Facing fears, learning lessons during summer in Ireland

When I first came to college, the idea of studying abroad seemed like nothing more than that: an idea. But occasionally, I found myself looking at different cities around the world and envying those who had actually experienced them. I loved the idea of living in another country and learning its way of life.

When friends talked to me about studying abroad, they often spoke about returning home as different people. I always tried to understand what they meant, but I constantly got some version of “It’s hard to explain unless you have experienced it yourself.”

So when an opportunity showed up on MyWorld, an online system that shows different study abroad opportunities for UNL students, to spend a summer in Ireland, I applied immediately and was accepted. Three months later, I was on a plane headed to Dublin, Ireland, with nothing more than a large suitcase and a desire for answers.

When I arrived in Ireland, my study abroad group consisted of 10 college students from different parts of the United States. We were all strangers to each other, and we had nothing in common except for our interest in new experiences and Irish culture.

Though we really signed up to get the chance to explore Ireland, we were still there to work. Each of us was an intern for a different organization or business around Dublin, with a variety of backgrounds and titles that reflected our professional aspirations.

I was a communications intern for a community loan finance initiative called Clann Credo. I wrote whatever they needed me to cover, including case studies and pamphlets advertising to future customers.

On the first day, I was overwhelmed with the tasks thrown at me. Despite having skills from work and college courses, I found out the real world was not quite the same. Over the first few weeks, I faced a crazy learning curve while trying to figure out even the simplest of tasks, like how to make coffee.

For a while, I thought I would always be a few steps behind everyone else I worked with, constantly having to ask my supervisor questions to complete a job. I eventually  found my strengths, and everything that was once a struggle became second nature.

As much as I loved working for an organization with a large social impact, a lot of my memories came from what happened after I clocked out for the day. Depending on the day, we could end up at a pub or sitting in an apartment playing card games and chatting for hours. Surrounded by other interns, we connected through the stresses of working abroad — something that our friends back home didn’t always understand.

Coming home, I felt a change, which was hard to explain at first but got easier the more I spoke about it. I worked abroad and created connections that will last a lifetime, all while submerging myself into a brand new world. Ireland taught me a variety of skills, but one of the best was how to live my life.

In the U.S., people constantly find themselves working around the clock for their jobs, sometimes never finding time for themselves. But in Europe, the balance between personal and work life is one of the most important things. At the end of the day, my employer knew that I came to learn, but also to have fun.

During my time abroad, I helped plan events and created materials I did not think I was capable of before. Without even noticing, my personal life became more adventurous in Dublin as well. Whether it was tasting new foods or going up to a group of strangers, I found myself constantly wanting to try new things.

I even jumped off a cliff into the ocean, and I’m terrified of the ocean. There was something about being in a new place and feeling this urgency to try new things — a sensation I’d never felt back home. However, I’ve carried this feeling with me since returning.

Author Marina Keegan once wrote there is not a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if there were, that was what she wanted in her life. I never fully understood what Keegan meant until I was singing “Mr. Brightside” with my friends for the thousandth time, just as excited for work the next morning as I had been that first day. In that moment, I felt the opposite of loneliness in Dublin with those people, creating a place in my heart that can only be filled by this summer’s experiences.