“Where do you want to go for your study abroad period, Thomas?” The question that my mother, my friends, and my study abroad director asked before I left for Ireland in the spring of 2015. At first I was not sure where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to study in Ireland. Ireland had been on my mind for years had be and I knew that there was no changing my decision to go there, but I did not know where in Ireland I wanted to go. After researching all the schools that IFSA offered, I was still unsure about where to go. A few long conversations later with different facility members at my school, I decided on Dublin.
My semester in Dublin was amazing! I learned so much, got to see a lot, and met some really interesting people, but if I could do my whole study abroad experience again, I probably would not pick Dublin. I am not saying that Dublin is a bad to place to study, what I am trying to say is that it was too international for me. While in Dublin, I got to know more Americans then Irish people, which was a big downer for me. One of the reasons for going to Ireland was to meet Irish people and truly experience Irish culture, but the only Irish people I met and talked with were the players on the rugby team I joined who I only saw at games and practices.
“My semester in Dublin was amazing! I learned so much, got to see a lot, and met some really interesting people, but if I could do my whole study abroad experience again, I probably would not pick Dublin.”
When I did get to spend time with Irish people, I had a really great time. One experience that stands out is when I was going to my first rugby game. On the car ride to the game, we talked about the upcoming Ireland game in the Six Nations and how we thought Ireland had a good chance to win it. We also talked about the Ronda Rousey fight and how she was a beast and should win the fight. All these conversations were good, but my best interaction with these guys was during the game.We were able to relate to each other on a personal level. During the game we all had one goal in mind, and that was to give our best on the field. They did not care that I was American, or that I wasn’t as talented as they were, but that we were brothers on the field.
Besides playing rugby I was able interact with the locals while on the bus. On St. Patrick’s Day I had a lovely conversation with an elderly gentleman. He told me how St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t such a celebrated holiday in the past. It wasn’t until many Americans came over to Ireland that the parades and parties began. He also talked to me about how he really enjoyed the influx of people since he got to meet people from a lot of different places.
If I knew ahead of time that if I went to Limerick, Cork, or Belfast that I would have had more interactions with the Irish people like I mentioned above, I would have picked one those locations instead of Dublin. Overall, what I am getting at is, think carefully about the school and classes you pick for your study abroad experience. Don’t just pick the only city you’ve heard of, or a place where one of your friends studied. Do research on the locations to make sure you choose the best location for you.
So below is the list that I should have followed before I decided to study:
- Where is the school located? Is it in a large city or small town? A large city will give you a lot to do, but there is the greater opportunity for you to be surrounded by Americans and other international travelers. In a small town will give you better chance to meet locals, but you are limited a bit more on amenities that the town offers.
- The size of the school. A small school will allow for closer interaction with professors and smaller class sizes. A larger school means the possibility for larger classes unless you take upper level classes.
- What you want to get out of your study abroad experience? If you are wanting to travel every other weekend, then a larger city is better since you will be closer to more public transportation and airports. If you’re someone that wants to immerse yourself in the surroundings and explore where you are, then a small town or city is the best place for you.
Thomas Bourne is a History student at Hampden-Sydney College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland.