Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have the opportunity to spend a whole semester living across the ocean in the country that my grandparents were born and raised in. In fact, I never seriously considered the idea of studying abroad but thanks to SJU’s Center for International Programs, that all changed. After attending an information session on studying abroad as a Freshman, I retreated to my friend’s dorm room in LaFarge Hall where we immediately and simultaneously declared where we wanted to go: Galway, Ireland.
Fast-forward to two years later, now a junior at SJU, I was boarding a plane bound for Ireland. I was filled with anxiety, but it all faded away as soon as I arrived in Galway: I was home. Galway is not as big as Dublin or Cork, but that made it so much more comfortable and cozy. Complete with open squares, bustling streets filled with performers and merchants, quaint book stores, antique shops, and cafes lining the cobblestone streets, the bubbling River Corrib cutting through town and spilling into Galway Bay, and the friendliest locals, Galway quickly became a second home. The people you meet there are tremendously kind and so open to sharing their stories – and learning yours! Some of my favorite moments in Galway included walks along the coast on the Salthill prom at sunset, Tuesday nights at Monroe’s Pub watching the live performance of traditional Irish dancing, visiting the street markets on Saturday mornings, taking in the lively everyday atmosphere on Shop Street, and enjoying the nightlife with friends and locals at various authentic pubs.
While in Galway, I attended five classes at the National University of Ireland which included classes on Irish music, social history and Celtic civilization. It wasn’t long before I realized how appreciative I am of the class environment and professors at SJU – sitting through classes with anywhere from 50 to 200 other students felt extremely overwhelming. While the Irish professors were very kind and accommodating of my hearing impairment, it simply was not the same as attending class at SJU, where the classes are small and where I got to know my professors and peers. Regardless, I enjoyed the classes and the opportunity to learn all about Ireland from a classroom perspective.
Getting the chance to travel all across Europe was something that played a huge role in my experience abroad. Who knew that I would be able to ascend the Eiffel Tower in Paris, stand next to Big Ben in London, climb King Arthur’s mountain in Edinburgh, take a gondola ride in Venice, attend Oktoberfest in Munich, or receive a blessing from the Pope in Rome?! However, exploring Ireland was the best part of my travels! Whether it was the Cliffs of Moher, Connemarra, the Aran Islands, kissing The Blarney Stone, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the countless villages and old ruins throughout the country – Ireland has so much to offer and it felt amazing to finally visit the places where my grandparents were born and where some of my relatives still live.
There’s only so much I can write about Galway without it turning into a novel, but the experiences, the people that I met, and the friendships that I made are things that I will always cherish. I didn’t realize how much I would miss Ireland after coming back to the US, but now I can only live vicariously through the Facebook pictures of those who are currently studying abroad in Galway until I am able to get back there myself. For all those who are considering studying abroad, my advice to you is to go for it! This is your chance for an experience of a lifetime; don’t let it slip through your fingers!
Kevin Campbell is a senior studying Food Marketing from Princeton Junction, New Jersey. Kevin is the Weekly Service site leader for the Arc of Philadelphia, a member of Hand-in-Hand, a leader for National Community Day and an avid participant of the Appalachian Experience. Kevin also works as a Tour Captain and is a Marketing Intern with Tandem Associates. He plans to work in sales or management with a food company after graduating.