Leah Wakefield

Leah is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Galway

Major: English

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Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

I always knew studying abroad would be part of my educational experience to broaden my horizons and raise my sense of cultural awareness. I decided to study on the Galway program because I knew it would help foster my sense of community with my peers and select faculty in the CSB/SJU community. I knew the Galway program would also offer me a unique and intimate view into daily Irish culture through living with the Foyles. Academically, the Galway program offered courses in which I was interested and would expand my knowledge and compliment my majors.

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

One of the most significant cultural experiences I had was the strong sense of community. I saw living in Ireland as similar to growing up in a small town: everyone knew everyone else and was there to help and support their neighbors. Everyone we encountered during our time in Galway and Spiddal was incredibly friendly and welcoming, inquiring not only about our experiences in Ireland and in the States but also about how the Foyles were doing. Even people we met while travelling on the weekends seemed genuinely interested in our experiences in Ireland and were always ready to recommend where we could listen to music or grab the most traditional food while we were there.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

Overall, my study abroad experience was life-changing. Upon my return to the States, I viewed our country and my life very differently. Having more understanding of a different culture allowed me to evaluate my own culture with a more critical eye, looking at politics, pop culture, and cultural values with more scrutiny than before my study abroad experience. While abroad, I made what I know will be lifelong friendships with my peers on the trip and unforgettable memories of spending time together, breath-taking scenery, and the full experience of a new culture. I was continually pushed out of my comfort zone, having positive experiences each time while being supported by my peers.

Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

The biggest benefit of attending a semester long study abroad program is the ability to immerse oneself in the culture and live amongst the locals, experiencing their culture from their point of view, not just from the point of view of a tourist. One gets a very intimate sense of a new country and different culture. The experience allowed me to grow in self-confidence and self-sufficiency. Academically, I was able to study the history and politics of a foreign country, which I never would have been able to do while on campus at St. Ben’s/St. John’s. Additionally, studying subjects such as the history, theology, art and culture of Ireland in Ireland by professors from Ireland was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Professionally, the inter-personal skills I learned while abroad also helped me grow and develop new ideas for career paths, inspired by professors I would not have normally had.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

Studying abroad will push you out of your comfort zone, which is wonderful and beneficial personally, academically, and professionally. But first: plan, plan, plan!! Start planning early. Look for programs that offer courses in which you are interested, in locations you find intriguing. Investigate different programs, looking for the best fit for you. Start planning during the first year of college. Meet with your FYS professor, members from the Center for Global Education Abroad, and Academic Advising. Never again will there be the opportunity to live in and travel around a foreign country for four months with dozens of your closest friends. It is never too early to go to the study abroad fairs, information sessions, or talk to students who studied abroad. The earlier you prepare, the more confident you will be in yourself, your upcoming experience, the wonderful campuses of CSB/SJU that you call home and the new country in which you study abroad that will be your home away from home and forever hold a special place in your heart.