An Irish Year Abroad

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One of my best friends from high school, Crystal Dolis, recently returned from a year of graduate school in Ireland. Sounds like a fairytale, right? I admire Crystal for making this dream a reality.  She earned her Master of Science Degree from Trinity College Dublin and currently works in the remote prairie grasslands of Montana for Landmark, a part of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and the American Prairie Reserve. She describes that she “walk[s] transects in the reserve area (usually about 10 miles per day) and gather[s] data so they can make informed decisions in the future. This includes recording wildlife we see, and checking on the numerous motion-censored cameras spread out throughout the area.” Learn more about her Montana experience here. I was so curious to learn about her experience studying in Ireland, so I asked her a few questions in this guest blog post.

Exploring Connemara on the west coast of Ireland

Exploring Connemara on the west coast of Ireland

Describe why you decided to study in Ireland.

This past year I embarked on a journey to earn my Master’s degree in a foreign country, to help satisfy my growing need to learn about the biodiversity of the world and continue doing what I love, traveling! I decided on Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, where their MSc program in Biodiversity & Conservation caught my eye in numerous ways:

  1. It was a 12-month program, so more efficient than in the U.S.
  2. I would get a more global view on conservation and environmental policy.
  3. I had visited Ireland two years before and was impressed by the people and the city of Dublin
  4. There was a trip to South Africa built into the program, what more could you ask for?!

I would recommend traveling or studying abroad to everyone if I could.

What were your expectations for your year in Ireland?

I had many expectations before moving there on my own, friendless in a new city but with the English language and travel experience under my belt. I expected many things: the program would be filled with international students, I would share a quaint apartment with an Irish flat mate, the style of learning would be more difficult/different than I was used to, I would come away with a truly global perspective about wildlife and sustainability that I craved so much, I would be completely independent and confident after living on my own in a new country, etc… Although many of those things did come to fruition, the real thing is never exactly what you imagined.

What was your experience in Ireland actually like?
  • Diverse people: The program was filled with almost half Americans and half Irish, with one Hungarian and one Canadian. Although I was unprepared for the amount of other Americans that also had the same idea to study in Dublin, it made sense as it was an English speaking country, and not a place that you feel too culture shocked. Some of the Americans became close friends and reminders of home, and all the people in my program enhanced my world view and made me think in new ways. Outside of my program, I met people from all over the world, and knowing my time in Ireland had an expiration date made me try and experience all I could in my time there. My flat was wonderfully centrally located (albeit more expensive than I anticipated, like everything in Dublin), but I ended up living with a girl from China for the first nine months and later a guy from France, each with their own benefits and learning experiences.
  • Unique learning style: The style of learning of the program was different (more writing and no tests!) but I never felt over my head, and loved the freedom that comes with more independent learning.
  • Perceptions of Americans: It turns out my expectations of standing out in a foreign country were not as extreme as I imagined. Irish people, especially in Dublin where there are a lot of tourists and people visiting from all over the world, are used to Americans. Of course there were words I had to get accustomed to, my pronunciations of things were sometimes jokingly pointed out, and there were no Targets to go to when you needed that odd thing, but I easily adjusted and loved exploring a new country.
  • Global perspective: The global perspective did bloom as a result of this program, and I was given the opportunity to compare the U.S. to other countries throughout the world, realizing how we were ahead in many ways, but behind in many others. It forced me to get outside of my America-centered bubble and see how conservation is a global issue.
  • Several travel opportunities: And you might ask about South Africa…without gushing and word vomiting all over Brittany’s blog, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Traveling and having international friends visit was definitely a plus, and Europe’s accessibility and affordability allowed me to travel to London, Manchester, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Northern Ireland on top of my travels to South Africa and all over the Republic of Ireland!
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin

What were some of the lessons you learned while there?

One of the main reasons I had decided to go abroad for my Master’s was that feeling you get when you live in a place – the feeling of belonging and being a local, which is often denied you when you travel somewhere for a short time. I got to know the streets and local coffee shops, where the most beautiful places to visit were, how to travel most efficiently and affordably, where to avoid the crowds. I made friends that lived in Ireland, and some I got to visit in their family homes. I was able to be immersed in a culture that I had never truly experienced before – one rich with history and stories and songs (and plenty of pints of good beer!)

It was a year full of new experiences and learning about myself, as I was truly on my own to figure things out. I now feel confident traveling by myself, meeting new people in a foreign place, and overall being an independent woman who does things because she wants to. Of course independence doesn’t come without its periodic uncertainties and loneliness, but it certainly is a rewarding feeling to know you can rely on yourself, and are unafraid to jump into new territory because you truly can handle it!

Crossing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland

Crossing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland

There is something transformative when you are thrust into a new place and culture. You become immersed in ways of thinking different from your own, and open your mind to the views of others you’ve never considered before. You grow more conscious of the world, and yearn to know more about these places you’ve only seen on a map. You, in the end, appreciate the comforts of home when away from it. The freedoms and amenities in America are truly something to be cherished (as well as your guilty pleasures, like mine for Mexican food so readily available in California, and the gloriousness of places like Costco).

Traveling enhances your mind and your soul, and changes you in ways you can never predict. I strongly believe in this quote I often find floating about the internet: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” I may not have a lot of money, but I’ve never regretted spending money on experiences. It has created a lot of beautiful memories to keep, and what a gift that truly is!

Thank you, Crystal, for sharing your incredible story. I’m sure many of you, like me, are now feeling inspired to study abroad for graduate school. What better way to accomplish your goals, immerse yourself into a new culture, and travel at the same time?

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