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Parallel Universe

Blog by UCC Student Ambassador, Jaclene Fleming

Boarding the plane on New Year’s Day in New York and arriving the next day in Cork, Ireland was a proper fresh start to the year. If only I knew at the time that I was doing more than just stepping into a new country…I was entering a parallel universe. I was a consumed with emotions: I was ecstatic, curious, blessed, delighted, and scared.

I only had one day to settle into my new home before all of the orientation shenanigans began for the upcoming semester. I met my roommate, a lovely graduate student from Kerry, and despite being able to recall only a sliver of my study abroad advisor’s pre-departure conversation, I began to recognize in myself the symptoms of a common study abroad reaction kicking in: culture shock. I was no longer home, I knew absolutely no one on this side of the pond, and I had no idea where I could purchase groceries – yes, my beloved Stop n Shop and Shaws did not exist in Cork. (I soon grew to worship Tesco and Centra.)

First day jitters are inevitable. Journeying from a school of not even 3,000 undergraduates to one with almost 20,000 rendered me speechless. However, the walk from my apartment made everything much more normal. I took in all of Cork with each step, and the sight of Americans made me feel a little more at ease. However, I knew that if I surrounded myself with everything I knew from home, I would never challenge myself to experience once in a lifetime opportunities.

I understood the idea of culture shock, but it was not the vast differences that surprised me the most.  Rather, it was the subtle nuances I had not even given thought to that surprised me the most. Sidewalks were footpaths, teachers interacted with students and vice versa, and not a single brand in any grocery store was recognizable (making first trips adventures in and of themselves). Sandwiches had different names and everything in sight was new and exciting. Everything was, and continued to be, fantastically new.

When people talk to their friends from college about homesickness, they are told that nothing has changed – and, for the most part, it really has not. Okay, you may miss your spring concert, one timeless football game, or a night of fun with friends, but guess what? All of those college events aren’t going anywhere.

On the other hand, as a study abroad student…

  • You can be parading down the city on St. Patrick’s Day with the “Lord of the Dance” himself Michael Flatley.
  • You can have an impromptu dance marathon with strangers and musicians outside of a pub on a random Tuesday.
  • You can find yourself lost and still love every minute of it because you discover something new out of your expedition.

The point is, you are in charge of how you experience a new country, a new city, a new group of people. I do not mean to say that every day I spent abroad was life changing, as you will have some bad days along with the good. On the bright side, these bad days are still happening to you…in Ireland! It never took me long to realize how lucky I was to be there and continue enjoying the experience.

No matter where you come from, you grow up in some kind of a bubble. Before my abroad experience, I had lived abroad before – but with my entire family. Being completely independent and thrown into the mix of things in another universe is the best opportunity I could have ever imagined.

A study abroad experience flies by so fast, so you have to make sure every day that you are appreciative of where you are at that very moment. I would trade absolutely anything in the world to study abroad again.

Jaclene FlemingI am a Secondary Education and Mathematics double major also enrolled in the Pell Honors Program at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI.  I love to read a variety of genres (although I have my hands on the “Game of Thrones” series at the moment), draw anything that catches my eye, and bake any delicious treat possible! Senior year at my home university is great; one of the beauties of study abroad is getting to fall in love with my own community all over again, reminding me of how lucky am to have experienced studying abroad at UCC. I plan on furthering my adventures after graduation by joining the Peace Corps!

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