An ode to my backpack… (2014-2017)

I am undoubtedly a sentimental person. However, after traveling fourteen countries in under three years, I have been able to count on one constant companion: my LL Bean backpack. 

My parents gave me a new bright blue hiking backpack before embarking on Semester at Sea in June 2014. My backpack made it through my first goodbye with family, before leaving for Europe for three months. My backpack held my beloved stuffed animal close through my first transcontinental flight. It has been with me every step of the way for the past three years.

Hiking Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, January 2016

If you search through this backpack, despite many washes, you’ll find grains of sand from a beach in Spain from that summer. There’s a mysterious stain near the large pocket, which I am fairly certain came from spilling my reindeer dinner while traveling in Finland. It has survived many countries, washes, and airport security screenings. 

My backpack is the last thing I pack before traveling, but contains the contents that are most important to me: my passport, glasses, and so much more. My passport allows me to stretch my wings, while my glasses allow me to see the world. Before every trip, my mom manages to slip a card in the backpack. This simple act, so sweet and so reassuring, has meant so much to me through years of travel. 

My backpack came with me every single day, after I made the decision to study in Ireland for my junior year of undergrad. I used it to carry the textbooks that made me fall in love with academics, as well as my essentials on various trips around the country. My LL Bean backpack has hiked up mountains with me, and traveled to nations with different languages and dialects. It has withstood both weather and time. 

Naturally, I’ve grown very attached to this backpack, but it is time to start a new chapter. 

I will start graduate school abroad in just four weeks. I will be moving to Ireland, and it’s time to retire my trusty blue backpack. I am grateful for all the times I’ve been able to count on it for support, and look forward to taking my new green one across the pond. It certainly has a lot to live up to. 

Six honest feelings you have before moving abroad 

In exactly one month from today, I will be arriving in Ireland to start a new chapter– graduate school. Of course, I am excited, but there are a number of other emotions that accompany a transatlantic move. There are many joys of starting a new adventure, but there are a few anxieties that arise, too. Here are six honest feelings you’ll have before moving to a new country.

Slight Panic

I’ll admit, some days the panic feels more than “slight.” There are immigration forms to fill out, visas to apply for, and currency to exchange. You’ll have to find health insurance, a place to live, and so much more. Even though you knew this change was coming, it suddenly feels like it’s approaching quickly. In my years of abundant travel, I have learned not to necessarily believe in fate. However, I believe in good things happening to the right people who take the right chances. Your situation will fall naturally into place, if you work for it. 

Exhilaration

Moving to a new place is undeniably thrilling. There will be new sights, smells, and food to try. You’ll get to know differentpeople, cultures, and ways of life. This is a wonderful time, and it’s important to savor every minute of it. On the days when you feel most excited and looking forward to the future, hold onto those feelings. They will come in handy during times of panic and anxiety that come with the territory. 


Independence

This is the first time you’ll truly be on your own. You’re going off into a whole new world, and it’s unlikely you’ll have the same guidance you received at home. This is both wonderful and can truthfully be downright terrifying. You’ll be in charge of yourself, and you won’t have people to answer to. Moving is a true test of your responsibility, your drive to succeed, and your ability to adapt in new situations. If you take the necessary steps to adjust smoothly and safely, you will surely thank yourself in years to come.

Nostalgia 

Before you leave, everything at home or wherever you are will sparkle a little brighter. You’ll spend more and more time reflecting on happy memories, and on some level, how hard it may be to leave them behind. Not only this, but you’re acutely aware of the goodbyes to come. Don’t let this overshadow your excitement. The cliche states that when one door closes, another opens. Try to remember that no door is truly closed, as your loved ones will always be there to support you in whatever adventure you decide. Each ‘goodbye’ could lead to another ‘hello.’

Hopefulness 

As much as moving abroad can be frightening, you are filled with hope that the experience will be everything you dreamed of. You walk with a little more pep to your step. Your dreams are filled with visions of new friendships and a fulfilling life in an exotic location. For every anxiety about moving, you are likely feeling equal parts hope that your experience will be joyful and lead to happy memories.

Gratitude

As much as this is an independent quest, you know that you could not do this without the support of others. This is your family, who have always believed you are capable of incredible feats. You know that without your friends to lean on, you would not have made it through the many trials and tribulations it took to get you to this pre-departure point. You know that if your professors hadn’t taken the time to talk with you about the upcoming changes, you would not have been able to stand on your own two feet during this process. Thank the ones that love you most before you go. 

Why I Keep Choosing Travel (…and why travel keeps choosing me)

As a child, I would never have thought to describe myself as “adventurous.” I was most comfortable at home, or taking familiar vacations and talking to familiar people. Three years ago, this all changed when I packed an overweight suitcase and hopped on a plane to Heathrow Airport. This one decision, to embark on Semester at Sea when I was coming out of my first year of college, changed my life irreversibly.

It wasn’t a slow, careful, or deliberate decision to start traveling for me. It was a complete and total leap of faith. 

First port of call- Lisbon!

The decision came quickly. I had vague memories of a childhood babysitter discussing Semester at Sea with my parents when I was much younger. I had parused the Semester at Sea website, after hearing an upper classman discuss her fall voyage one March afternoon. The summer voyage application deadline was approaching: Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

As silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “I’ve always loved that Norway ride at Disney’s Epcot.” 

Once I’d applied and received my acceptance, not to mention frantically applied for the proper visa, reality set in. I would be traveling Europe for a whole summer. I would be trying different food, meeting new people, and living on a shipboard cabin the size of a typical bathroom. It didn’t hit me that I was truly on my own until my parents were dropping me off at the airport, wishing me a great summer. 

I went in with zero expectations. I had such little knowledge of the continent, seeing as I didn’t even know rain was likely in London. I had packed shorts and t-shirts, and was not prepared for cool breezes of Scotland or the damp nights in Ireland. I didn’t bother flipping through guidebooks, for some reason I’m still not sure. Perhaps this was due to nerves or uncertainty, or perhaps both. Now that I’d classify myself as an experienced traveler, I like everything planned out in detail. 

London, June 2014

I didn’t realize then that three years later, I’d be reflecting on each adventure, both large and small. I didn’t know that things I would miss out on, or time wasted with people who didn’t have my best interests in mind, would catch up with me. I look back now and regret not being brave enough to travel to Sintra Palace in Portugal. Lisbon was our first port, and I was not yet ready to travel somewhere remote by myself, even though I knew I wanted to see the colorful palace. I could make more excuses, but the reality is that I just didn’t know I’d think about it so much in years to come. 
The lesson here is to jump. If something scares you, you’re probably traveling right. As long as it’s safe and healthy, proceed with caution, and go forth. Someone famous said to do one thing a day that scares you, and looking back, I wish I’d done more. 

It took a couple of ports and some soul-searching to come to the understanding that I didn’t just choose traveling, but that traveling had somehow chosen me. No, I wasn’t in love with every second on the ship, there are of course ups and downs. However, by the time we hit Ireland in early July, I knew something was calling to me. Specifically, I knew that one adventure wasn’t enough. Three years later, I know now that no amount of adventure isn’t enough, life can’t be quantified. Life can only be measured in moments. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. 

Amsterdam, April 2016

I left Semester at Sea with a heavy heart, pretending to embrace a continued life at my home institution with a smile. The facade didn’t work, because within days of arriving back to the US, I was back in the familiar chair at the study abroad office asking how we could make it possible so I could spend my junior year in Ireland. I was told I’d have to raise my grades, write powerful essays, and be on the receiving end of glowing recommendations. It wasn’t impossible, but a whole junior year at Trinity College Dublin, I was told, was unlikely. 

I took yet another leap, and landed comfortably in Ireland for a whole academic year the following September. I have professors, friends, and family to thank for study abroad round two. I’d like to say that mine is a story of bravery and perseverance, which is partially true, but it is mostly a story of falling through the right set of cracks. Much of my journey around the world has been possible because of the chances I took, and the people I’ve met along the way. 

I chose Ireland because of how solid I felt when I got there. I based my future off of a gut feeling, which of course, I highly recommend. It has paid off and then some. Because after a year at Trinity, full of adventure and joy, I came back to the US for the second time with a vengeance. I fell in love with seeing the world, but I also fell in love with academics. I needed to go to graduate school, and I needed it to be in Ireland. I am beyond lucky to state that I’ll be calling University College Dublin my home in a matter of weeks. 

I choose travel because of the friends I’ve made along the way. These people have left a long lasting imprint on my life, and I would not be the same had we not seen the world together. I am lucky enough to have made lifelong friendships with my study abroad cohorts, both in Ireland and on Semester at Sea. 

Friendship at Blarney Castle, Ireland

I choose to go abroad (for the third time) because as cliche as it sounds, I found myself on the other side of the world. I found myself through books, adventures and misadventures, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to practice my navigational skills in a new city once again. It took getting horribly lost in a small Scottish city, with my heart pounding in my ears, to be able to understand what my capabilities are as a traveler and a person. It took wandering Amsterdam, aimlessly, for hours with someone I’d confidently call a best friend to understand the very definition of trust and a true spirit of adventure. 

I choose travel because I caught both flights and feelings in Ireland, almost two years ago, and I can’t wait to be reunited with my better half. 

I am choosing travel because I would not be the same without it. I would not be the same had I not improperly packed for Europe there years ago. I would not be the same had I not learned my lesson by not going to Sintra Palace. I would be a much different person had I stayed at my home institution, and didn’t take a risk by spending two semesters in Ireland instead of one.  
I am choosing to find a place for myself abroad, for the third time in three years, because I don’t know who I’d be otherwise. 

Barcelona, February 2016

How to apply for graduate school in Ireland as a non-EU international

Congratulations! You’ve made the awesome decision to get a postgraduate degree in Ireland. Not to worry if the application process seems daunting at first. Through my own experience applying to graduate programs in Ireland, here are my top tips for making the process as streamlined and simple as possible. 

Decide on what you want to study With so many world-renowned universities abroad, it can be easy to let location be the initial factor. Instead, narrow it down by programs. Are you interested in a Master’s or a doctorate? What would be your speciality? As an undergraduate studying English, I began with making a list of what my interests were. For example, I knew I didn’t want to specialize in something like 18th century fiction or strictly American writing. Instead, I searched for a program that would cater to my passion for modern literature. Find a postgraduate program that allows you to study something you already know that you’re passionate about. 

How long do you want to be studying? Most programs in Ireland require non EU internationals to be full time Master’s students. This means you will achieve your Master’s degree in a full calendar year. One of the advantages of getting a doctorate degree in Ireland, however, is that most programs are complete within three years. Choose whichever timeline is best for you and your interests. 

Utilize all your resources at your undergraduate university When I began the application process, my undergraduate university was very involved in aiding the application process. While the resources my school provided such as the career development and global education centers did not have specific knowledge on programs in Ireland, they were willing to research on my behalf. Student career centers are also an excellent resource to read cover letters, personal statements, and give a final read-through for all applications. In my personal experience, my professors were my biggest allies, as they all attended some sort of postgraduate school themselves. Professors and lectures are there to support you, and they’ll be excellent support systems in terms of recommendation letters and advice going forward in your academic career. 

Narrow down your chosen applications by location You can’t go wrong with any Irish university. There are definite perks to living in cities such as Cork or Dublin, as well as residing in the gorgeous countryside. If you are a person that loves hustle and bustle, Dublin is obviously a very attractive choice. If you are looking for a quieter setting, I suggest looking in smaller towns or cities with programs that align with your interests. 

Use any and all international resources In my applications to University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, I found myself incredibly fortunate to have access to support from their international and global offices. Sending an email or a making a quick call to the relevant school or admissions office will relieve all sorts of stress during the application process. 

See what perks each institution can offer Does the university offer on-campus residences for international students? How do the universities compare in terms of research opportunities in the field you are interested in? Be sure to research all the important ‘bonuses’ to attending each university you are interested in. You may find that your dream school offers you everything and more, including scholarships!

Research funding opportunities For me, this was the big question- How on earth am I going to pay for this? Many universities will offer scholarships, grants, or other major financial awards. Other programs fortunately work well with North American loan systems in order to help pay for tuition. Seize every scholarship opportunity available. A small award can go a long way! 

Trust your gut instinct After you’ve received your acceptances from the programs, it’s time to choose the university where you will continue your studies. Trust yourself in this process. Deciding between the three programs I’d been accepted to was truthfully one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make. I narrowed down my selection by these criteria:

  • Will I have an easier time getting a job with this degree?
  • Is this a subject I can see myself enjoying for the foreseeable future?
  • Does the school offer networking opportunities for future employers?
  • How do I feel about the campus? Can I see myself being at home here?

After many months of writing applications, accompanied by the subsequent anxiety awaiting decisions from the universities, I am fortunate enough to state that University College Dublin will be my new home in September 2017. Best of luck with the application process!