Preparation and Arrival
I suppose for me, this journey abroad to Ireland has been years in the making. From participating in Irish Step Dancing for years as a young child, to receiving my Irish citizenship upon graduating high school, the curiosity of exploring the land of my roots has always drawn me in. So far, Ireland has far exceeded my expectations.
Preparing for my first trip abroad of this scale was an experience in itself.
A chronic overpacker, my last nights in the states were spent packing and repacking my two suitcases to keep them within the airline’s weight limits.
My excitement was clouded a bit by nervousness and a hint of sadness in leaving my family, boyfriend and especially my dog. Everyone was very supportive and excited for me, and that made the goodbyes quite a bit easier knowing I had so much support.
Keene State offers opportunities to study in either Limerick or Galway Ireland, and I ended up choosing Galway for its thriving arts community and beautiful campus. Looking each city up beforehand, Galway’s pedestrian streets lined with a rainbow of small shops and quirky pubs drew me in.
Finding housing was interesting; the university doesn’t offer much on-campus housing, so I had to find a flat; my first one was given away to someone else a week before I arrived. Luckily, I found a last second spot in student apartments called the Niland House and have been fortunate enough to be blessed with three wonderful roommates and a great little apartment and have had no problems since.
I am about a 10-15 minute walk to campus, which is lovely on nicer days and not-so-great on the more rainy ones, and the best part is my apartment is right in the heart of the city.
I think the fact that I was spending four months in a foreign country didn’t sink in until I landed here. I was greeted by some of my Irish relatives, Kieran and Aileen, an older couple whom I haven’t seen for years.
These two, I would say, are representative of Irish people as a whole- completely warm, welcoming and incredibly generous.
They picked me up at 6 a.m. at the Shannon Airport and took me to their home in Limerick, welcoming me with a cup of Irish tea, “digestives” and took me on the scenic route all the way to Galway, past endless green and fields of cows and sheep.
Surprisingly, as the day went on and the sun rose, there was not a cloud in the sky, and my relatives joked not to get used to the it. We passed old stone ruins and little cottages with colorful doors, and my heart rose knowing I made the right choice to study in the land of my origins.
The National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) campus is night and day compared to Keene campus. Instead of red brick buildings, the campus is filled with a mix of old, majestic looking stone buildings covered in ivy and modern looking glass ones.
The university is home to nearly 20,000 students, a vast difference from the cozy campus I am used to at Keene.
At NUIG, I am taking amazing classes in huge lecture halls with up to 150 other students. My most interesting class is probably a beginners Gaelic class, which I hope will come in handy reading and pronouncing signs on campus and around town. NUIG is a bilingual university and Galway has a large Irish speaking population.
It’s been really amazing to explore this language and to get better connected to my roots- being a dual citizen, I feel like I owe it to myself to explore my roots and experience my culture as best I can while living here.
Most of my time here has been spent exploring my immediate surroundings. There is a pub on every corner and once you go, you can see there is more to the Irish culture than just a place to get a pint of Guinness (which I had my first ever as of last week).
Old and young alike gather at each of these small pubs, crowding in almost every night. Most of them have live traditional music and all have this general sense of community and togetherness that welcomes in anyone who crosses their thresholds.
Besides the pub scene, Ireland is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes, in my opinion, in the world.
So far in my three weeks here, I’ve only traveled around Galway and took a day trip up the coast of Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs are a spectacular natural formation, and even though it was foggy when I went, my breath was still taken away. Fog trailed over the edge down the hundreds of feet drop, mixing with the spray the white capped waves blew up crashing against the cliffs base. Truly, it was a spectacular work of nature.
I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting the town of Athlone, the very town my family came from, and saw my own family’s cottage.
That was a very cool and singular experience to see where my roots are. It made my dual-citizenship feel more real and meaningful.
Future plans while here
The rest of my time here in Ireland will be very busy!
Between rugby games in Dublin, visiting the Book of Kells in person (I have been looking at a framed replica of a page from the book of Kells at my house since I was two-years-old- soon I will be able to see it in person) and planning weekends away in Europe, the next few months I am going to stay on my toes.
I can’t wait to see more of this beautiful place.
Should you study away?
If there is one thing you can do in your college experience, I recommend studying abroad. You will discover more about yourself and make memories and friends you never would have otherwise.
You will push your limits and experience life in a million new ways.
You will learn more about yourself than you ever thought you could.
I have only been in Galway for just over three weeks, and in that time I feel happier with life and with myself than I have in a long time.
Meridith King can be contacted at email@example.com