I was sitting on my friend’s couch with a group of people from church one evening, having a great discussion about what car we would own if we could own any in the world. In the middle of the conversation, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization, ‘I am in Ireland. I am friends with Irish people. I am living a normal life and having normal conversations, but in Ireland.’
For context, I grew up in a rural town in Indiana, and my family rarely had the opportunity to take vacations. I had never been outside of the U.S. before going to Taylor, so I decided that studying abroad would be the safest and most affordable way for me to step out of my comfort zone and fulfill my dream of traveling overseas.
Studying abroad was a terrifying and exciting prospect for someone like me, and the experience was far different than what I had imagined. Before starting the Irish Studies Programme, I examined each course syllabi, found blogs written by Americans living in Ireland (which were rare in 2013), went to every orientation and I was still surprised at every turn during my semester abroad.
Many of my assumptions and perspectives turned out to be either limited or untrue — everything from the fact that Irish people don’t actually have an affinity for leprechauns to the realization that Irish history is often one sad story after another (which was not the dreamy, happy-go-lucky Ireland I had envisioned.)
The most jarring experience for me was realizing that my understanding of God had been so limited. Visiting ancient monastic settlements and learning about their worship practices allowed me to explore what God meant to people outside of an American evangelical context. The deep, rich history of Christianity in Ireland challenged me to rethink some of the things I believed to be true, while confirming other things I still believe to be true today. My understanding of myself, of other cultures, of my own culture and of God were changed, and I am forever grateful for those experiences.
Beyond my own experience, here are a few reasons I think you should also study abroad while at Taylor:
1) It’s so much fun.
2) You get to live abroad, not just go on a vacation. You make local friends, go to local churches and do all the things you normally do in a new context.
3) You build empathy by learning about and becoming friends with people from a different culture.
4) It looks good on a resume. Skills like adaptability, intercultural competence and the ability to navigate foreign systems (language, transportation, finances, etc.) are valued by employers.
5) You build self-confidence, and your ability to navigate stressful situations will improve.
6) It’s a safe way to travel abroad. Taylor takes good care of you!
7) Taylor offers both J-term and semester trips and offers financial assistance for your first semester abroad, so it’s more affordable than you might think.
8) You will likely have the opportunity to travel while studying abroad — I was able to visit England, Scotland and France.
9) You get to take classes that you can’t take on campus, like Irish mountain hiking.
10) It won’t detract from your on-campus experience. I was nervous at first that I would be disconnected from the Taylor community by leaving it for a semester, but I was able to seamlessly jump back into all of my on-campus activities and friendships.
Studying abroad was a life-defining moment for me. It changed my perceptions, it guided my vocation and it made me a more independent and empathetic person. If you’re thinking about studying abroad at all, do it!