#JackieAbroad – What I Learned (and you should know) About Studying Abroad

By: Jackie James

So this is my last blog post (insert crying emoji here) I have been back in the States for a couple of weeks now, and am already missing Ireland! My last night in Ireland was really tough – I had to say good bye to lifelong friends (there was a lot of crying.)

My best friend asked me, “So, was it worth it?”

Yes. 110% yes. I would highly recommend studying abroad. Not only do you learn about another culture, but you learn more about yourself.

I could not be more grateful for the opportunity that was presented to me … sometimes I have to remind myself how lucky I am!

My roommates and I at our last "family dinner".
My roommates and I at our last “family dinner”.

A lot of people have asked me questions about my study abroad experience, so I thought I would put it in one convenient place.

1. How did you choose your location to study abroad?

First of all, the Study Abroad office at my school was willing and able to accommodate my needs, and we narrowed the countries down from there. In order for my mom to truly feel comfortable with me leaving the country, she said that I need to go to an English speaking country and one that is not in political turmoil (so no Greece or Japan, darn.) I told the Study Abroad office this, and the first country that they said was Ireland. I have always wanted to explore my “home country,” so that is the one I picked! I am sure that if you were to make an appointment with your school’s SA office, then they can find a country that will fit your personal (and financial!) needs.

The University of Limerick In Limerick, Ireland
The University of Limerick In Limerick, Ireland

2. Did you go through your school or an outside program? Is one way better than another?

a.) I was an exchange student through the University of South Carolina. Being an exchange student was great because your home university charges your account with the tuition that you would normally pay to the school. This is great because any scholarships that you may have can be directly applied to your study abroad cost. But, being an exchange student is risky because there are a limited amount of spots. The way they determine the number of people that get to go over is the number of people the university overseas sends. So if the University of Limerick sends 3 people, then the University of South Carolina can send 3 people. It wasn’t too hard to be accepted, all you have to do is write a couple of essays, but just be mindful that you might not be accepted.

b.) A program on the other hand accepts almost everyone. I don’t have much experience with the programs, but I know they are a lot more expensive because they do a lot for you. The programs include different trips around the country you are going to, give you a food stipend each month, and will coordinate with the school for your housing. This is great if all you want to do is buy the plane ticket…but it costs you considerably more than doing it yourself.

Just a random picture of the cute little town Dingle in Ireland
Just a random picture of the cute little town Dingle in Ireland

3. Studying abroad seems so expensive! What is the best way to make this cost efficient?

a.) Trust me, I was overwhelmed at first too. But you’re talking to the queen of bargain shopping, so my study abroad experience was almost the same as going to school in America.

I’ll break it down for you:

  1. Tuition – like I said before, tuition was the same cost as what I would have paid at my home university. Because of my scholarships, I paid nothing!
  2. Airfare – now this could get expensive if you don’t know how to bargain shop like I do. I read online that you can get the cheapest flights 53 days before you are leaving. Researching everything, I got the best deal at $699 roundtrip (which compared to my roommate’s $1300 plane ticket, I call that a steal.) I was also super lucky because my parents let me use their miles … so I ended up paying $50 dollars for the entire thing!
  3. Food – If you do it right, food doesn’t have to be expensive. I opted in getting a meal plan, which was $600 for the semester, but if you don’t want to do that, there are grocery stores around most campuses. My roommates and I would make weekly trips to Aldi, a discount grocery store, where I would spend about $25 a week.
  4. Housing – I lived in a dorm around campus (which was the only option for me). I chose the cheapest option which was the freshman 8-person dorm about a mile away from campus. This was about $2000 for the semester. It’s a bit more than American housing, but not by much. That price included utilities and furniture, so it wasn’t too bad. Now if you aren’t worried about spending an extra couple hundred bucks, I would say go for the nicer dorms that are closer to campus.
  5. Extra expenses – On top of food and housing, there were also expenses such as laundry and the immigration fee. I would spend about $30 a month on laundry and the one-time immigration fee was $360.
  6. Travel – I traveled a lot with the International Society at the University of Limerick. They had trips almost every weekend, for super cheap (10-15 euros) and they would go all over Ireland for the day. If you would like to travel to other countries on a budget, check RyanAir Flights. They have flights starting from $10 one way and go to a variety of European countries.

4. Did you live in a dorm or with a host family? Elaborate on your experience.

a.) Like I said before, I lived in the freshman dorms. It was an 8-person apartment, where we shared a kitchen and 2 bathrooms and had separate bedrooms. I lived with 3 boys and 5 girls, and it was chaos! We all had a blast living together, throwing “family dinners” and all hanging out and talking with one another. I lived in a community called “Plassey Village,” and it was about a 13 minute walk to campus. Although it was definitely “college living” (cheaply made furniture and a heating system that only turned on for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours at night,) it was super fun because you met so many new and interesting people.

jackie 4

Plassey Village at the University of Limerick
Plassey Village at the University of Limerick

5. What was your favorite part about studying abroad in a new country?

a.) I met some amazing, wonderful people from other countries while I was in Ireland. I can’t say enough amazing things about them!

Some of my roommates and me on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland
Some of my roommates and me on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland

6. Would you recommend traveling to other countries while you’re abroad?

a.) I actually didn’t travel to other countries because I wanted to explore Ireland as much as I possible could. Every weekend I was out with the International Society going to a different place. By the end of the trip, I had explored almost all of what Ireland offered. This method also saves you a lot of money also! A lot of my roommates traveled to other countries and they enjoyed it, so by all means, go to other countries if you want to!

One of the many beautiful places I visited in Ireland, Clonmacnoise Monastery
One of the many beautiful places I visited in Ireland, Clonmacnoise Monastery

7. What was the most challenging part about studying abroad?

a.) I would have to say the difference in school systems and how they structure their academic schedules. In America, we have many projects and tests throughout the semester. If you don’t do well on one test, then you can make your grade up by doing well on the other tests. In Ireland, they have one midterm and one final. The final is worth 70-80% of your grade, and is usually essay based… which can make finding the motivation to go to class and studying throughout the semester difficult. Needless to say, I was not a fan of Ireland’s school system!

8. Was it easy to make friends?

a.) I found it pretty easy to make friends in Ireland. The funny thing was though, almost all of my friends were not That’s because on the weekends, the Irish students would ­go home! The only students left on campus were international students, so we bonded quickly. I made friends from all around the world, including Scotland, Italy and Brazil. It was interesting to see the little cultural differences between us. For example, my Italian roommates would always make fun of the Americans because we ate lunch and dinner “so early.” The Italians would eat lunch at 4 and dinner at 10!

A picture of one of my sweet friends that I made in Ireland and I, in front of the Irish flag
A picture of one of my sweet friends that I made in Ireland and I, in front of the Irish flag

9. What was your favorite activity while abroad in Ireland?

a.) This is an easy question! Exploring the Cliffs of Moher was my favorite activity that I did while in Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher are natural formations on the western coast of Ireland. We hiked up the cliffs, and sat right at the edge of them! I love nature, so I was completely in my element, loving everything about the trip. I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who is visiting Ireland – the sights were breathtaking!


10. If you can give just ONE piece of advice to students looking to study abroad, what would it be?

a.) To be prepared to experience culture shock. I didn’t think I would have a problem when moving to another English-speaking country, but I found it hard to adjust. Little things like remembering to look left instead of right when crossing the street threw me off my game! It took me a good month to get used to all of the little changes between the cultures (and to get used to the time change.) If I had mentally prepared myself more, and also kept up my exercise and sleeping routines, then I think I would have adjusted quicker than I did.

b.) Also, remember to take care of your body when you go to another country! It’s easy to get caught in the glamour of experiencing a new culture, but make sure you give yourself time to exercise and to generally eat healthy (you’ll thank yourself later!)

Éirinn go Brách!

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