Growing up confined to the United States, where my ventures rarely extended beyond my home state, studying abroad felt like the first step to living a brave life. In a family that seldom explored unfamiliar territories, there was no established model for venturing beyond our comfort zone. By the time I reached my junior year in college, a yearning for a life-changing experience led me to
research study abroad programs. I found a study abroad program with KEI that offered
everything I needed: affordability, relevant courses for graduation, and a location I had long
desired to visit. Serendipitously, all the pieces fell into place.
The KEI program’s small group dynamic, with myself and three others, provided an ideal, less
overwhelming introduction to this new chapter. Integral to the experience was our program
coordinator, Olwyn, an Irish native affectionately dubbed my “Irish mom.” Beyond assisting us in
navigating Dublin through cultural trips and excursions, Olwyn offered insights on hostels, cities
to explore, and recommended some coping mechanisms for challenges like homesickness. She
became our quintessential guide.
During the first month, Olwyn took us on cultural trips around Dublin, with one outside of Ireland
– to Edinburgh, Scotland. Staying in hostels for the first time, initially apprehensive, was made
smoother by Olwyn’s guidance. Witnessing the ease of travel throughout Europe, I seized
opportunities to plan additional trips to London and Lisbon.
As an introvert, I feared I wouldn’t make any friends or meaningful connections abroad. I was
fortunate enough to have two roommates I became close to, but even if I hadn’t, there were
ample opportunities to make friends and mentors that were more than willing to assist me.
Surrounded by fellow study abroad students eager to connect, I realized that simply being there
was enough, even if I felt at times I wasn’t making enough of an effort. Though I may not have
recognized it at the time, I was being forever altered by my experience, even if it was distinct
Lisbon is the oldest city in Western Europe, one of the oldest cities in the world, and you can
see how it kept its infrastructure; the windy, steep roads; narrow alleyways; a cobblestoned
labyrinth. In Ireland, I saw castles and cathedrals built as early as the 12 century and ancient
ruins dotting the countryside. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of being surrounded by so
much history, especially being from a country that is so young.
It’s an experience best understood through immersion and articulating the visceral sensation of
such travels would be futile. My advice to those contemplating studying abroad: just do it. Don’t
think twice. My personal experience may not have been extraordinary in its events, but it
fundamentally altered and reshaped who I am. I believe in studying abroad, the destination
matters less than the decision to go itself. My confidence and security within myself increased
tenfold, and now I hardly recognize the girl I was before I left.
Rook Tilley (BA Art – Studio) spent the Fall 2023 semester studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland through KEI. Rook had the following to say about studying abroad, “Studying abroad is the first step to living a brave life.”
Share this post: