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As my semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway comes to a close, here are some thoughts and encouragement for students considering a semester abroad …

The Adventure Begins Before You Leave
—Read what locals and visitors have written about the country and university where you will be studying. This information will help you feel connected even before you get there.
— Research the weather patterns of the country. This will help you determine the type of clothing you will need to bring with you. For winter in Ireland, I was glad that I packed my rain boots and lined raincoat.
— Spend time researching the visitor documentation requirements of the country where you will be studying. Find out if you will need to register with the immigration office or apply for a visa. If you do, what types of documentation will you need to make sure to take with you?
— Know that it is not unusual to feel stressed or overwhelmed in the months prior to your departure. Packing, planning and saying goodbye to family and friends for several months can be difficult. Remember that this journey is a pathway to meeting new friends. You will be amazed at the new connections you will make with people around the world.
— Reach out to students who have traveled to your study abroad country. They can share valuable advice about the country, and their stories will help you maintain excitement and enthusiasm about your semester ahead.

Freshman Feelings
— Your first few weeks at your study abroad university may bring back feelings of being a freshman as you select classes, search for classrooms, make new friends, and learn the academic system of the school. Give yourself time. You will soon figure it all out.
— The campus may seem large and overwhelming at first, yet over the course of the semester you will become acquainted with all the buildings and study areas.
— Consider becoming involved with at least one extra curricular opportunity. I chose to get involved with the youth chapel on campus. Not only was I introduced to many Irish students, I was able to connect with individuals who shared my ideas and values, and it gave me a sense of belonging that made me feel at home at NUI.

Ask for Help
— It is almost inevitable that you will need to ask for help. The first week on campus I got disorientated many times. On a few occasions, individuals asked me if I needed help finding my way. Other times, I would politely ask for directions. Everyone was very kind and willing to help. The Irish community is especially kind to visitors and never hesitates to stop what they are doing to help you find your way.
— Professors, advisors, and fellow students are excellent resources as you become accustomed to your new campus. By the end of your semester you will have the entire campus memorized and feel like a pro.

Maintain an Open Mind
— One of the reasons that entering a new country can feel overwhelming is the country’s striking differences from home. Although the changes seem major at first, over the course of the semester you will realize that your home country and your study abroad county are not that different.
— Some things that are helpful to know: electrical outlets may be a different shape, the grading system may be different from your home university, and as I found out the water heater may be complicated to figure out at first! After a short while, things will seem normal again.
— Keep in mind that the aspects of your study abroad country are not better or worse than home, just different. Differences are wonderful learning opportunities!

Stay Connected
— The time difference between your study abroad country and home may present challenges. It will take time to establish a rhythm of communication, but simultaneously conversing with old and new friends is a very rewarding aspect of studying abroad.
— As your adventure unfolds during your semester abroad, it may be challenging to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Remember, that everyone back home is excited for you and wants to know how you are doing.

Volunteer
— Volunteering while abroad gives you a sense of purpose in a foreign country and is another a great way to meet a variety of new people.
— It is a fantastic way to become acquainted with the local community. My time at a local elementary after-school homework club offered insights to the daily lives of children in Ireland and proved to provide some of my fondest memories of my semester abroad.

Pace Yourself
— You may feel obligated to take advantage of every study abroad moment. While this mindset is good, it is also important to have down time between your adventures.
— Pacing yourself between adventures will ensure you stay healthy and rested and you will enjoy traveling days that much more!

Your Fears Are Your Limits
— I give the study abroad experience the highest recommendation. Not only has it enhanced my college education, it has allowed me to grow as a person in ways that I would not have if I had remained at home.
— Not all aspects of studying abroad are easy, but the challenges you face are more than worth the amazing things you will experience and the wonderful people you will meet.
— When you return home, you will be a changed person. For me, I think I will see the world differently. I can’t think of a better way to learn about yourself and grow as an individual than to live in another country for a semester.

When you reach the little house, the place your journey started,
You will recognize it, although it will seem much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate you never saw before but once.
And then go home.
Or make a home.

-Neil Gaiman

Last modified: July 2, 2018

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