“A Hundred Thousand Welcomes” in Ireland by Abigail Lynch, Food Science major


Posted: July 2, 2019

This experience spending three and a half months in a new country was easily the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The edge of the Cliffs of Moher, 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean

The edge of the Cliffs of Moher, 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean

Céad míle fáilte means “a hundred thousand welcomes” in the Irish language, and it was a phrase I heard often my first few weeks of the semester I spent in Ireland at University College Dublin. The Irish language is rarely spoken, especially in the city, so I didn’t learn much beyond hello (dia duit – literally God with you), goodbye (slán), and thank you (go raibh maith agat), but céad míle fáilte will stick with me. A hundred thousand different things welcomed me to Ireland, in both good and bad ways. I met countless new people and was accepted with open arms by most everyone here, but I also had to learn what felt like a hundred thousand new things, and it was very stressful at times. This experience spending three and a half months in a new country was easily the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The ways that I grew and the things that I experienced were more than I ever expected.

I had never left the country before this, so it was a pretty big step to do it all by myself and for so long. Getting on that plane alone had me second guessing my choice, but by then I was committed. I underestimated how difficult it would be, though; I thought since I was going to a country where they spoke my language it would be easy. I was wrong. The culture shock the first few weeks was a lot to handle. It seemed like every hour had a new challenge, whether it was figuring out the public transport system, cooking in a different type of kitchen, or even turning on the heater in my room. The classes were also significantly different. Instead of homework and assignments throughout the semester and a final worth 30% of the total grade, there was very little in-semester work and the finals were worth a lot more. Of my five classes, two had final exams worth 50% of the total grade, and two had finals worth 70%. Having such exam-heavy courses took some adjustment. Learning a new culture and a new academic system at the same time was a challenge, but I just learned to take it one moment at a time. Each challenge was an opportunity for me to grow, to learn, and to adapt. Once I took on that mindset, it got a lot easier. There were still many times I was stressed, and many, many times I was homesick, especially in the middle of the semester, but I was able to grow through those experiences. In many ways, this semester pushed me to what I thought was my limit, but then I overcame it. It taught me how strong I can be.

That is not to say that this experience was all struggle and no success, by any means. I had some of the best experiences of my life while I was in Europe. Not only was I able to immerse myself in the Irish culture, I also got to travel elsewhere. I visited Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.), Bordeaux (France), Madrid, and London, as well as five different cities in Ireland (Kilkenny, Cobh, Killarney, Dingle, and Galway). Each city had such a unique personality, new foods, and new people. Bordeaux was my first experience in a country where I didn’t speak the language, which was certainly a new challenge. Madrid allowed me to use my high school Spanish knowledge, which was actually a lot of fun. I loved every city I went to for different reasons. Traveling throughout Ireland was most interesting to me because even though Ireland is only about the size of West Virginia, the variety of people here and the differences between the cities and the more rural areas was astounding. Not only were the landscapes drastically different, from coastal cities to rolling farmlands, the people in each town had different habits and different accents and welcomed us in different ways. Seeing new places, eating new foods, and meeting new people were the reasons I wanted to go on this semester abroad, and I was not disappointed at all.

My semester in Ireland was certainly something I will never forget, and something I’ll tell people about for the rest of my life. People like to joke that those who study abroad will find a way to weave their experience into every conversation they have, but now that I’ve done it, I completely understand why. This was such a formative experience for me, where I learned so much, did so many things, and met so many people. I have friends from across the world now. I was able to sit on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, 700 feet above the Atlantic ocean.  I adapted to a very different education system. I spoke new languages. I saw countless famous landmarks, from the London Eye to the Royal Palace in Madrid to the Giant’s Causeway. I immersed myself in culture of a new city. I tried new foods and new drinks. But above all else, I learned about myself, and I grew as a person. I learned how to adapt to a completely foreign situation, and that is a skill that will certainly be of use to me for the rest of my life. Studying abroad surpassed my expectations in so many ways, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. Go raibh maith agat, Ireland.