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More than a cultural immersion

After attending the study abroad fair in late September of my freshman year, I knew I wanted to go abroad. But I also knew that it would be practically impossible, based on what I had heard from older students. You always hear how students studying the “hard sciences” (chemistry, biology, physics, etc.) on the pre-medical track never get the opportunity to study abroad because their college life is full of course requirements, labs and internships, trying to seem appealing to medical schools in their applications. And you’re 100 percent right. Having all the necessary course requirements, volunteer experience and general well-roundedness is very important toward boosting your medical school application. But that’s not everything—something that really sets candidates apart from each other is the uniqueness of one’s application. 

I’ve realized after two very humbling years in college, medical school applications, and college for that matter, is so much more than a list of classes and a high GPA. A GPA, at the end of the day, is just a number that may help you get into a school. But dwelling too much on this number will do much more harm than good in the future.

College should be one of the greatest times of our lives. Traveling on the weekend, joining clubs and making friends that will last a lifetime. It took me almost halfway through college to really start enjoying everyday while I was in school, rather than burying myself in school work. I started appreciating the little things and took more time for self-care. I started to do work that opened my eyes to new perspectives, meeting new people and producing things that I am proud to call my own. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions of my college career because it allowed me to do just that. 

But echoing the words of former Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Terrazano, you don’t have to find yourself abroad. I decided to apply to go abroad in the summer two weeks before all the applications were due. During this time, I filled out two different application forms and made too many frantic phone calls ensuring that my application would be filed even without some of the documentation. But the main reasons that I chose to go abroad when I did was that I didn’t get any summer internships. And that is totally fine. Internships are extremely competitive and not getting one does not necessarily say anything about you.

It was never my intention to study abroad. It was always just a thing in college that everyone seemed to do, except for most hard science majors, apart from the few that manage to go abroad. It was something so far reaching that everyone said is a must to do in college, but I thought was never attainable. But I made it happen.

I studied this summer in Dublin, Ireland at University College Dublin (UCD) through the Boston University Study Abroad Program. While at UCD, I took one course on contemporary Irish society and did an internship full-time 4 days a week. 

Looking back on my two months in Ireland, I would not have changed this experience for the world. 

The phrase “cultural immersion” came up countless times in my application. “This experience is going to be a great cultural immersion,” I wrote, despite not knowing what it really meant until I was knee-deep in Irish culture. 

Was my experience in Ireland a cultural immersion? I’d say yes. 

Taking the bus every morning to work alongside millions of Irish working class people made me feel empowered. Seeing people who were clearly tourists roaming the streets of Dublin completely lost made me feel like a real Dubliner, able to navigate the streets without constantly looking at my GPS. Taking a class on contemporary Irish society and understanding their catchphrases and words made me feel closer to my co-workers. It was some good craic (Craic is fun in Ireland). 

But more than that, I accomplished so much both in and out of the program. I traveled almost every weekend, exploring almost all of Ireland and other European countries. It gave me insights into how different cultures can be in a country that is roughly the same size as South Carolina. How accents can change so differently and how Gaelic (Irish), is really the national language of Ireland, and how some communities are desperately trying to hold onto their roots. 

Going abroad is 100 percent a cultural immersion. It’s kind of hard to not be ingrained into a new culture after living in a foreign country for two months. But my experience was so much more than a cultural immersion. It was an introspective look into myself to look into my own independence as an individual and an adult.

Did I find myself abroad? I don’t think so. But did I learn more about myself and my strengths and what I need to work on for the future? Definitely. I learned about being independent. I learned about how to balance school and work. But most importantly, I learned that it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t get any internships in the U.S. this summer. 

That missed opportunity gave me another brand new opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It gave me the opportunity to explore a new side of the world and gain insight into my field of interest in a foreign country. 

My study abroad experience was both a professional and personal growth opportunity. I learned more about my future career path but I also learned more about myself and how I will act in the future as an adult. 

To all my hard science major friends, going abroad is so worth it. Take a summer off, even if it’s after college, to travel, to explore. I learned so much from interactions with local folk, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. To all college students, if an opportunity is put in front of you, take the opportunity because it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. And those don’t come twice.

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