By Eric Hetland
Greetings from Ireland! As I write this, I am traveling along the hilly Kerry countryside on my way from Kenmare to Cork. It is the eighth day of my fantastically enjoyable and beautiful trip around the West and South of Ireland with my family, who met me in Galway on Thanksgiving Day. It is at the National University of Ireland-Galway that I have spent an amazing study abroad semester since Aug. 31. The study abroad experience is one that I am thoroughly glad I decided to make a priority since my days as an inquisitive prospie. I will be eternally thankful to Beloit College and OIE for making this worldly opportunity possible. I feel that every Beloit College student should go abroad.
We are about to stop for lunch in a fishing village on the coast soon, and so I am going to leave you with some short pieces of advice and other general comments about study abroad.
- Homesickness/Missing Beloit and Friends. Depending on the person you are, you may have a great deal of difficulty settling into an entirely new country, or maybe none at all. If you are like me and feel attached to close friends back in Beloit and elsewhere but nonetheless find it exhilarating to go to a new place where you know absolutely no one, then moderation is key. Skyping with friends back home is a good thing to do every once in a while, but if you do it too frequently, as I have seen many American students/friends do while in Ireland; you will find it harder to engage where you are for the duration. Still, simply put, get out, see, and experience all the amazing things your country of study has to offer.
- Travel! Study abroad is a great chance to interact with different education styles, school systems, and interesting courses to take, just like I did with my “Marxist Theory” politics course. However, similar to college in general, study abroad is even more so than just the classes you take. Go out to a pub on a Tuesday night; rent a car and take a weekend road trip somewhere in your country with your new international and local friends, because it is much more adventuresome than any tour bus or just staying put in one city; hitch a plane or train to nearby countries; and don’t be afraid to get lost in a large European city. These cultural experiences have helped, in part, make this a wonderful study abroad experience.
- “The first person you meet during study abroad is yourself.” This was stated in a recent Round Table article by Betsy Brewer, the director of the Office of International Education and an all-around helpful woman. I find that statement incredibly accurate. During study abroad, I have learned a great deal about myself that has been both positive and negative. Simply put, study abroad isn’t all fun. That said, the growth experienced will likely change you for the better. Don’t be afraid to let your worldview change. We at Beloit tend to, on occasion, approach the world as if we have all the answers or are just more enlightened than those who disagree with us. It wasn’t until I lived in a place and interacted with different people from a noticeably different culture than that in Beloit/the U.S. that I realized just how American and Westernized my worldview and that of many at Beloit really are. My main point is to take possibly changing viewpoints and different cultures in stride in a way that you may not have approved of just two months ago. You will be surprisingly pleased when you let the world change you.
- Do Justice to Your Study Abroad Country. As much as traveling can be fun and potentially cheap, please do not spend every weekend visiting a different country. I know too many Americans here who have had a different European city booked every weekend and, as a result, barely experience Galway or Ireland. Get a local bank account, cell phone, and read the local papers. These small tasks will help you understand your study abroad country. For example, being here during the historic EU/IMF bailout of the Irish government and banks has been a truly great and unique opportunity to understand Ireland’s people and history — though this is a very difficult time for the Irish people. Still, despite, or perhaps because of, these troubling times, I have had a more authentic and heart-warming impression of the Irish people.
We are almost at Kinsale and so now I leave you. Study abroad has been one of the best and most defining moments in my Beloit College experience and one that makes you truly value Beloit as a great college. And thus, I very much look forward to seeing Beloit and my friends in January. Good luck with your finals and, if I have not been clear enough thus far: STUDY ABROAD!
Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi shean agus faoi mhaise duit (Irish for: “Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year to you”),
Eric Hetland ‘12