In a short answer: yes, studying abroad is worth it. I wrote a piece about the summer that I studied abroad and it was published in the University of New Orleans Silver & Blue magazine. You can read the whole publication here, but I have shared my piece below. The South by Midwest mission is to share tips about budget travel and we believe that studying abroad is a fantastic way to travel for the first time.
A Lot of Craic and a Little Class
Craic is a term for gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, prominent in Ireland.
As I stepped off the plane and collected my bags, my limbs were stiff and I felt nauseated from the jet lag. I had one 35 pound suitcase and a 15 pound backpack. After a three hour bus ride from Dublin to Cork my phone was fully charged and I felt alert enough to walk the two miles to the apartment I would be staying in. I was filled with hope and anticipation as I walked through Cork, Ireland for the first time alone. The air in Cork felt easier to breathe than the thick, sweaty air I’d left in New Orleans. The doors of each Irish home were a vibrant red, yellow, or blue. As I walked, I noticed a magnificent Cathedral atop a hill and little purple wildflowers growing out of the stone along the river. I promised myself I wouldn’t take photos yet because I wanted to fully enjoy my first experience walking through Cork.
I had a few expectations set by stereotypes of Ireland; I thought I’d eat potatoes at every meal and see fields of four leaf clovers everywhere. The reality was that Ireland had astoundingly rich, creamy dairy products and fresh, thick battered fish and crispy chips. I didn’t expect my time to be so filled; we were always on excursions, at meetings, in class, at readings or performances, and my favorite: enjoying karaoke nights at The Old Oak.
A few weeks after arriving in Cork, our program left for an excursion to Dublin. I was met with a surprising feeling of homesickness. Cork had become my temporary home. My belongings, bed, and anything familiar in Ireland were in Cork. Dublin was populous, decorated with pubs advertising authentic fish and chips, and littered with shops exclusively for tourists to buy their “I love Ireland” items. I felt, for the first time since I had arrived, homesick for Cork and also homesick for America.
When I returned to the United States, everyone I encountered asked me, “How was your trip?” and it felt impossible to synthesize something so complex and wonderful. I decided on a response that went something like, “Oh, it was SO beautiful and I learned so much!” I’d show them a few photos of The Cliffs of Moher, The Old Oak, and the University College Cork campus. What I was really left with was incredible and unique memories from my trip, but the realization that I would never have the same experience under the same circumstances again, but that I will always long for it.
As two years now stand between me and my first journey abroad, I realize what an influential point in my life it was. Studying abroad energized a personal desire to travel far and often that has guided me through my twenties. I made the choice to study abroad in Ireland because of the writing courses that fit my English degree, but also to spend time abroad in a country that my ancestors came from. Being in Ireland, a country that even spoke the same language, made me realize just how American I am. I was able to see America through the lens of another country. I was, for the first time, realizing what it means to be American—good and bad.
Nowadays, I am a graduate student at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and have found my place as the graduate assistant in the Study Abroad Office. My first experience in another country has impacted the way that I talk about traveling abroad and the way that I consider the experiences of international students. My heart flutters when students embark on their own study abroad adventures, and I only hope that it’s as pivotal, meaningful, and fulfilling as mine was.
Though the total bill for studying abroad may be more expensive than a non-academic trip, it usually includes the cost of tuition and other fees/excursions. Studying abroad is a great way to see a foreign country (or several) and earn class credit. If you’re worried about traveling for the first time, this is a way to be surrounded by other students going through the same thing. EF College Break is another way to travel with a group (plus, they offer monthly payment plans!).