Ready to embark on your journey abroad? It’s going to entail a lot more than you think, so listen up. I am writing you a letter to give you a few tips and heads up about what’s to come. First and most importantly, pack light. You will accumulate more things over the next few months than you’ll be able to take back. You’ll most likely end up wearing all of it on the flight home anyway, but pack at your own risk. Now, once you leave New York say goodbye to warm weather for the upcoming months. Why are you still bringing those shorts? What did I just tell you about packing light?
After arriving in Derry, go straight to granny’s house. Visit her as much as you can while you’re there. Those are not moments you want to pass up. Also, don’t be nervous about orientation in Belfast. You are going to meet one of your best friends there that first day. The group of people you will meet in Derry will be the moteliest crew you will ever come across while abroad. You will all rely on and support each other. That may mean going to one of their performances during the semester, or just venting about your homesickness over the cheapest bottle of wine you can find. Stay close to them; you never know when you need a free place to stay in Australia.
Don’t be intimidated by a new environment on campus. It is smaller than your campus at home. When you get invited to a welcome dinner at the University, or any event for that matter, they will say that food will be served. Don’t be fooled…it will always end up being just tea and biscuits. Surprisingly though, the coffee is up to par. And it’s only ONE pound in the cafeteria. Don’t waste your time looking anywhere else.
You will be one of two Americans in your design class. It will be tough, and a lot different than what you are used to. There isn’t much of a structure, but stick with your best friend and you’ll get through it together. Your Irish class on the other hand will be one of the best experiences you will ever have. Your Gaelic will improve significantly. Use it as much as you can. DO NOT pass up the trip to the Gaeltacht. I know it is an Irish speaking community, but the native people there are extremely welcoming. You will catch on very quickly. Caith siar é agus ná lig aniar é! After your week at the Gaeltacht, you will know what that means…and you won’t forget it!
The trips with IFSA may be intimidating because it will seem like your best friend from orientation is your only other friend. But once you start exploring while you’re in Galway, Dublin, and Belfast, you’ll get to know others. Everyone is in the same boat, so enjoy every day. Truck through the hail storm at the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim…trust me, you’ll be glad you stuck around. And remember to wear a wetsuit for the crazy turf challenge in Killary, Galway. Those obstacles will be rough and tough, and your old clothes will be no match for the mud trails. It will be tons of fun, but walking back to the hotel wet and covered in mud will not be comfortable or good for your health. Neither will that extra glass of wine you’ll plan on having the night before…I’m warning you now.
Your life at home will go on without you. Just remember who will be willing to Skype while you’re away and those who won’t be able to make the time. You will have to realize that everyone is busy and won’t be able to match up with the time difference, but those who make the effort to keep in touch will be worth holding on to. You will feel homesick and alone at times, but that’s normal. You will only be there for four months so treat every day like it’s your last. You never know when you’ll be able to get the chance to do this again. Just remember to be careful with your money. I know Primark is an awesome store with a lot of cute, inexpensive clothes. But how many of those clothes are you really willing to wear on your flight home? Did I mention to pack light?
The most important thing you will take with you at the end of this experience is how much you will learn about yourself. However, there is nothing I can say about that because it is part of your journey. You need to discover this on your own. This is the most crucial part of your time abroad. You will come to appreciate and prioritize things differently than you used to. Every day will be different and every day you will learn and grow into a person you will be proud of. When you get time to yourself, revel in it. You most certainly won’t have that time again once you are back in the hustle and bustle of New York.
Some final tips before you touch down in lovely Ireland and its forty shades of green: Your house will be on top of a hill. Don’t think you’re skipping out on all of those stairs you walk up every day at Manhattan College. Get used to it immediately, or try to find that shortcut before your final two weeks there. Bring an umbrella with you at all times, even if there isn’t a cloud in sight. Expect four seasons in one day. Wi-Fi will be your new best friend. And don’t, whatever you do, take your iPod with you to the club. Keep it close, keep it safe. It will be your life support. You don’t want to know what it feels like when it’s gone. When you feel homesick, don’t stay in the house. Be adventurous. Your experiences in Ireland this semester will stick with you for the rest of your life. Explore, keep a journal, try new recipes, take advantage of the half price movies at the cinema on “crazy Tuesdays;” you only live once, right? Make it count.
PS. Remember to pack light.
Sheena Mullan is a student at Manhattan College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Ulster, Magee, in 2013.