Randee Zerger - 2015 Program Participant

University College Dublin entrance sign in Ireland

I had the best semester of my life at one of the best known universities in Ireland. I learned so much in my time at this place and I will forever treasure that.

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

Throughout high school, I heard from many other former high school students that traveling is the easiest way to get to know yourself and learn more about the world. I always sat in awe while listening to their experiences and thinking "Wow, I want to do that!" However, I was discouraged quite a lot, mostly for money reasons. I thought I would never be able to afford something like studying abroad or just traveling in general.

Once I got into college, I heard more and more about studying abroad from other students as well as faculty. I developed an interest, but really didn't quite grasp what it took to study abroad. So my freshman year I researched (like A LOT). I was determined to FIND a way to study abroad, whether I had to find a thousand scholarships or take out a big chunk of money in loans; I was going to do it, even if no one was taking me seriously in my dream.

Once sophomore year came around, I still really wanted to study abroad, ideally in the spring semester 2015. Not until then did I understand that colleges and scholarship donors support students to travel and study, which ultimately allowed me to embark on this adventure. It took a lot of time and effort to figure out where I wanted to go, the classes I would take, not to mention the paperwork to even apply to study abroad, but I made it my goal to find a way. I believe that's what everyone must do if they truly want to have this experience.

My major is agriculture and food security. It was always so interesting to me learning about international aspects of agriculture and how that affects U.S. agriculture or how we could use international practices in the states, vice versa. The more I learned about opportunities in my university, I got more and more excited to study abroad. Studying abroad is a huge opportunity to learn and grow as a student and a person, not to mention the professional development.

Why did you choose API’s program at University College Dublin?

I knew from the very start of my time researching programs that my ideal place to study was in Ireland, and I wanted to study agriculture for sure. This narrowed down my search quite a bit, since only one college in Ireland offers extensive agricultural courses. The next big part was deciding which program to go through, which was probably my hardest decision, but I am so happy I made the one that I did.

API offered so much help to me in a time when I had about a million questions. They always answered very quickly and helped me along the process. Other programs that I contacted always took so much longer to e-mail me back or answer any questions I sent them.

Another big part of why I decided to go with API was the excursions offered in my program. We went on so many excursions around Dublin, around Ireland, and even Scotland! Other programs I looked into offered less excursions and the price of the program was either more expensive or about the same; so this made it a no-brainer in the end.

API is a home to me now and I am so delighted with the fact that I put my faith in them in my time abroad. They helped me so much while I was here at home and my time abroad coming to answering questions, showing me places to eat or go out in Dublin, giving helpful suggestions, advice, etc. My resident directors were absolutely fantastic!

A view of Guinness Lake from Sallys Gap in Ireland

From a day trip to County Wicklow and Glendalough - this is up on Sally's Gap looking down on Guinness Lake; it was quite the windy day!

What was your favorite part about Dublin?

Dublin. So many things to love. James Joyce's saying "When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart" is really a true statement. Dublin is my home and I can't imagine myself never going back. I love everything about the city. The people are so friendly there and it is a very cultured city. I honestly can't choose just one thing, so I'll name a few of my top favorites.

In a travelsense, Dublin is very easy to get to and it is very easy to get anywhere else in Ireland from Dublin. There are always buses available to shuttle you anywhere in Dublin and there are also tours to every part of the country. Not to mention, it's not too difficult to save money while still having a good time. The national museums are all free to go inside. Also, it's just easy to get around Dublin, the buses are fairly cheap and simple to use. The coastline is literally a bus ride away. There are great hiking spots only 20 minutes from the city center. You barely even realize you are still in a huge city!

There's always something to do or somewhere to go in Dublin. In the end though, I say the pub scene is probably my favorite. I was iffy about it at first, because I was very new at the "drinking scene". However, pubs are great places to go and hang out with some friends, maybe talk to some new people, while just relaxing and enjoying a beer. It is a great way to meet new people. It was probably my favorite part of Dublin and I miss that so much being back in the states.

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

My program was unique because of what it offered us in general. None of the other programs I looked into took us to the same places on excursions as API did. I had so much fun getting to know my peers as well as my resident director and API staff. They are all great people and I will no doubt consider them close friends from now on!

API really cares about the student's experience. If you aren't having fun, then they will find a way for you to!

They are very accommodating and friendly. I remember upon arrival, I was greeted with a hug and a wonderful Irish accent. When we got to the university, she handed out kitchen supplies. All of the other international students I know outside of API did not have any kitchen supplies for the apartment provided by the program. It was very generous and saved us a lot of money!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The program staff were always on call if we ever need them. They were always there to support us when we needed it and to give us any helpful suggestions and advice on traveling, food options, places to go, etc.

One memorable experience I had with my resident director was on an excursion in Edinburgh, Scotland. Our group decided to hike up to Arthur's Seat, which is basically climbing a small mountain for about a mile each way. I am not the most athletic and I am not afraid to say that I was struggling. But my resident director stayed behind with me at the end of the group, supporting me and encouraging me to keep going further, because I wouldn't regret it and I would feel victorious! It was so thoughtful of her to stay behind with me and support me in a way that wasn't really required from a study abroad resident director. That just showed me how much they all really care and that made me feel special.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? What advice do you have for other students?

Take any opportunity that comes to your attention. So many times, I decided to stay at home and watch a movie with the girls rather than going out on the town or going to a new club meeting. Snatch up any opportunity you feel interested in. I did stay involved in my time at University College Dublin, but sometimes I really wish I would've gone back and gone to that dance or that pub.

I really had trouble with putting myself out there. I consider myself a shy person, especially around new people, so that was a huge challenge for me to overcome. But I did. I just wish I would've walked into my first day in class and introduce myself to the Irish students I sat next to or gone up and talked to my professor and introduced myself. I think it would have helped to make more Irish friends. I think I expected them to go out of their way to say hello to me, but I realize looking back, I should've been the person going out of my way.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

My days during the week varied very much. My classes were all laid out much differently than my home university. Rather than having a class at 9 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I would have one session at 9 a.m. on Monday and 4 p.m. on Wednesday, which was difficult to adjust to at first.

A common day for me at university would be to get up around 8 a.m., head to class at 9 a.m., and stay in class til around 2 p.m. Once done with my classes, I would head back to my apartment and possibly go downtown to explore and go to dinner and a pub afterwards. That wasn't everyday of course, but the exciting thing about being in Dublin and a different environment was that there is always something new to do, so it kept things interesting!

What surprised you most about Dublin?

When I found out that the only university with agriculture courses in Ireland was in Dublin, I have to admit I was kind of scared. I had never lived in a big city before, so I was afraid that I wouldn't enjoy the college as much, because I have always preferred the countryside more than any city. However, I was really proven wrong.

Even though Dublin is the biggest city in Ireland, I still consider it quite small. Dublin is not the city that inhabits rude, snobby, or business type people. Rather, it is a very cultured city, with friendly people anywhere you go. It was very easy to meet new people whether it was in a pub or a restaurant or even waiting in line at Penny's. There are also so many people from all over the world living in Dublin, so there were so many stories to be heard.

I think I was quick to judge Dublin before I even arrived there, thinking just because it is a big city that it wouldn't be enjoyable. Dublin holds a big piece of my heart and I find myself going back and possibly living there one day.

Dublin will never cease to surprise you in so many ways; embrace it for what it is, the history it holds, and the stories you will be told.

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

My favorite activity outside my normal day was doing a day trip in or around Dublin. Sometimes my classes would be out by noon, so I would be able to take a bus downtown, tour a couple places, shop, eat at a new restaurant, etc.

One day, we took the train to Howth, which is still in Dublin but on the outskirts. Howth is a small fishing area along the coast with a great hike and a small market, so we went on a quick hike and then got some fresh produce from the market.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I stayed in a four bedroom, two bathroom apartment. I loved that it was right on campus. It took no longer than 10 minutes to walk from my apartment across campus. Not to mention its proximity to the small grocery store, the recreation center, and the library. I also have never had more than one roommate before, so it was a great experience learning how to live with three people instead of one. It gave me an opportunity to make even more friends.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher in County Clare - probably one of the biggest tourist attractions, but it definitely does not disappoint!

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part for me in deciding whether or not to study abroad was my fear of being homesick. I have always considered myself a homebody, never straying far from home. So naturally, I was terrified for being away from home for a whole four months without constant contact with my family. In the beginning, I wanted to go during the summer, because it is a shorter duration. In the end, it came down to going for a semester or not going at all, so of course I decided to jump in head first and face that fear.

In the end, four months wasn't enough for me. I Skyped with my parents after every major trip I went on and texted them every once and a while, and that was enough. You don't truly learn about yourself unless you face this type of stuff. For me, it was facing homesickness, which made me realize how independent of a person I am and can be.

If I can suggest one thing to someone looking to study abroad, it would be to face your fear and just follow that dream, because this type of opportunity doesn't come around often.

Put yourself out there, meet new people, see new places, take everything around you in. The people you befriend will be your friends forever and the places you go will hold a special place in your heart.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Ireland?

One thing that would be helpful to know and understand before studying abroad is the vast history of Ireland. Walking the streets of Dublin and any other city in Ireland is like walking through history; so many historical events led to what Ireland is today. It has affected how the country is run, politics, government, laws, etc. There is a huge history between England and Ireland and it is important to recognize the efforts it took for Ireland to become independent from England. There is a reason why it is not in the United Kingdom, but Northern Ireland is. It is important to understand the religion, politics and laws behind the conflict and how it affects today's Irish culture.

I wish I studied up on it more before I came to Ireland. However, I did learn a lot about it in my classes and on my several excursions. For example, on our excursion to Belfast, Northern Ireland, we learned about the troubles and how it still affects Northern Ireland and its relations with both England and Ireland. There is so much to learn in order to fully understand the country. I still wish I researched more on Ireland's politics and how the government works; I think it would better help me understand the country and would allow me to engage in further conversation with Irish students about the country itself besides just the beauty it beholds.

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Dublin?

L.L. Bean boots are lifesavers. You will not have invested in something more useful, comfortable, and practical. As you may know, it rains quite a bit in Ireland. Not as much on the east coast as on the west coast, but good shoes are still necessary. Being from the Seattle area in Washington, I was quite prepared for the cold weather and the rain, since the climate at home was very similar to Ireland's. With the rain and uneven cobblestone and sidewalks, a good pair of shoes is necessary as well as good rain jacket.

Know that you will probably wear the same jacket and boots with every outfit. In most of my pictures, I am seen wearing the same combo, but embrace it! You will not regret buying these things.

Also be sure to bring some warm clothes, but don't over pack your suitcase, since simple clothes can be bought for cheap at Penny's and other departments stores found on Grafton St., Mary St., Henry St., and other places as well. I always heard the rule to pack enough clothes for one to two weeks that can be mixed and matched, but also keep in mind that warmer clothes will be bulkier.

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

Studying abroad has impacted my life probably more than I will ever know. I am truly a changed person since I went abroad. It has opened my eyes to so many new things: culture, travel, becoming myself. As they say, you only regret the chances you never took.

Travel indeed is the most intense mode of learning. I don't think I ever understood that until I traveled myself.

Studying abroad has ignited a new passion within myself to travel, to learn, and to better understand the world we live in. It inspired me to become the person I want to be and take any chance that comes my way. I am a more confident and spontaneous person. I worked so hard to get to where I am today, but I am so happy that I decided to allocate my efforts to following my dreams as well as learning more as a student and a citizen of this world.

Inch Strand along the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

Inch Strand along the Dingle Peninsula: “Ireland 2015” - an unforgettable year!

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

I absolutely love Dublin and I see myself going there again. But if I had the opportunity to study abroad in another location, it would be Edinburgh, Scotland. I had the opportunity to visit Scotland twice, one time as a weekend excursion with API and another time by myself during spring break for a whole week. I loved the culture and the area and I see myself living in Scotland for a period of time in the future.

I was able to do a three day tour around the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye. It was definitely my favorite trip among many in my time abroad. Not to mention, J.K. Rowling is from Edinburgh and there are so many Harry Potter innuendos all around the historical and beautiful city. It is a must-see location and I still look back on my time there as one of the best experiences I have ever had.