Ellen Newkirk is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Galway.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
One of my most favorite memories from my time abroad was our trip to the Aran Islands, about a one hour ferry ride from Spiddal. We went on this excursion on one of our first days in Ireland, and we didn't even know everyone's names! Arriving on the biggest island, Inis Mor was like stepping back in time. There were thatched-roof cottages lining the rocky coastlines and stone walls criss-crossing the fields. We rented bikes and rode around the island, stopping to look out from the tops of the 300-foot cliffs at Dun Aengus. We also stopped at a beautiful beach and spent time taking pictures. I am so glad we had the chance to visit this iconically Irish island; it was really interesting to see all the history and culture of the islands. Even though we didn't really know each other yet, this trip was a great bonding experience for our group and we all came away from it as friends.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
I knew I wanted to study abroad before even coming to St. Ben's. I had heard countless stories from friends and family about their incredibly experiences studying abroad, and I knew I wanted to experience that too. Studying abroad gave me the chance to put all the skills I have learned in the classroom and in life in general into practice in a "real world" setting.
I chose the Galway program for several reasons. First of all, I loved the group excursions that were included in the trip. At first, it seemed overwhelming being gone so often, but it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of my trip. We were able to spend time in several different parts of the country, and I know I would not have seen as much of Ireland by myself. Also, I liked that this program was located in a more rural area. I don't see myself living in a small town in my future, so I was glad to experience it for a short period of time. Living by the ocean was also a highlight for me. We definitely had the best of all worlds on this program- we lived just a short walk to the village of Spiddal, a short drive from Galway, and a three-hour bus ride from Dublin from which you could travel all over Europe.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My semester in Galway was definitely my favorite semester at St. Ben's so far. It wasn't perfect, but it was a learning experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. I learned so much about myself, our group, and all aspects of Irish culture. I felt at home at the Park Lodge from the moment I arrived, and the hospitably all semester was incredible. I loved truly living in another country and not just experiencing it as a tourist. As cliche as it sounds, I made friendships and memories that will last forever, and my whole outlook on life has changed for the better.
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
My semester abroad changed me in many ways. I think it is impossible to return from studying abroad the same person you were when you left home. First of all, I am now much more confident and independent. Also, I now understand the need to always be adaptable to your surroundings. Being in a new country, I was constantly being put into new situations, and by the end I felt like I could handle any challenge. The importance of flexibility is another thing I learned during my semester abroad. Living in close quarters with 28 other participants, it quickly became apparent that I wasn't always going to get things my way. When traveling, I learned it was much easier to just go with the flow instead of always challenging things that weren't going quite right. Overall, I feel like I know so much about how to be an aware global citizen, and I don't think I could have learned those things any other way.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
Come with an open mind and say "yes" to everything! Immerse yourself in the culture and community you are living in; you aren't going to remember the nights you spent watching TV or on your computer, but you will remember all the times you took advantage of opportunities to do something new.
Keep a journal every day, even if you don't write very much. You will be glad you took the time to jot down the little things that you may forget.