Name: Samantha Thompson
Major: Elementary Education
Graduation Year: Spring 2015
Hometown: Bel Air, MD
We’re so pleased to have the chance to talk with Samantha about her experience not once but TWICE in Ireland, first with a provider and a second time as an independent traveler. We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did!
Where did you go abroad?
I went on the Dublin Internship Program in the summer of 2013 and ended up returning on my own to the same internship in the summer of 2014.
How was your study abroad experience different from your second abroad experience?
My study abroad experience was VERY different from my second experience abroad. The first time I went to Ireland through Towson and felt supported the entire way through. I had pictures ahead of time of the place I was staying, met the other Towson students who would be going, had an orientation upon arrival, was set up with a bus pass, and all the basic necessities for being abroad.
My second experience involved me on my own. My internship welcomed me back to work and provided me with a host family. I was given their name and phone number. I talked to my host family for about ten minutes on the phone before I left and had no idea what I was getting into. Upon my arrival, I found a taxi on my own and navigated my way to the house. My host father welcomed me and said “By the way, there’s a 22 year old guy from South Korea and a 26 year old guy from Russia here as well.” My heart dropped completely and I panicked. I was not expecting to stay with other students and was very intimidated. Right away I met Song from South Korea and felt better but my Russian roommate was very mysterious. He worked opposite hours than me and it was a week before we crossed paths. He ended up becoming a dear friend and teaching me so much about the world, his culture, and how lucky I was to be American.
So about my internship: Imagine this—you show up to your first day and they give you a group of 35 Spanish high school students to take to Dublin Castle. I had to figure out transportation, facts, and how to navigate/connect with so many people who didn’t speak English in a city that I had just arrived in two days before. Therefore, I knew Dublin like the back of my hand by the time I arrived the second summer.
The biggest difference between both trips was cultural. I wasn’t going home to my apartment with Towson students—I was going home to an Irish family, a South Korean, and a Russian. I thought I had experienced culture shock the first time but nothing could have prepared me for living around a different culture all the time. Because Dublin is very similar to America, I felt that the first summer I was going to work in a different place but then coming back to Towson. It was very different to be around different cultures all of the time. At work I had Irish coworkers but also students from Spain, Italy, Russia, France, China, and Brazil. I thought that the second summer would be easy because I had overcome so much culture shock the first time, but I actually experienced much more culture shock during the second experience.
How did you decide where to go?
Ireland chose me. I have family from there and I’m an education major, so it ended up being a perfect fit. I couldn’t do any classes abroad (especially during the semester) because of my major, so it worked perfectly for my Honors credits that I went in the summer for an internship. I liked how I could work and not worry about classes, so that’s another reason I liked the internship program. In the end, I felt a strong pull towards Ireland and fell in love with the culture.
What were your expectations going in and were they matched by your experience?
Nothing could have prepared me for my experiences abroad. I was afraid, timid, and nervous both times that I went but I left as a completely different person. Ireland made me more confident, fearless, and ambitious. I was expecting to have fun with people from college in a foreign land where I could maybe see a few castles in between working hours. I never expected to lead a group of 78 Italians (my largest group) to multiple castles and become an expert at navigating bus routes with a ridiculous amount of people. I also never expected to feel at home with strangers in a strange place. Ireland changed my view of privilege, culture, and life in general.
Talk about your favorite spot in your home away from home. Where? Why?
My all time favorite place is a small beach tucked away on the cliffs in Howth. Howth is a fishing village in Dublin, about ten minutes from my host family. There is a well known cliff walk there that weaves all through these majestic cliffs. However, many people don’t know about the beach at the bottom. My Russian roommate showed me the path. It is hidden beneath bushes, but there is a steep and sketchy looking rock staircase from the cliff walk that leads down to a beach. It’s hidden away and right in the middle of green cliffs so it has amazing views.
What would you say to students worried / concerned / afraid of studying abroad?
Don’t second guess yourself. I never thought I would end up the way I am today. Going abroad changes your life and changes you as a person. Never be afraid to step outside your comfort zone because that is when you realize your potential. After my first night in Dublin, I wanted to come home. I thought I was in over my head and would hate it. But I ended up doing everything I could to go back on my own for another summer. Any experience abroad will be amazing and the only thing you have to worry about is the severe case of wanderlust you get once you return home.