Kelsey Koch is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Cork, Ireland
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I chose to study abroad because I wanted a life-changing experience. Living in another country is an opportunity most of us don't get very often, and it's easy to pass it up after graduation. CSB/SJU has already changed and inspired me so deeply, so I approached my study abroad program as a chance to affirm who I already am. I wanted to become more confident, competent, and gain a new perspective about other countries as well as my own. I chose the Cork program because I was looking to push myself. Cork has no in-country adviser, so it forces participants to rely on themselves to make travel plans, succeed academically, and immerse themselves in the host culture. It allows for remarkably individual experiences, which I desired. I also chose Cork because Ireland is a small, naturally beautiful country that's easy to explore through public transportation, and the month-long break in classes during April allows participants to plan a backpacking trip across Europe. Such an experience is on most peoples' bucket lists, and I was eager to get the opportunity to do it.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
My goal during my semester abroad was to travel Ireland as much as possible, and I achieved this. I planned all of my weekend trips myself, and my favorite by far was a trip to Galway and the Aran Islands with my friend Callie. We were able to meet so many people and experience so much more by being in a group of two. After arriving at the biggest island, InisMor, we walked a few miles out to a spectacular cliff fort. On our walk back, we met two men who had been traveling to this island together as friends for several years. We spent all night talking to them about traveling, Irish culture, student life, and tradition. Mark and "Kerry from Kerry" were but one of our first experiences meeting Irish people, an introduction to a nation where conversations come easily, charity and humor are a part of daily life, and giving generously of oneself is the basic way of relating to others. As the Irish say, great craic (good conversation, fun, laughs) was had that night. From then on, we felt safe and welcome everywhere we traveled in Ireland.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
I had an incredible time abroad. I accomplished my goals, saw natural wonders that brought me near tears, and met lifelong friends. I felt reaffirmed as the kind of person I wanted to be, and was able to demonstrate that through the Cork program's independent nature. I think that by not having an adviser in-country, we all took more initiative to construct our own experiences. The most surprising part was our group dynamics. The 20 of us from CSBSJU in Cork were never forced to hang out or travel together, but immediately we came to rely on ourselves as a group. We were each other's' resources, and we never stopped communicating ideas, questions, travel plans, suggestions, and study sessions. We also had a remarkable amount of fun getting to know each other and becoming friends. I can honestly say we had no major conflicts and that I got to know everyone well. I am so proud of us for that, and I think it says a lot about the Bennie-Johnnie culture here.
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?
Academically, I got to experience a completely new university and structure. It was nice to try out big classes and lecture halls since we don't have much of that at CSBSJU. But I think the greatest benefit of studying abroad is becoming a more well-rounded person with an international perspective. The US can breed for some a sheltered and isolated view of the outside world. In an increasingly globalized market and network of professionals, it's essential to understand yourself not as the only country in the world but as a country within the context of many others. Cultural differences in food, language, and social conduct are not wrong, but simply different. Then again, one of the most wonderful realizations I came to while abroad was that even among seemingly endless cultural differences, people of all nations are the same in basic aspirations towards love, friendship, family, and happiness.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
You can always work it in! Semester-long programs are the best for immersion purposes, but if you have a major that doesn't give you time to take a semester off, you can still see the world. We have great May term programs. I heard there is one in Spain specifically for nursing students since they traditionally can't study abroad. So, never give up! Keep looking at your options! Besides that, I really love sharing about my time abroad and helping people decide and prepare to go. I know that no family member or friend could possibly want to hear everything I've learned or have to say, so I want to be an ambassador because I feel I can be a great resource to anyone thinking about Ireland or even traveling in Europe.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Cork? Email Kelsey at email@example.com