A great way to learn about a study abroad program or location is by connecting with its alumni! When you learn about someone else’s experience, it gives great insight into what it’s actually like to study abroad. By talking to someone who has been somewhere you’re interested in or done a particular program of interest to you, you gain invaluable insight. We caught up with AIFS Alumni Ambassador, Nikki Weinkauf, who chose to study abroad in Ireland with AIFS in the city of Limerick during her Spring 2018 semester. Read on as she reflects on her experience and gives advice.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Ireland through the AIFS in Limerick program? How did you learn about it?
My school only offered programs in Ireland for the summer, or in Dublin. I knew I wanted to be in a more unique location than Dublin so I needed to find a third-party provider. I also was on a time crunch, and needed an easy-to-follow and all-inclusive package to reduce my already boiling stress. The AIFS website was so easy to use and I was not left with any questions about my trip, even down to the flights. This eased many of my concerns which overall led me to choose AIFS.
What is your major and was there a connection to your choice of program location?
My major is Global Business Management. I overall knew I wanted to go to Europe to study my major’s courses because of the complex and diverse nature of all things European business. Ireland is a huge up-and-coming economy in the market today, especially in new rising technology companies. I knew I would be able to learn a lot from my business classes there.
What are the strengths and unique features of the AIFS program in Limerick, and the city itself?
Limerick is one of the largest cities in Ireland, but not many know about it. The community environment in Limerick is unlike anything I have experienced before. When I wanted to volunteer in the city, it was so easy for me to find a website that had countless volunteer opportunities. The University of Limerick also has a huge international student program, so I felt very taken care of, and I got to meet people from all over the world, not just Ireland. They even have an International Club organization that includes trips around Ireland, and activities on campus to get involved.
Can you tell us about some of the highlights of your experience?
One of the highlights of my experience was living on campus. I really got to experience what it was like to be a traditional Irish university student. Another highlight was the Cliffs of Moher. Being on that cliff really was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. My final highlight was a volunteer program that I did through the school. I helped with a river clean-up, a community run for the local hospice, and taught older community members how to use their technology. This taught me the community value in Limerick and I got to make connections with Irish people from all generations.
Was there anything you did not expect?
I knew it rained a lot in Ireland, but I did not expect the spring weather to be so cold. I wore two jackets the whole trip because my winter jacket was not waterproof, so I needed to wear my rain jacket with it. I also would have packed less spring clothes and more winter clothes. Another thing that I did not expect from the Limerick location was that it would be so expensive to get to the Dublin airport. In order to get there, we had to take two buses there and two buses back, which added up for each trip we went on.
How did you learn, grow or change by studying abroad?
I think I learned, grew, and changed immensely from this trip. It is all things that I did not notice right away, but reflecting on my trip that was a year ago now, I am realizing how much it taught me. The biggest overall change that I see in myself after the experience is that I am less uptight and more willing to step out of my comfort zone. I used to avoid change at all costs and wanted everything to always be perfect. I had the “go go go” American mentality and never felt productive if I wasn’t constantly working on something. The Irish culture taught me that you don’t always have to be on time, and sometimes the wait can be an amazing part of the experience.
Do you have any advice for future students who also study abroad in Ireland?
My biggest advice is pack for any kind of weather. I also recommend in packing to bring some kind of boot that you can hike in. Many of the trips in Ireland consist of hiking and parks because of the beautiful scenery there. The rain however makes for a very muddy experience. I also highly recommend learning a few easy cooking meals, as eating out in Ireland all the time can add up, and there is a kitchen in Plassey Village that you will be using a lot. Another piece of advice that I have is to go out of your comfort zone. Talk to people in class and go into your professor’s office hours. I made as many connections as I could, and I do not think my experience would have been the same without doing that.
Would you recommend the AIFS in Limerick program to other students who want to study abroad in Ireland?
Yes! I always recommend this program to students. It was the best semester of my life.