A moment to breathe…

A few days at home and I feel like I have finally had the moment to breathe that I needed to appropriately process the experience I have had abroad. Before starting this program, I set a goal to do a study abroad program that would allow me to be independent abroad and gain a better sense of what it would feel like to live abroad after graduation. I chose the International Internship Program for that reason, because I could experience what it would be like to live and work full time in another country after graduation. In some ways, I feel like I met the goal of discerning what that could be like, but in other ways, I recognize how this short experience reflects many elements that would be atypical to life truly spent living abroad. I lived in Ireland for eight weeks as both a resident and a tourist, and felt the inevitable exhaustion associated with leaving no room for breaks throughout this experience. 

I worked at South Dublin County Council under Councillor Emma Murphy for the first four weeks of my internship, and then Emma was elected Mayor of South Dublin County. Her election brought her a new office, formal mayoral chains, more stress, and increased responsibilities for me, all of which I was eager to take on. For most of the program I felt lucky to simply have been placed with her. She received ten CVs and selected mine as her intern. Whatever combination of luck or skill I was so grateful to be chosen to work for someone in such a significant position of government at such a pivotal moment in her career. Emma is the first openly gay woman elected to the office of mayor in all of Ireland, and I got to play a small part in that historic achievement. 

My internship was similar in many ways to previous public sector work I have done in the United States. I worked mainly on constituent relations and event planning. I was struck by some of the different systems available to Irish residents that are not available in the United States. One thing I noticed before my internship started as I walked around Dublin was how low the rates of homelessness appeared to be in the city. Comparing Dublin to major United States cities like Washington DC, New York, and Philadelphia I could not help but wonder in awe of how much less observable homelessness existed within the city. At work, I quickly learned about the social housing scheme and widely used housing assistance payments program that gives many low-income families and single individuals the ability to access and afford housing. Because the government and society as a whole is willing to work together to provide housing for impoverished citizens a lower proportion of Ireland’s population lives without a roof over their heads than the United States population. Ireland has also been generous in admitting Ukrainian refugees during the war. Many of these refugees lived not 400 meters from where we resided on University College Dublin’s campus. I had the opportunity to organize an educational visit for nearly two dozen children to the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, advocate in English for therapy services for the refugee parents and children, and privately organized a small clothing and supply drive in our last two days in Dublin. Meeting and growing close with the refugee families was the greatest privilege of my international experience. 

In our final days in Ireland my friends and I started talking about what we learned on this trip. My growth came from so many areas, professional experiences, personal interactions, and private observations. Two people I met in this experience held up a mirror to the ways that I can often work myself up over nothing, becoming unbelievably stressed and overbearing until it suffocates those around me. Even as I appreciated the time spent I realized when I was with those people how similar actions and behaviors that I demonstrate can be perceived as frustrating, especially when the things I am allowing myself to worry about are trivial. 

I learned something else from a friend too, something that I think I will keep in the back of my mind as I embark on the second half of my college career. A friend clearly defined the difference between immaturity and inexperience so beautifully that it gave a clear roadmap for someone like myself, trying to gain experiences, a path of how to do so without being immature. He defined inexperience as someone who, often through no fault of their own, lacks certain life experiences that differentiates them from their peers. Inexperience is more passive, often just a mark of where someone is in their natural development. Immaturity is different. Immaturity is when someone has the opportunity to experience new things, but either actively chooses not to or chooses not to learn from their past experiences. When I look back at this experience I am trying to do so with maturity. This opportunity opened my eyes to so many things. From one-on-one interactions and relationship building with refugees, to gaining a hands-on comparative politics lens to apply in my classes I have had countless valuable experiences. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to travel independently, run farther than I ever have before, try new things to eat and drink, and go out even when I knew I would prefer a quiet night in. I am incredibly proud of that and I have learned so much about myself along the way. 

A blog post less than a week out from the day I left Ireland will hardly do justice to all of the lessons I learned abroad. But with time, and continued maturity, I know I will see myself continue to grow with this experience as a pillar of my future success.