As my time in Northern Ireland comes to an end, I would like to reflect on my incredible four weeks here.
What I Learned
Throughout this four-week study abroad experience, I have learned so much about the history, the culture, and the education system of Northern Ireland. Our daily courses focused on the conflicts from the Easter Rising of 1916 to the Troubles, as well as the education system in the context of those conflicts—and how it has evolved. We visited schools, asked assembly members questions at the Parliament Buildings, and explored museums. We examined the murals across the city and visited Derry-Londonderry to learn about the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday. I did not know what to expect before taking part in this program, but I learned so much more than I could have imagined.
Beyond what I have learned in the classroom, I have learned so much outside of it as well. I have traveled quite a bit, but I have often been hesitant to explore beyond the familiar. I did not tend to go out alone or go outside of my comfort zone, but this time around I tried new things. I ventured beyond campus and the city center and had adventures of my own. Along the way, I gained confidence and some new friends!
My New Outlook
Study abroad has given me a new outlook on travel, because I now have more of an interest in learning the in-depth history and culture of each place I visit—not only from Google or one-sided textbooks, but from the locals, the museums, and my own personal experiences. I do not want to return home from trips with no new knowledge and having only visited a few major landmarks; I want to learn and grow as a person each time I travel, and I was successful in Belfast.
What I Would Have Done Differently
One thing I wish I had considered before I left was how unpredictable the weather can be. Preparing for the Irish climate, I had packed sweaters and long pants, but to my surprise, it was actually sunny and around 80˚F (26˚C) or higher most days. Of course, this was a very unusual heat wave for the UK, but it is a lesson to expect the unexpected and pack accordingly.
Finally, my recommendations for students planning to study abroad in the future is: do not limit yourself. Go to all of your classes and join the group on the excursions, and also be sure to explore on your own. Do more than what is provided. Take your own tours and meet new people. Chances are, you will only regret the things you did not do on your trip. Study abroad is a unique, life-changing experience, and it is one you will never forget.
I will miss Belfast, but I am so grateful for this opportunity. ❤️