Rachel Balon - 2014 Program Participant

Coastline near Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland

Rachel exploring the naturally forming landscape in Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

What attracted you to the idea of studying abroad?

I’ve always had a passion for adventure. New people, new sites, new culture: all things that spark my interest and I find important. Studying abroad was a perfect opportunity to do some traveling, have new experiences, and grow as a student and a person.  I wanted to be consumed in a culture other than my own. It was a great way to push myself and enhance me personally, academically, and professionally.

What made you want to study in Ireland? Why did you choose Galway as opposed to other cities in Ireland?

My family is very proud of our Irish heritage, so it’s a country I feel connected to and very interested in. Beautiful landscapes, lots of history, and something I found vital, English as the main language, made Ireland my first choice. Galway is a small city, still busy with lots of nightlife, but not huge and crowded. This made it perfect for me.        

Why did you select CEA Study Abroad over other organizations?

CEA Study Abroad first got my interest when I saw that Ireland was on their list of countries. After seeing the many great reviews, I contacted an admissions counselor and quickly discovered how helpful and friendly the staff is. Then I learned all about the included excursions, everything that the cost of the program includes, and the safety and onsite connections. Every question I had was answered quickly and the advice they gave was great. They truly helped me every step of the way and gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed. They also offered a MOJO Blogging opportunity which really enhanced my resume.

An old Abbey in Ireland

Exploring an old Abbey

What was your favorite part about Galway? 

Galway, Ireland was everything I imagined and more, so beautiful and full of Irish culture. I loved that my housing was only a short walk to downtown, which is full of things to do and places to explore.

Tell us more about your housing arrangements.

I lived in a student housing complex called Gort na Coirbe. I had an apartment with two other people, one fellow CEA student studying abroad and an Irish student. It was fully equipped with everything I needed, which was great. I really liked that it was close to both campus and downtown.

What was a normal day like as an international student in Ireland?

A typical day started with classes, and after I usually met up with some friends at a local coffee or tea shop. You can’t beat a homemade scone with jam! If it was nice out, I’d explore the bay, but if it was raining (which it commonly was) I’d throw on my rain boots and jacket and roam around downtown. Once night came, my roommate and I commonly went out to hear some Irish music and eat fish and chips at the pubs.

What made your program unique? 

There are onsite CEA staff at every location that help you with anything you need and help you adjust. The CEA staff picked me up from the airport, gave me a tour of the city and campus and commonly checked up on me to make sure I was comfortable and adjusting well. They also accompany you on your excursions, which is a huge plus to going with CEA. The included trips are incredible and gave me the chance to see all of Ireland. They truly care about each student and make sure you're enjoying your time abroad.

The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Enjoying the incredible views on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher

What was your favorite excursion? 

I absolutely loved the included excursions. We did so much traveling and I saw so much of Ireland because of them. My favorite trip was to the Cliffs of Moher. I've never seen anything so naturally beautiful. It was truly like standing at the edge of the world and gave me such a humbling, eye-opening experience.

What is your most memorable moment from your time in Ireland?

Every day in Ireland was an adventure to me! But, the excursion to the Cliffs of Moher took my breath away. It was like standing on the edge of the world. So beautiful and memorizing. I actually cried from how overwhelmed I was! I’ve never seen anything like that before and I still think about it to this day. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced studying abroad in Ireland?

When I arrived in Ireland, it was the first time in my life that I was truly on my own. There was no comfort of familiar faces, and I have to admit that I missed my family and friends desperately. For the first week, I did feel alone. However, I quickly made some wonderful friends and realized I had tremendous support from back home. Soon, I embraced everything Ireland had to offer and even started to think of it as my new home!! However, the adapting took time, and I think the occasional homesickness was my main challenge to conquer. 

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

On the edge of the Cliffs of Moher

What advice would you give to other Keystone students as to why they should study abroad in Galway?

I would definitely recommend Galway to students that don’t speak a second language, because they speak English, there will never be a communication barrier. Also, the city is beautiful and full of interesting things to do, both indoor places, such as museums and shops, and outdoor locations, like the bay. The city is the perfect size, not too big, but not too small. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, public transportation is easily accessible and cheap so trips to Dublin or other cities are no hassle.

Also, I would definitely recommend looking into the excursions that CEA takes you on before departing. We did everything from biking and hiking in the rain to fancy dinners. So just be sure you have attire that will be appropriate for your location and the activities that you'll be participating in.

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

I truly have very little regrets about my study abroad experience. I'm glad I went through CEA, that I went to Galway, and that I experienced as much Irish culture as I did. The only thing I would change is how homesick I let myself get from time to time. It was my first time truly away from my family and friends so sometimes I missed them a bit too much. But now that I'm home, I feel silly for getting homesick. I would go back to Ireland in a heartbeat and I miss it every day.

How has studying abroad impacted you?        

Studying abroad made me grow as a person. I gained independence, responsibility, cultural awareness, and it broke down my timidness and fear of the unknown. Now, I crave learning and traveling and new experiences. Also, being a CEA Alumni Ambassador and blogger has enhanced my writing skills and given me the confidence to succeed in my field of study, Communications. Studying abroad truly gave me the confidence I need to put myself out there and embrace every opportunity that comes my way.

Beach of Galway Bay in Ireland

Rachel resting on the rocky beach of the Galway Bay after a long walk

How do you think your experiences in Ireland will help you in your career endeavors?

Studying in Ireland taught me how to be independent, culturally accepting and adaptable, and able to communicate better. Also, participating in the blogging program through CEA really enhanced my portfolio and resume and gave me practical and applicable experience in a writing/communication career field.