Alexa Werb '20
Program: Ireland-Cork Spring Semester
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I have been traveling both nationally and internationally for the majority of my life and desired to incorporate this passion into my education at the College of Saint Benedict. During my previous traveling opportunities, I was pushed outside of my comfort zone to interact with locals, locate destinations, and create new experiences for myself without the direct assistance of my family and friends. Being pushed outside my comfort zone drove me to learn a lot about myself, specifically my capabilities, strength, and newfound interests. I pursued a study abroad program because I desired to continue learning about myself and form new connections and networks outside CSB. I chose Cork, Ireland for two reasons. Firstly, I had spent 2-3 weeks traveling Ireland the summer before and fell in love with the rich history, scenery, and hospitality so much so that I wanted to extend the opportunity to learn more and participate in the Irish culture. Secondly, Cork, Ireland was the only program that really allowed me the freedom to choose a scientific course that would count towards my major.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
I, along with several of my CSB/SJU peers, was enrolled in an Irish Archaeology course while studying at UCC. Throughout this course we learned about the history of Ireland from the Bronze Age to the Reformation period. Of particular interest were the Iron Age round houses and hillforts because they were so vastly different from the types of ancient housing I was familiar with. Over the course of the semester, we had the opportunity to visit several round houses and hillforts and it was unifying and eye opening to put what we had learned into full force. As a class, with students from all across the world, we were identifying specific rooms, fire pits, drawings and tools in the houses and hillforts that we had learned about in class. We were all able to come together in a unique environment to expand our learning together.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My overall study abroad experience was very different than most because I had been to Ireland previously and I was studying for the MCAT over the course of the semester. I was very focused on living in Cork rather than making my study abroad experience about traveling to as many countries as I could within the course of four to five months. Besides traveling to Dingle, Kerry, and Northern Ireland on the weekends, I only took one trip to Munich, Germany. I wanted to get to know the people and the local places in Cork that would allow me to understand and value the place that I would call home for a semester. Further, my other focus was my education, specifically studying for the MCAT. As a pre-med student, I did not think I would get the opportunity to study abroad; however, when the opportunity presented itself, I was eager to take it. Although this experience overlapped with studying, I was still able to make time to be with my friends and connect with my family, stay on top of my classes, get to know the city and people of Cork. It was challenging at first learning how to balance it all, but I was able to make the most of my experience in a different way.
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?
Spending a semester abroad truly gives an individual a sense of independence, outside the independence felt at college. Living in a foreign city by yourself, away from your family and friends, requires you to make your own decisions and choose how you are going to set the tone of your trip. Further, this experience allows individuals to gain a better understanding of managing finances as there is no meal plan, flex dollars, and sometimes the unfortunate possibility that your credit card does not work (speaking from personal experience). My study abroad trip largely contributed to my personal development as it allowed me to truly understand how to be safe in an unfamiliar situation and environment rather than a situation on campus that made me feel uncomfortable. Being apart from some of your closest contacts can make it difficult to navigate situations that I have not been exposed to or that put me in a dangerous situation. Study abroad has allowed me to expand my sense of awareness and critical thinking skills that will be beneficial as I head to new environment after college.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
I would recommend that any individual seriously considering studying abroad to reach out to anybody they know that has traveled abroad before to get their opinion and feedback. Hearing firsthand experiences was helpful to me as I determined whether or not I wanted to study abroad. These individuals will be more familiar with the environment and culture to which you will be exposed and will have suggestions and may even stay in contact with you when you go. Further, I would get to know the people you are going abroad with as much as possible before you leave. Although your group will likely get very close throughout the trip, it is beneficial to establish those relationships beforehand in case you need assistance. Finally, speaking from personal experience, I would NOT recommend getting a Discover credit card while abroad. It is not widely accepted, especially in Ireland. I was only able to use my Discover card at Swoon, a bubble waffle restaurant. Although I frequented this restaurant a lot, my Discover card was not available for books, clothing, food, and further travel.