Why did you choose ISA?
There are a lot of different program providers out there, and making a decision on where to go and what program to go with was probably the hardest part of studying abroad. I created a spreadsheet comparing different programs; what housing did they offer? What excursions? How much did it cost? I then compared all my options and decided on ISA (International Studies Abroad) and their program in Galway, Ireland.
ISA offered on-site support, various excursions led by our Resident Director, cultural events, and more. From the moment I first contacted them, they were friendly, helpful, and willing to do whatever it took to make my experience great. In addition, I knew a girl who was studying with ISA in Galway at the time, and she only had wonderful things to say about it. After all the comparison, I knew that ISA was the right match for me.
What was your favorite part about Galway?
Galway, Ireland is a beautiful city. It is smaller than what I consider most cities, but this makes it cozy. The people are so friendly and willing to help you whenever you need it. When I studied abroad, I lived in Gort na Coiribe, which was not too far from NUI Galway where I studied for the semester, or from the town center. The city center consisted of a pedestrian, cobblestone shopping street (aptly called Shop St.) that you could stroll down to shop, visit one of the many pubs, or pick up some gelato from Gino's. At the bottom of the walkway is the Galway Bay, with the Old Long Walk (a strip of colorfully painted houses along the water) next to the Spanish Arch (a stone archway). This was probably my favorite spot in Galway, with the bustling of people around and the combination of old city structures, stone canals, and bright, colorful buildings. On a sunny day, you could just sit and listen to a musician busking or read a book.
What made your program unique?
It may seem like Ireland and the U.S. would be the same, as both countries are developed and speak English, but this couldn't be further from the truth. When I went to Galway, I found an entirely different culture, something I knew, but I don't think I fully expected would happen. Ireland has been voted, on various occasions, the friendliest nation in the world, and that is something I can attest to. More than that, I found the way they lived their life a lot different. In the U.S., everyone is so "go go go" all the time, but I found the Irish way of life a lot more relaxed. They seemed focused on enjoying the present, as well as making a future for themselves, and that was a nice change of pace for me.
Also, Galway itself is considered the culture capital of Ireland and that definitely shows; there are always arts festivals and other events going on. There's always something to do, people to meet, and experiences to be had.
The Old Long Walk at the bottom of Galway's Shop St.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
My Residence Director, Dermott, was absolutely fantastic. He picked us up from the airport on day one and helped us throughout our entire experience, leading us on excursions around Ireland and cultural events in Galway. It was nice to have someone leading the group so that I could just enjoy the sights and my time. When he wasn't leading us around, he was always available to help us out or just chat if we were having a bout of homesickness. I knew that if I needed to talk, Dermott would be there with some chocolate and a tissue, if necessary.
Additionally, Dermott was so helpful when it came to planning my own excursion for a week in Italy. He helped make sure that I was never without a train ticket to Venice or a place to stay in Rome. I knew that if I had any troubles when I was there, he would be my biggest advocate on that side of the pond.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
One thing that I recommend to any friend or acquaintance that I know will be studying abroad is to not be afraid of asking someone to get coffee. Part of what I learned studying abroad was to be more confident with myself and in my interactions with others. It wasn't until nearing the end of my time that I began to invite people out and build relationships. I wish I had started sooner:
I wasted a bit of time worrying that I would come across as weird or too intense. But studying abroad is all about making connections and doing new things. Push yourself outside your comfort zone, and ask the girl you briefly talked to in class if she'd like to grab a coffee and chat. When abroad, you are the new one without your normal group of friends, it's up to you to make new friends and it never hurts to ask someone if they'd like to hang out. The worst she can say is no, and honestly, that's not so bad.
On my walk to NUIG's campus
What was a typical day like for you in Ireland?
On a typical day in Ireland, I would get up, make breakfast (usually something with Nutella - a European favorite), and walk to class. My walk to the National University of Ireland, Galway, was beautiful by itself; I passed by fields and over the River Corib. I would attend my beginner's Irish course, where I learned basic conversational phrases, such as Dia dhuit (hello), and then my English literature course, where I learned poetry and fiction of some of the greats.
After class, I would walk into town to meet up with some of my friends at the coffee shop An Tobar Nua. My friends knew the people who worked there and it quickly became a regular of ours; we would go and order tea, which always came in a pot, and snack on some of their delicious cookies. Between talking and getting a bit of work done, we'd have a fun time!
On the way home from town, I'd sometimes stop by the grocery to get some food for dinner. In Ireland, many people go to the store on a day-to-day basis, and our refrigerator was small enough that that's what we did too!
Later in the evening, I would head back to campus to attend the Writers' Society meeting. There, we would have fun playing writing games and reading each other our work for feedback. It was such an inclusive group, and I had a great time with them. Occasionally, we'd all head out to the pub afterwards, often the Roisin Dubh, where we'd dance to live music and chat over a Guinness or two. It was always a grand time.
What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?
Probably my favorite time was an excursion we took through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey. My ISA group took a tour bus through the hills of Ireland, and our tour guide would tell us about things as we passed: the fairy trees that could heal the sick or about the ruins on our left of a tiny leprechaun's home. At one point, our bus driver pulled to the side of the road and told us to get out and take pictures; we had ten minutes! Outside, there was a lake and small mountains, it was breathtaking.
The day continued in this beautiful way as we reached Kylemore Abbey, an old castle that had eventually become a boarding school run by Benedictine nuns, and its Victorian gardens and Gothic church. Sitting on the edge of a lake and surrounded by mountains, the castle was regal and a sight not easily forgotten. It was a sunny day that day, a rarity in Ireland, and everything was perfect. I would go back in a heartbeat; there was so much to explore.
Kylemore Abbey and part of my ISA group
What type of housing did you live in during your program? What was it like?
I lived in an apartment with one girl from my program and another girl in Gort na Coiribe. It was only a fifteen minute walk away from campus and ten minute walk to town, while that seemed daunting at first, I really grew to enjoy my walks to and from my destinations. The kitchen was fully equipped when I got there and the apartment furnished, so I didn't have to worry about buying anything for my stay. It was a really nice accommodation, even better than anything I'd had dorm-wise in the States at that point, and I enjoyed living not that far away from anything I might need or want to do.
Now that you're home, how has studying abroad impacted your life?
Studying abroad was a life-changing experience for me. I grew more independent and more confident in myself as a person. If I'm able to go abroad by myself and survive, then what can't I do?
I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of, things that I couldn't even imagine before. Not only did it impact me in my self-awareness, but it put me on an entirely new path.
Because of my study abroad experience, I have become interested in and passionate about international education. I began working as an ISA Global Ambassador and in the Center for Global Education on my college's campus. I will be attending graduate school in the fall, having just finished my undergraduate degree, to pursue a career as a study abroad adviser. Studying abroad is the best thing that I could have done for myself, and I hope to help others have that same life-changing experience.