Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. As far as I know, I might never again get the opportunity to live in a foreign country, interact with new and interesting people, and learn about an entirely different culture. As much as I love F&M, I knew from the moment I enrolled here that I wanted to spend a semester in a different country and expand both my academic and social horizons. I would not hesitate to recommend studying abroad to anyone.
I studied in Dublin, Ireland at Trinity College Dublin in the spring of 2014. Although I am a math major, I was unable to take any math classes while abroad. This is an important note to understand when deciding during which semester to study abroad: many mathematics courses in Europe are full-year courses, which makes it difficult to find appropriate classes that are not already halfway finished when matriculating in the spring semester. Personally, I decided to completely dive outside of my comfort zone, and enrolled in five psychology classes and one Irish literature class. Even though none of them were remotely involved with my primary field of study, I had a great time learning about subjects that I had never been exposed to before.
School life at Trinity was very different than it is here. Instead of the small, personal classes that I was used to at Franklin & Marshall, I was only a face in a sea of students in every class in Ireland. This was very intimidating at first, but after a few weeks it became the norm for me. There was no active participation or learning in my Irish classrooms; instead, everyone entered the classroom, sat quietly, took notes (or didn’t), and left when the course was finished. The only assessments I had in my classes were one paper per course that was due at the end of the term. Not only was this a refreshing change from the heavy workload at F&M, but it also gave me more time to explore Dublin rather than sitting in a library all day doing homework.
Since I was studying abroad in an English-speaking country, life did not feel much different than it does here. Dublin is an extremely vibrant and alive city, bustling with friendly people who are dying to speak with any stranger they come across. It only took a week for me to find my favorite farmer’s market, make friends with the baristas at a nearby coffee shop, and know my way around the city just as well as local would. However, the ultimate best part of studying abroad, especially in Europe, was the ability to travel. I had the opportunity to hop on a short plane ride and visit another country for even just a weekend. One of my coolest adventures was an impromptu trip to Norway. A friend and I were able to get cheap last minute tickets on a flight to Oslo right after our Friday classes and returned to Dublin late Sunday evening, after an amazing weekend looking at Viking ships, visiting a ski museum, seeing a play at the Oslo Opera House (which we couldn’t even attempt to understand), and freezing our faces off. I can’t imagine that there will ever be another time in my life when it will be so easy to jump on an airplane and see a brand new country.
My transition back to F&M was actually easier than expected. Since I studied abroad in the spring, I made the decision to spend my summer in Lancaster so I could ease back in to the F&M (and American) lifestyle. Of course, enrolling in classes back here and having to complete weekly homework and take frequent exams was a change from the past semester, but having an entire summer off from school recalibrated my brain so that I was more prepared to work hard once late August rolled around. Through talking with some friends, I’ve found that the transition could be a bit harder when studying abroad in the fall because there is not a lot of time to get back into F&M-mode before returning to school after winter break. As much as I miss Ireland, I was happy to come back to F&M and reunite with friends, campus, and professors who knew my name and cared about my success level.
Studying abroad has taught me a lot about myself. I learned that I am a naturally cautious person who sometimes has trouble stepping outside of my comfort zone. While I was abroad, I made a rule for myself: never say “no.” Whenever a new opportunity presented itself, such as going on a hike along the Irish coastline or even just trying a new food, I would force myself to say “yes,” even if I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. This, of course, resulted in my having the experience of a lifetime. I became more adventurous, more confident, and more carefree. Those lessons are ones that I’ve taken home and will continue to use for the rest of my life. Studying abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to take a risk and have the adventure of a lifetime.