Where did you study abroad? Did you have a study focus?
I studied at Maynooth University in Ireland from September to May. My focus was in psychology, but I also used the experience to take many courses outside of my field of study, in order to help develop my knowledge of Irish culture and society.
What made you want to study abroad?
I have always been a pretty shy and quiet person, so my decision to go abroad was quite a shock to both my family and myself. I never really thought I would have the courage to go, but after choosing to go to university in my hometown and keeping the same routine for years, I felt like I needed a big change in my life. Ireland had always been a dream destination of mine, so when I discovered that my school had a partnership with Maynooth University, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for me!
Did you participate in extracurricular or social activities abroad? If so, how did they differ from social activities in your home culture?
Maynooth University provided so many ways to get involved and be social, so it was awesome! From an amazing welcome week for all the international students, to numerous clubs and societies, there was always something to do. I joined a hiking club, which provided a fun and active way to meet other students and see the beauty of Ireland. Outside school, one of the biggest cultural experiences I got to be a part of was the week-long St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin! It was so much fun to experience this tradition in Ireland. The celebration is so much bigger than it is at home!
What made your study abroad experience a success?
There were many incredible factors to my experience abroad, but the best part was creating strong friendships with people from all over the world. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be away from home for so long without having those amazing people by my side. The experience was also enhanced by all of the traveling I was able to do around Europe. Seeing so many different countries and learning about their histories was something that I’ll never forget. Studying abroad and travelling really taught me to have confidence in myself and to trust my instincts, which I think will help me in my future career. I plan on being an Occupational Therapist, and I will need to take charge of situations in which others may feel helpless and use my knowledge to help them get on with their daily lives. Being confident in my abilities will not only help others trust me, it will also help me be successful in my decision on how to treat their particular case.
It also helped improve my people skills since I was put into many situations where I didn't know anyone around me and had to interact with them. I don't feel as nervous going places alone anymore, because I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories! This will definitely come in handy working with new patients all the time in my future!
What was your return like? Do you plan to go abroad again?
Coming home was filled with mixed emotions. Of course I had missed my family and friends while I was away, but I saying goodbye to my life in Ireland was very difficult. I knew how lucky I was to have studied abroad and couldn't believe it was already over. I definitely plan to go abroad again if I get the opportunity, whether it be for school or work. I absolutely loved traveling and experiencing different cultures, so I hope to have more chances to do so in the future.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
As cliché as it sounds, say yes to everything. Opportunities will arise that you may be nervous about, but as long as they are safe, never turn them down! So many things you do while you're abroad are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and you'll enjoy your time so much more if you go out of your comfort zone. Don't be scared to try new things, it helps you learn more about yourself and grow as a person!
Describe an experience from your time abroad that made a particularly strong impression on you.
My greatest experience while I was studying abroad was my first trip alone. While I had chosen to go to Ireland alone, there I was easily guided through the first few days alone until I made friends. Traveling alone was completely different, and incredibly intimidating. I decided to plan a trip to Prague since I finished exams before my friends, but knew I'd have to go alone. Saying I was terrified is quite the understatement, I honestly had to force myself onto the plane when the time came. But the four days I spent there were the highlight of my whole nine months abroad. I met incredible people and had more fun than I could have imagined! I also discovered how peaceful and carefree traveling alone can be, since you can do what you want whenever you want to do it. And being completely self-reliant gave me added confidence for my following trips!
I was also lucky enough to travel to quite a few places. I was in the Republic of Ireland (where I lived) and Northern Ireland, Norway, Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary, Austria, The Netherlands, Germany, and Scotland! I think the cultural differences grew the further east I went in Europe, where life seemed more laid back. It seemed like everyone was willing to help when it was needed, even if they weren't asked. My roommates and I were studying a map on the streets of Budapest and a woman came up to us to ask if we needed help finding our way. While I'm sure most people in Canada would help if someone asked for directions, I was just struck by the fact that she approached us instead of the other way around. It really made the experience even more enjoyable, since we didn't feel like "annoying" tourists, but rather welcomed guests. I really learned to trust the people around you while travelling, because not everyone is out to pickpocket or scam you just for being a tourist (as some people make it seem)!
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I would love to have a chance to go abroad again, either for school or work. I plan on becoming an occupational therapist and would be delighted if I had work opportunities in other parts of the world. For the time being, I need to focus on finishing my degree and hopefully planning a trip to Australia after I graduate!
Jessica has already taken the all-important first step abroad. She challenged herself to travel alone, and rose to the occasion, building valuable skills in the process. Congratulations!
The impulse to grow, push boundaries and experience new things is crucial for any globally savvy person. Jessica clearly has the capacity to surprise herself in challenging cross-cultural scenarios, and we’d absolutely recommend that she keep stepping outside her comfort zone in order to build new cross-cultural skills. We’d recommend that she try spending a few months in a non-Westernized country, and one with an official language other than English. Not only will this help her grow personally, but she will also build valuable professional skills to apply to her future career as an occupational therapist. For instance, she might consider spending her summer holiday volunteering with a health-oriented NGO in Guatemala, Peru, Thailand or Vietnam.
There are so many culturally rich destinations just waiting to be explored. We wish Jessica the best as she continues to challenge herself in new environments!
- An Inventory of Cross-cultural Skills will help you isolate which skill sets you're building while abroad.
- Build a Health Career Abroad describes professional careers in the international health sector, including many volunteer positions working with NGOs
- Positions in International Development describes how to work and volunteer within the NGO sector. This section contains numerous NGO profiles that are specialized in health services abroad.