Home University: University of Chicago, Comparative Literature
When asked why I opted to spend a full year abroad, two reasons immediately come to the fore. Firstly, the University of Chicago does not allow for a shorter duration for its British/Irish Program, and negotiating my way out of nine months across the pond seemed a task laden with folly. Secondly, and much more succinctly: why not? I’ll concede I’ve had an abnormal study abroad experience in several ways. I’m not prone to homesickness and so haven’t experienced it (save the time I was in the emergency room with tonsillitis unable to swallow and my cardiologist father wasn’t on call to fast track my treatment or when my mother posted a video to Facebook of a simmering pot of her singularly sumptuous Southern gumbo). I arrived in Ireland with a few significant advantages.
A Trinity student studied at UChicago last year and was more than willing to take me under her wing and indoctrinate me into her lifestyle of sociability. Now her friends are my friends too and introduce me to her local favourites and little known secrets; my father works at a hospital belonging to an international network overseen by the Sisters of Bon Secours with a location in Glasnevin, and the Sisters O’Connor and Goretti are more than happy to treat me to tea every now and then; I’m predisposed to independence, so spending swaths of time alone writing or reading or contemplating the inconsequential is neither unfamiliar nor uncomfortable. And my father has been kind enough to fund my adventures, allowing me to see not only Ireland, but the backstreets of Brugge and the French Riviera and the harrowingly cathartic experience that is Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Everyone should study abroad for a full year if given the opportunity. The simple explanation is that it gives you time to acquaint yourself intimately with a place and visit a plethora of other cities (or small towns because small towns are quaint and charming) without feeling rushed or as if you never plant your feet. If you study abroad for a semester, you’ll just be getting comfortable and familiar when it’s time to pack up and leave. The detailed explanation is that if I had only studied abroad for a semester, I wouldn’t have spent Christmas in Nice writing a musical and dining with French families who invited me home to sample wines from circa 2002, I wouldn’t have dined with nuns on multiple occasions, I wouldn’t have acted in a powerful theatrical performance about identity and community, I wouldn’t have been titled Archivist for a literary magazine, I wouldn’t have more friends that actually attend the university I’m visiting than are international students, and, perhaps most importantly, I wouldn’t have felt completely okay taking a day to lie in bed and watch Netflix.
A surprising number of my literature classes touch on time and how fluid a construct is, but its hard to deny that the more time you have, the more comfortable and familiar you can become with a place. I’m fortunate. I don’t get homesick, and I’m relatively independent, so travelling to France solo and not seeing my mother for five months didn’t hit me too hard. My degree program in the States can accommodate my taking an entire year away—humanities majors can be a bit more flexible. And it is a bit weird. America has faded into this distant, intangible realm of my mind, and Ireland has remained a perpetual dream I walk through. I’ve lost myself to this experience in the best possible way. But I’ve also learned and found out more about myself than I could have in a few months. A year abroad is enough time to be yourself and grow into someone else as well.