Blog by UCC US Student Ambassador Paulette Matuk
Hello…My name is Paulette (right above you can see a picture of me). I am currently a student at Loyola University Chicago studying Psychology, Social Work, and Studio Art. I am originally from Nogales, Arizona (a small border town). I lived on both the Mexican and American side before moving to the big city of Chicago. Last semester I did a thing, a thing that taught me many lessons about life, myself, the world, politics, traveling, nature, and even bus schedules. I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland.
A Brush with Adventure
Two months before leaving for Cork, Ireland, I painted this scene to the left. I remember I had recently been told I won the Go Overseas $15,000 scholarship to study abroad in Ireland and I felt overwhelmed and shocked. I needed to paint something Irish to make everything that was happening feel real. I Googled an image of Cork and chose one relatively similar to this. After painting, I felt calmer and surer that this was the right next step for me. I was finally starting to be excited, rather than just nervous. I could not wait to see this painting become my reality.
I painted this about two weeks before I left for Cork. I could immediately tell the difference in style from the painting I had done months before. I was much more excited and ready to go now. I think the brighter colors and bigger, less hesitant brushstrokes of this piece compared to the controlled and blended one of the previous one visually show that now I was prepared to go to Ireland.
This photo was taken during my first trip in Ireland at my first castle, Blarney Castle which is famous for the Blarney stone that people kiss for good luck. Obviously, I kissed it. I was in Europe with a group of people I did not know! I needed the good luck. Although it was raining all day, I felt overjoyed and purely happy. I did not care that I was cold and wet because I was climbing an Irish castle, learning about Irish history, and seeing beautiful gardens and endless vibrant greens. I was in constant disbelief over the beauty I was lucky to be seeing.
I took this photo at the breathtaking Dingle Peninsula. Before coming to Ireland, I knew embarrassingly little about the country. When I got on the bus to Dingle I did not know what or where it was. I was only going because I read in a book that this was a must see place when visiting Ireland. The area around the Dingle Peninsula looked like a humble hill when I first arrived. Then, after climbing the hill to the top, I looked down to the other side and saw the ocean, right beneath me. No amount of eloquent, poetic words or professional photography can bring justice to the indescribable beauty, splendor, and magnificence of the Dingle Peninsula. I climbed down the hill and sat on one of the edges, where I took this photo. I stared and stared, thinking this was fake. This was my favorite place in Ireland and I will return.
I took this photo while climbing up the Cliffs of Moher. I am definitely not a climber or athletic in any sense, but I wanted to climb the Cliffs to slowly appreciate their beauty as I got higher. I climbed for a short two hours and, although the views from the top were breathtaking and terrifying, this photo of a small town at the bottom shows the calmness and bliss I felt overall during the four and a half months I lived in Ireland.
Yes, there were struggles. I had to adjust to a new country, learn to understand the confusing (but adorable) accents, meet new people, live and travel alone, feel homesick, study in a foreign university, and much more. But I learned. I learned from every struggle. I do not think that studying in Ireland “changed me” (that seems a little melodramatic), but I learned and benefited from it in ways I did not expect. I learned to be confident, but cautious; to appreciate other cultures and peoples; to budget my money; and to enjoy these experiences, positive and negative.
I know many people who have been abroad say very similar, if not identical, things to what I just wrote. And while it may be true that we all learn similar life lessons—that does not make the experience of studying abroad and getting an international education any less valuable. We each apply these lessons to our lives and learn from them all. I am still learning from my experience, and I have been back for almost five months now.
I cannot teach the lessons I have learned from Ireland; all I can do is talk about my experiences, and hope people will go on their own journeys.