I was on a twenty-hour journey to the Emerald Isle. Excitement collided with nerves and anxiety as I stared down my fall 2011 semester in Cork, Ireland, my home for four adventure-packed and life-changing months. I cannot help but feel my heart squeeze a tad as I fondly look back upon my abroad experience and all that I discovered about a new place, about the world, and most of all, about myself.
Ever since I knew what it entailed, I eagerly looked forward to the day that I, too, would spend a semester in another country. Part of the reason I chose USD was their abroad program’s impeccable reputation. After some careful class planning and prayer, Ireland continued to tug on my heart. Before I knew it, my plane touched down on the bright green island.
Blessed with wonderful roommates and a not-too-shabby apartment, Cork did manage to become a home-away-from-home during my stay there. I found that the Irish are a cheerful bunch despite the constant rain, eager to welcome us foreigners to their country. Though I was several thousand miles away from my loved ones, I strengthened some amazing friendships with my USD comrades, other American students, and even our favorite bar manager, Ollie. These friends became a family of sorts as we navigated this once-in-a-lifetime adventure together. Here are a few of the many, many highlights of my Irish escapade:
My warmest memories of Ireland include a few visits from some of my favorite people: Mom and Dad came for a week in September, and together we explored the breathtaking scenery Ireland is known for. In October, my sister Kendall helped me see Cork through fresh eyes. After showing her around my city, we ended her stay with a trip to picturesque Killarney National Park. Finally, one of my USD roomies and best friends, Lauren, (along with some of her abroad roommates) journeyed out from Italy for some Irish fun. Together, we ate our way through Dublin before returning to Cork once again. Sharing my experience with a handful of my loved ones was the icing on the cake- it tided me over from the swells of homesickness that came every now and then.
From the fateful first night out, to bandaoke and our final hurrah, Ireland’s nightlife was sure good craic. Friends were made, stories were told, and laughter prevailed in the pubs. I do miss a cold glass of Bulmers dearly! Many thanks again to Ollie, who made sure our cups were never dry and our nights at my favorite pub, The Bailey, were never dull. My 21st birthday was nothing short of spectacular, even though that age wasn’t of particular significance in Europe. Celebrating with amazing friends made it a night to remember.
And then there was Europe itself. Seeing the world on a tight budget presented a brilliant challenge. Trolling around Munich, enjoying local fare including the world’s best beer and pretzels bigger than your face, was one of my favorite weekend trips. The city buzzed with culture and festivity, as though Oktoberfest was a year-round event. A train ride over to Freiberg and the Black Forest to stay with a friend-of-a-friend of Megan’s granted us a local tour guide and a new German pal. Germany was definitely one of my top places.
My memories of Norway are overflowing with laughter. From packing six people into a hotel room, to sneaking lunch into our purses during the free breakfast and a comical run-in with Italians in Bergen’s hostel kitchen, we were always in hysterics over our penny-pinching ways. Thankfully, Oslo’s plentiful free attractions and hiking up to a mountain viewpoint of Bergen filled our days with beauty and culture. The scenic train ride from Bergen to Oslo revealed dreamlike landscapes and picturebook Norweigan villages begging for a visit when I am older (and wealthier).
Last but not least, my birthday weekend concluded with a trip to Amsterdam where I met up with Lauren and Colleen to celebrate. Wishing to pay homage to my Dutch heritage, I soaked up the vibrant atmosphere. Canals lined with colorful arcitecture by day contrasted with the racy red light district by night. Sleeping on a houseboat and scarfing down as many Dutch goodies as possible culminated our adventure. I would love to eventually go back and make it north to Friesland, my ancestor’s home.
Though it is hard to tell from my numerous photographs, nights out, and weekend travels, I did attend University College Cork during my semester. A class trip to the peaceful island of Inis Oírr (Inisheer) was an opportunity many native Irish don’t even have. The island provided a rich dose of Irish history and culture, intertwined with solace and relaxation. UCC certainly differed from USD with class only two days a week (yes, I took a full course load). The valuable time off proved learning happened outside the classroom. We soaked up Ireland by wandering the city Cork we called home and taking weekend trips around the country (Galway and the Cliffs of Moher are a must-see!).
As my time in Cork came to a close, I reflected upon the experience that brought me that much closer to the person I am made to be. I discovered a more independent, passionate side of myself abroad. I developed lasting friendships and a true space in my heart for Europe. At the end of it all, one thing was certain- I am an American girl through and through! Sometimes, the best part of it all is finally coming home and realizing nothing has changed, except yourself. Can’t keep me away from my mountains and my beaches…
The links sprinkled throughout bring you to just a small sampling of my many abroad adventures. Feel free to explore or click “World Traveler” to see all of my travel-oriented entries!