If you’re reading this, it must be because you are considering studying abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Congratulations on getting this far! Let’s be real; the decision to dive into such an unfamiliar experience can be daunting. But I’m here to tell you that in the end, it will all be worth it.
Preparing to study at Stranmillis wasn’t without its worries. In the week before flying outside of the country I’ve called home for the past couple of decades –for the first time, might I add—my mind was constantly filled with anxious thoughts: What if I don’t make any friends? What if I don’t have enough space in my luggage? What if I get too homesick?
I realized pretty quickly that I could handle all of these worries because I’ve already experienced them before; I felt similar feelings when I first left home and came to Drake. Besides, as soon as I arrived, all of these worries seemed to disappear. As soon as I set foot on Northern Ireland soil, I found myself with a great group of people in my program. We got to meet each other before even thinking of going to school; it was nice to know I had people I could talk to if I needed anything. We were shown around the city, and told where the best places to shop and eat could be found. I started settling into living in an entirely different country. It really helped that the people in Northern Ireland are naturally helpful and friendly, and that the staff at Stranmillis were willing to do anything to help us feel more comfortable.
Now, fast-forward two months. Here I am, an entirely new person, living a previously unimaginable life in an international country. I got used to the striking differences, like driving on the opposite sides of the road, using a foreign currency, and eating different name brands of food. I’ve walked around historical sites that are thousands of years old, I’ve learned bits and pieces of new languages from my international friends, and I’ve been amazed time and time again by the natural beauty of this island. I believe that I wouldn’t have branched out if I hadn’t realized early on that this time abroad was an opportunity for me to expand my definition of myself. There’s a balance that I’ve found here, a balance between stretching my personal limits and staying true to myself.
So, good luck in your decision-making and planning! I could tell you all about the culture in Dublin, or the breath-taking views at the Giant’s Causeway, or the fun times observing and volunteering in schools in Belfast, but I’ll let you discover those things for yourself. I’d just like to say that Belfast is no longer just a far away land, or even a temporary study location. It’s become my home, just like Des Moines became my home while I studied at Drake. We have traditions here, like visiting St. George’s Market every Friday to get cupcakes from the same baker, or going to Thursday Night Live, the weekly talent show at Stranmillis. We’ve established standard places to hang out, like the Birdcage on Sunday nights for live jazz performances, or the Lagan Valley park for a relaxing walk on a (rare) sunny day. I’m even going to miss doing the routine acts, like going on Tesco runs or shopping at Primark for reasonably priced outfits.
All of these experiences have contributed to an amazing two months, but they are not even the best part. So far, the most magical part of travelling has been realizing that I haven’t left home by studying abroad; I’ve found it here.