Is this real? Less than a week and I’ll be in Ireland

As the final days before my big trip to Ireland and London come to a halt, I start to feel the panic coming on. I am so excited and nervous at the same time—I can barely contain my emotions while talking about it. I can't get my mind off of the weeks to come; I even woke up at 1:00am this morning to finish this blog. I’ve been counting down the days and probably annoying a lot of people while doing so.

I decided that in order to calm my nerves, I should write about why I chose to do this study abroad experience in the first place, and how I’m preparing for it. I hope it may help any students thinking about studying abroad in the future.

5 reasons I chose to study abroad in London:

1. Plain and simple: I wanted to get close to Dublin.

It has been my dream to visit Ireland ever since I was a little girl. When I tell people that, I always get very weird looks followed by “WHY?” Here’s my answer! I am fascinated with the countryside, the culture (no, not just Guinness), and specifically with traditional Irish music. I do have Irish ancestry on my father’s side. I’m not going to try and say that I’m an Irish American, but there is a presence. I’ve always been drawn to learning more about Irish history. The traditional Irish food I’ve tried has also been a big selling point for me. Beans for breakfast = mind blown. Why aren’t we doing this in America?

The London Winter Session offered by the Tippie College is a two-week session that takes place during the winter semester for the University of Iowa. I chose this opportunity because I knew that this was my chance to study abroad and visit Ireland at once, in a feasible manner.

2. I want to move there.

I’m not saying that I want to abandon the U.S. forever… yet. My goals are to graduate with an undergraduate degree in marketing and to immediately go to graduate school in Dublin for a masters in marketing. I know this sounds like I’m rushing things, but it’s important to remember that I’m a non-traditional student. I’ve been working full-time (for the most part) in marketing and graphic design positions for seven years. Fast-tracking a graduate degree makes sense for me, my career plan, and my current stage in life. For that reason, I think it is really important to be familiar with the Dublin area and to get a peek at what I’m getting myself into it. I’ve done a lot of reading of blogs from ex-pats that have moved to Ireland. They all say the same thing: I wish I would have at least visited before I moved. Secondly, this study abroad opportunity might provide me with ways to network with professionals in the area, which will help make my transition to Ireland much easier.

3. Game of Thrones… that helped a bit.

If you need any better reason to visit Ireland, try Googling “The Dark Hedges” or “Castle Ward” (this is Winterfell… I mean c’mon). Okay, like I said, I always knew I wanted to go to Ireland. But, watching GoT just reminded me how much I NEEDED to go. I am actually going to be able to roam the very same countryside that Robb Stark did! (*swoon*) A girl can dream.

4. Work and academic credit

I chose the two-week London Winter Session offered by the Tippie College of Business because it was the perfect opportunity to use up vacation time at work while not taking too much time off. As I mentioned before, I work full-time, and these types of opportunities to travel don’t come around very often.

The session is also offering a Supply Chain Management course that qualifies for a core business credit needed for my degree. I was very lucky that the college decided to offer this course at this time, because I have become very interested in supply chains over the last year. I have developed a passion for sustainability and how marketing and supply chains interact with those practices. This course was a great way for me to knock off a course requirement, learn about something that I was really interested in, all while being able to study abroad.

5. I would like to shock myself.

I wanted to stop being so comfortable. I have lived in Iowa my entire life. I have traveled all over the states, but have only left the U.S. once. That one trip was to Canada, and happened two months ago. So, I’m a newbie and I don’t have very much experience traveling outside of the country at all.

One of my biggest strengths (found via StrengthsQuest) is that I love to learn new things. I am constantly throwing myself into situations where I don’t typically fit in. This is so I can try to understand and appreciate unique perspectives from people with different backgrounds. I also really love learning more about myself. I find that by putting myself in uncomfortable situations, I develop new skills and I discover talents that I didn’t know I had before. Retrospectively, finding out about this strength makes things more clear as to why I chose to enroll in college at the age of 23. Going to Ireland and England will definitely put me in situations where the culture is completely different than what I’m used to, and I’m so excited about that.

What makes me nervous about the trip:

  • I leave for Chicago in four days and I haven’t even thought about packing. I don’t advise doing this.
  • I know I’m going to forget something. Does that feeling ever go away?
  • It hit me yesterday that this is the first time I’ll be flying over an ocean. Flashbacks of LOST scenes keep occurring.
  • That I’m going to become a crying, blubbering idiot as soon as I get on the plane. Not out of fear, but out of sheer happiness. I bet you think I’m joking, but I’m not. I know there will be pictures.
  • Are people in Ireland and England going to hate me because I’m an American? I’ve talked to friends that are from Ireland and from the UK about this, and I’ve also done extensive online research into it. It turns out that people outside of the U.S. really don’t like us. Or at least it seems that way. I know that this is probably a severe generalization, but it still worries me that I’m going to be judged just because of where I came from. That really puts things into perspective as an American who interacts with international students on a daily basis.

4 ways I'm preparing for my study abroad experience:

1. Nerd-out on everything.

I used Trello to manage my tasks that needed to be done for this trip. If you know anything about me, you know that I like to organize. This task management system is my way of doing so. I have cards with important details that I need to remember and checklists for things to pack, print, and remember. I know that diving into lists and planning things out to a T is not for everyone, but this is my thing and it has helped me feel less panicked about what I have to figure out next.

A look at how I organize my study abroad lists and tasks in Trello.

I also am using TripIt to create an itinerary for the trip. It allows me to sync flights and map data. This is the first time I’ve ever used the tool, so we will see how it works.

2. Watching travel shows.

I have spent countless hours over the last few months/year watching The Layover, International House Hunters, and Irish history documentaries. For some reason, watching Anthony Bourdain wander through pubs, restaurants, and destinations in London and Dublin make me feel a little bit more comfortable with what my surroundings will look like once I arrive. The shows have given me very good insight into issues I may run into while shopping, running errands, or interacting with the locals. I’ve also now created an entire list of places we need to eat because of these shows.

3. Pinterest forever.

My nightly routine before bed is to check my Pinterest notifications and look up the latest Irish culture pins. Experts of being “successful” say that using electronic devices right before bed can cause issues with sleep. But for me, reading and getting excited about the trip helps me de-stress and allows me to sleep easier. I use Pinterest to find articles about how to pack for three weeks in a carry-on, how to pack for London in general, and must-see destinations. Any question you have about traveling or studying abroad: Pinterest has it.

4. Getting support from friends and family.

That sounds very cheesy, but I honestly don’t know how I would keep my sanity if I weren’t able to use my loved ones as sounding boards. They are really going through a lot just listening to me freak out about what I haven’t gotten done, or my worries for when I get there. My family has been so encouraging by giving me advice, helping me talk through plans, and offering to watch our animals while we’re gone. This whole trip would not be possible without their support.

So, now you all should be expecting to see updates with pictures of me landing in Ireland, full of tears. I’m beyond ecstatic about this trip. It is going to be one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

Stay tuned for more to come about my adventures in Ireland and England!