The following blog post was written by peer advisor Eamonn, an ESIA junior studying international affairs and philosophy.
I embarked on my semester abroad at Trinity College Dublin having spent my first two years of college in Washington D.C. at the George Washington University. Washington is a vibrantly cosmopolitan city, featuring an effervescent milieu of ethnicities, occupations, creeds and political perspectives. Like the city it occupies, George Washington is an intellectually diverse institution, with students and faculty drawn from across the globe. Yet for my first two years of school, I was utterly negligent of these assets offered by city and college alike. Painfully obsessed with getting ahead, I drastically abridged the possibilities of student life. My semester at Trinity was an immense achievement precisely because it stood opposed to the narrow conformism I had let myself sink into back home. At Trinity, I rediscovered my intellectual, cultural and social freedom. At Trinity, I became a better, fuller person.
Intellectually, Trinity was diametrically different from my experience at George Washington. Foremost, my international affairs major was nonexistent there. Entitled to enroll and receive credit for courses across the swathe of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, I ended up taking classes far beyond the pale of my usual studies: imperial Roman history, contemporary theories of ethics, and the philosophical foundations of monotheism. Alongside my more standard fare of modern history and political science, this diverse combination of classes was immeasurably broadening and enriching. I learned new methods of critical analysis, new mediums to express argument in and essentially, new ways of thinking. Many of these classes hold no formal relevance to IA, but for that very reason, have enhanced my understanding of it. Without making the decision to go abroad and enter a new academic environment, I never would have had the courage to break the traditional confines of my studies.
Culturally, I became conscious for the first time. Never one to deviate from my favorite haunts and daily routines at home, studying in Dublin motivated me to participate in a wider world. Without familiar habits to collapse into, I went out to see the astonishing country I was living in. I came to love Ireland’s primal beauty, became attuned to the nuances, contradictions and energy of Ireland’s people and engendered an appreciation of how the Irish consider themselves before history’s arc. I hiked across the country’s rugged, lonely hills, spoke, laughed, ate with its occupants in cities across the island, and pondered the successes and tragedies that clothe Ireland at the nation’s chief heritage sites. These were accomplishments I was hardly aware could be had back in Washington. Now I am brimming with eagerness to turn this newfound cultural sensibility towards home. I am likely to find startling things in familiar places because of it.
Socially, Ireland challenged me in ways I was completely unaccustomed to. For the last two years, I have had a consistent circle of friends and an unswerving daily habit. For the most recent four months, I was separated from my friends, connected through only a shaky phone service to my girlfriend, and denuded of the little things that created normality in my life, from my preferred breakfast cereal to how I pay for meals at a restaurant (unless you practically simulate having a stroke don’t expect the waiter’s attention). These changes were jarring, at times, tormenting. Yet they were in finality salutary, giving me poise and resourcefulness. Further, Ireland made me more empathetic. Denied my familiar relationships. I went out to create unfamiliar ones. This led me to play soccer with the Trinity team, to go cheer on vying Gaelic Football clubs with the locals at their pubs, and to form friendships with students studying abroad from around the globe. In these efforts, I could not simply rely on mutually shared values or understandings. I had to genuinely work to appreciate what someone found serious, what they found funny, what made them cry, and what made them get up every morning. Doing this was at times awkwardly unsuccessful, but it was conclusively rewarding.
I went abroad to Ireland with a vague desire to change my surroundings. I came back with the clear knowledge of having changed myself for the better. My mind is broader and sharper, my social horizons more diverse and flexible, and my commitments in the world imbued with a sense of the universal. This last element, so difficult to explain, but so important to what I have become, was defining of my time in Ireland. It is a sentiment begotten by my experience abroad, an intuition that through the intellectual, cultural and social differences I have witnessed, I now have a more complete idea of how we are all the same. It is this similarity, a mutuality of dignity, compassion, suffering and resilience, which I take away as not only fundamental to my immediate future, but to my character. In this sense, studying abroad was life-changing.