Studying abroad has always been something I wanted to fit into my years at Stony Brook. Taking advantage of the available short-term study abroad programs, I got to experience a three-week program in Ireland. It was by far the best way to get credits: studying under a wonderful professor and having all of Ireland as my textbook provided me with the hands-on learning experience I’ve always wanted. Yet along with my study abroad came some unwanted aspects of traveling with a group you don’t know.
The only word I could use to describe my study abroad experience is ‘unique.’ As an experienced and well-traveled person, I didn’t bond with the group and instead spent my three weeks with someone closer to my personality. Without the constant presence of a group, I was able to really experience the culture and heritage of Ireland on my own terms. I took in more than I ever imagined from my experiences. Aside from the educational side, the social and cultural differences that I noticed on my trip made me realize the importance of the study abroad program.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that abroad, many people just don’t like Americans. They perceive us as loud, obnoxious and arrogant, and to say that most of the group lived up to this image would be an understatement. Most of the world sees this country to possess characteristics; it was unfortunate to see a small group hold up the stereotypes in just a few short weeks.
I’d say that the most important job of the study abroad program is to introduce students to other cultures and to give students the opportunity to realize that the stereotypes that most countries have about the American persona are true.
The people of Ireland were not ready for the level of complaining that came from the group. Even the hotel staff’s attempts to provide the best possible accommodations, food and hospitality weren’t enough to meet the high level of overindulgence that the group were used to back in the U.S. It would be unfair for me to say I’m not a little spoiled myself, but I also learned very quickly that what we get at home is normally not the standard abroad. Just to be fair, I have a lot of experience traveling, yet nothing prepared me for this experience. The U.S. is very relaxed with its social norms, whereas Europe is not. To be blunt, it was embarrassing to walk with the group when the volume of their conversations was higher than the music coming out of pubs.
Some of the friends I made on that trip were incredible. A friend I made there,
Robbie, who was a paramedic, taught me about the EMS system in Ireland and even gave me a patch to bring home. The pub of the hostel where we stayed had an amazing band that dedicated songs to my friend and me every night they played. The staff would hang out with us and always kept a watchful eye over us when we couldn’t handle the environment we were in. Even in Dublin, the students attending Trinity College were willing to give us a tour of the city.
I highly recommend that everyone—especially those on the fence—take advantage of study abroad programs, even if it is just for a short-term program. The experiences, stories, friendships and cultural understandings you learn will stick with you and open your eyes to countries you may otherwise never get the chance to travel to. Ireland is a beautiful country rich in history. Its citizens are proud to be Irish and are some of the most hospitable people I’ve met on all my travels. Though I still have another two years at this university, I can safely say that my time in Ireland will be the highlight of my college experience.