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Is Study Abroad For You?: The Special Magic of Ireland

By: Bridget Fitzgerald

One thing they forget to tell you about studying abroad is that travel days can be grueling. Fun, but grueling. Usually, I am always prepared with snacks, but for my flight to Dublin from Florence, I was not prepared. After a flight to Frankfurt and then a connecting flight to Dublin, I had to take a 3-hour bus ride to Galway and a 1-hour taxi ride from Galway to my hostel in Clonbur. Getting into my taxi in Galway, I was famished and my driver could tell so he gave me his lunch (a delicious apple) and it brought me to tears. I may have been sleep-deprived and hangry, so this gesture seems silly, but my sleep-deprived and hangry self knew from that moment that Ireland must be the place. 


On the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, it is popular for study-abroad students to travel to Dublin to celebrate. As a die-hard Irish Catholic, I booked my ticket to Dublin on the second day that I arrived at my home base (Florence, Italy) in January. Out of pure excitement, I bought the plane ticket but conveniently forgot about booking a place to stay. So, when the weekend finally came around, the prices for hotels and hostels in Dublin were outrageous. None of my roommates wanted to go anywhere but Dublin because that was where all of the study-abroad students would stay that weekend. After many tears and calls to my parents about this horrible fiasco, I decided to travel alone and stay in Galway that weekend.  


Staying in Galway did not make sense. It was a journey to get there after a long bus ride and an expensive taxi ride, but that is what studying abroad is about. It is about embracing independence and learning through all of the chaos that traveling brings.  


After saying farewell to my taxi driver a.k.a. the apple-giving savior, I arrived at my destination- the Mountain View Hostel in Clonbur, Galway. This is where the worry and excitement began because there were 2 cottages on the side of the road with no other lodgings around. I immediately whipped out my phone and triple-checked that I was in the right place. 


After staring at the cottage for a couple of minutes contemplating if I should give the apple-giving taxi driver a call, an old man and a dog approached me from one of the cottages. The dog and I became friends instantly and the old man was the father of the owner of the hostel. He had a thick Irish accent and a head full of white hair. Since the owner wasn’t there, the old man (Lucas) unlocked the cottage for me and showed me the tiny hostel. It was cozy, but freezing. The attic was where I was to sleep. It had a low ceiling with beds placed in rows. The first thing I noticed in the attic was that it was empty. All of the beds were made with no belongings to be seen. I asked if I was the only person staying in the hostel and the old man replied, “We rarely get people here during the cold weather months. I’ll make sure the door stays locked for you.” Here I was: a 20-year-old girl from the States traveling alone and staying in a cottage on the side of the road with no one else in the hostel. I was ecstatic.  


Normally, my response would have been “Get me the hell out of here,” but instead, I embraced the fear and found the silver lining which was not having to worry about other people being in my space. At least the people in Ireland speak English. 


After being given the grand tour of the cottage that lasted 2 minutes, it was time to figure out food. Lucas told me to check the paper hanging on the fridge for the local taxi’s number. When I say “local” I mean the only one in town. This taxi driver ended up being my one for the weekend.  


The next day was St. Patrick’s Day. My chauffeur for the weekend picked me up from the hostel and I told him to take me to the nearest pub. He took me to the nearest village which was Cong, and he dropped me off at his so-called favorite pub. I was terrified. 


When you study abroad, it is a normal thing to do things alone and go to places alone. It is all a part of the experience. I kept an open mind and walked into the pub. The pub was tiny and it was packed full of loud and smiling faces and barely anywhere to sit. I found a spot up at the bar and ordered a pint of Rockshore which is a light Irish beer. Having to ask for the lightest beer was a dead giveaway that I was not from this place. Along with not having an Irish accent.  


A group of people sitting up at the bar were all local college kids and it took me forever to work up the courage to talk to them. After several long minutes, I finally asked the guy next to me about the best places to go for this holiday. Immediately, the whole group of friends stopped talking and whipped their heads to me and said “You’re an American!” Indeed, I was the only American in that tiny pub, and having them yell had many heads turned to me.  


I talked to them for a while and explained that I was studying abroad in Italy and that I was just here for the weekend. After finding out that I was traveling alone, they asked me to go to a parade with them that was 15 minutes away. I didn’t know what to do then because they were strangers and my taxi driver was supposed to pick me up from Cong later that day. But since I was alone, I knew I needed to make friends for the day. I knew in my gut that it was harmless because they were college kids like me, so, I took a leap of faith and got into the car with the group and we headed to Kilmaine in County Mayo. They loved how I couldn’t get over that we were driving on the other side of the road.  


The thing that they forgot to mention to me was that they were going to be IN the parade. I thought that we were just watching, but apparently, the group of friends had a float. Before the start of the parade, we went into a small pub called Harry’s. I was slowly picking up that everyone knew everyone because when we walked in, one of the guys I was with shouted “We brought an American!” The owner of the pub, Harry, gave me a warm welcome with a pint of beer. They asked me if I wanted to be in the parade, and I politely declined because I was having so many good conversations with the locals in the pub. When they left, they told everyone to “take care of the American.”  


That whole day was filled with kindness and warmth from all of the locals. I met so many new people and I have never felt more welcomed. My favorite part was that I came across no other Americans. I would not have gotten that experience if I stayed in Dublin with all of the study-abroad students. At the end of the day, my trusty chauffeur took me back to the hostel, and we had many laughs about how I ended up in another village.  


If studying abroad is on your radar, you will experience these types of authentic and unforgettable trips. It is all about what you make of it. Unfortunately, not all of it is going to be picture-perfect and you will have travel days where you’ll be sleep-deprived and all you’ll have to eat is an apple. But, it is so worth it. You will find special magic and comfort in the places that you will go, just like I did in Ireland.  


If you are interested in studying abroad, the Study Abroad Applications are open for the Summer and Fall of 2024 and the deadline is February 23. 


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