While visiting Auburn during my senior year of high school, I can recall my sister, Katie, calling and informing me that during my sophomore year of college we would be traveling together to Dublin, Ireland to study abroad for a semester. With the thought of this, I excitedly agreed, but didn’t actually see it panning out. As the time approached, we began researching more and more. She was a senior majoring in elementary education at the University of Alabama, and I was a sophomore in hotel and restaurant management at Auburn. How were we to coordinate this endeavor? With much research and patience, the experience of a lifetime came together. She completed her teaching internship at Mary Queen of Angels Catholic School (all boys and impoverished), and I went to the American College of Dublin and enrolled in their hospitality degree program. We shared an amazing apartment conveniently located between our two schools.
Why Dublin? Ireland is an English speaking country (which was a requirement for Katie’s teaching) and a place neither of us had ever visited. From all we had ever heard, it was a beautiful and inviting atmosphere with a lot to offer. It was perfect for us. Throughout the four months in Dublin, we were able to acquaint ourselves with the city and become adjusted to their way of life. The people were hospitable and welcoming. The city had a safe feel, and we were able to wander the streets without feeling threatened. We knew the streets of Dublin like the back of our hand before our time was up.
We established our favorite spots in town and had our routine down pat. We’d take walks in the lush, green park, lavishly decorated with tulips of every size, shape and color and feed the ducks and seagulls old bread from St. Stephen’s Green. Every Tuesday you could find me in my favorite coffee shop, ordering the same thing, sitting there watching people pass by. I didn’t have class on Tuesdays, but Katie did. Tuesday was my day to have solo adventures. I did things and went places by myself that I normally wouldn’t have. I would stroll down Grafton Street, a popular shopping area with street vendors and performers, to purchase fresh tulips and sit in the park with my picnic lunch. I would meet a classmate for lunch or attend music festivals.
On Sundays you could find us in our favorite department store. This was the day they made their markdowns, and we could find some really good bargains. American College Dublin was a quaint school, located in a beautiful Georgian building in Merrion Square. My professors were wonderful, experienced and helpful. They made an effort to get to know me and challenge me. I never had a hard time paying attention and was eager to participate in discussions.
My classmates were diverse, coming from all over the world. I learned so much from them and came to realize just how blessed I really am. They were all very interested in the American way of life and were eager to talk to me. It created a great sense of pride in me and my roots. One of my favorite things about Europe is the accessibility of the nearby countries. Over four months we traveled to England, Scotland, Netherlands and Northern Ireland, as well as all over the Republic of Ireland.
We saw the most beautiful sights and experienced the rich history and culture that these places had to offer. We tried foods we never heard of, walked distances that were unimaginable wearing out our shoes quicker than ever before, embraced life like we had a deadline. On May 5, our departure date, we had tears in our eyes. Neither of us was ready to leave. It felt like home by this point, and we had made such great friends it was hard to say goodbye.
After my experience, I would, with no hesitation, encourage all students to study abroad. It was the most enriching and eye-opening experience I can imagine. You can’t truly know until you go. It seems crazy that in only four months I could fall in love with a country and a way of life so much. I came to appreciate their culture and realize the way I do things is not necessarily right, just different. I now acknowledge the world of opportunities out there and have a sense of adventure, knowing that if I did it once I could do it again.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain