My senior year of high school, I went on a school trip to Panama. After that trip, I was inspired to keep traveling the world and seeing as much as I could. I was in my international office on campus less than a week into my freshman year, looking into different study abroad programs. I have talked to a lot of people who have said their biggest regret in college was not studying abroad, and I decided that wasn't going to be me.
Why did you choose the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS)?
In the front of the AIFS catalog is a table with all the best schools that correspond with your major. I had six options available to me: Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, India, South Africa, and Ireland. I wanted somewhere that spoke English so Turkey and India got knocked off. I hate heat very much; I can't stand it. So, Australia and New Zealand were gone.
I decided on Ireland because it was close to the rest of Europe and it would be easy to travel to different countries. I love learning about different cultures and Ireland has a very rich one. I liked that the Limerick program was in a smaller town. I liked that the price included excursions to places around the country.
What was your favorite part about Ireland?
I fell in love with the people of Ireland. Everyone was always willing to lend a hand even in the smallest ways. Everyone was friendly and talkative. They loved learning about American culture and I loved learning about their culture from them too. I stopped a woman in a grocery store aisle asking what kind of pasta sauce she used because I didn't recognize any of the brands. I asked a guy on the bus if he had a pocket knife so I could open a container of grapes because I was hungry and my nails weren't doing the job. The students on campus were willing to point me in the right direction the first week of classes when I was lost.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The University of Limerick has an International Society. During the first meeting, they needed people to fill positions on their board. One of the positions was Vice Trips officer. I love planning and wanted to see the country so I stood up, gave a little speech and within 10 minutes I was on the board.
With this position, I went to weekly meetings with the rest of the board where we would plan events. As Vice Trips officer, I got to go on all the weekend trips, which happened nearly every weekend, for free. So I went to Dublin on St. Patrick's Day for free, Ring of Kerry for free, Dingle for free; every single trip for free, just because of that 60 second speech I gave. I loved serving as an officer for International Society. It's what made me feel like Ireland was the right place for me to be.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Without my local staff, my study abroad experience wouldn't have been as enjoyable. My grandpa was hospitalized a few weeks after I left and I was a mess. I went to my main RA and she suggested I go to the counseling office on campus. She would give me hugs whenever I needed them. The other RA I would call when I needed a pep talk.
Some days were just hard. Either I was struggling in a class or I was just really homesick that day, but she would always build me up and make me feel better. They would come on the excursions with us and we got to meet their families and it was fun to get to know them on a personal level. I love interacting with kids and I didn't have much opportunity to do so in Ireland, except when one of the RA's would bring her kids. They would always support me and I could call them with problems or joys and they were just great individuals.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I over packed. I think everyone who studies abroad does. I had a couple shirts I never even wore. I don't know why I thought I would be wearing two inch boots every day on a long walk to campus. I had to leave a few things behind because my suitcase weighed so much going back to the States.
Describe a typical day in your life in Ireland.
I would wake up, have some breakfast, pack everything into my bag I would need for the day (because it was a half mile to and from my house) and head to campus. I had classes everyday. I would usually head back to the house for lunch and then go back for my afternoon classes. It looked very similar to a day at an American school. There wasn't really anything special. One of my classes was a mile from my house and that took some getting used to. My parents would wake up at 12 p.m. my time, so I would call my parents around that time and say good morning.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
On the weekends, I would be traveling to a different part of the country, or even a different part of the world. On week nights, I would usually be in my room working on homework and watching Netflix (not much different from what I do at my home college). In April, the weather started getting really nice and the sun would stay out longer, so in the afternoons my friends and I would bring out blankets and lay out on the lawn and just hang out and enjoy the warm sun (very rare for Ireland).
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in a house with seven other people. There were four rooms on the first floor sharing a bathroom, and it was the same on the second floor. We also all shared a kitchen. We each had our own individual room, which was nice and I think made the stay easier. I liked having my own room with my own sink and own study area. I liked that it was a little community though, so I could go over to people's houses easier. It was a half mile from campus, which I wasn't a fan of, because at my home campus it's a two block by two block square. There was a main office at the front of the "village" where we could pick up trash bags and pick up mail. The village also had a laundry facility so we wouldn't have to take our clothes far.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
The buses NEVER run on time. They come every 15 minutes to Stables, very roughly. They will come late or early and they won't stay for very long so there is a very good chance you will be waiting at the bus stop for 15+ minutes. Never trust the bus schedule. You just have to learn to be flexible and patient. Always have the exact amount they want. It makes getting on a lot easier and the people behind you and the bus driver will be thankful you do. Always keep your bus ticket with you until you get off the bus because people will ask to see it to make sure you paid to ride. The buses are just confusing and you have to learn to live with it.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Ireland impacted your life?
I was hired by AIFS to promote study abroad at my college. I put in 80 hours of work throughout the school year and then in May I get a $500 travel voucher. It has been great so far helping students start their own study abroad journey and finding them their right programs. I love being able to share my story on campus and hopefully influence others to follow in my footsteps.
Since traveling abroad, all I think about is the next time I'm going back.
Would you recommend your program, and AIFS specifically, to others? Why?
Of course! I would recommend The University of Limerick for science majors because they offer so many different science courses that you will be able to stay with your major. AIFS is a great company to go through. They have staff that help you from the time you apply all through the time you get home and beyond. I loved the different aspects of their program and I loved working with them.
Allison is a junior biology major and psychology minor from Kansas. She has traveled to Panama, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, France, and Italy. Allison is a tutor on campus and is involved in theater. She also assists at the study abroad office. After graduation, she plans to get her master’s degree in genetic counseling.