Opinion: What I learned about myself and others in Ireland

Studying abroad halfway across the world taught me lessons in empathy I will carry with me for the rest of my life.



Taylor Newby, Columnist

There are stories shared in lecture halls and coffee shops, in apartment living rooms and at Hubbard Park, where University of Iowa students gather together and reflect on recent summer months that flew by all too quickly. There are tales of all sorts of summer classes, internships around the country, or clocking in and out of nine-to-five jobs.

As for me, I spent my summer studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland with a writing program. The lessons I learned abroad ended up having less to do with courseloads and class schedules, and more to do with myself, my community, and what home means to me.

Of course, I’m not the only one who spent the warmer months in another country. For UI students, there are a number of experiences encountered — both overseas and within the safety of Iowa.

I conducted an unscientific poll of 100 fellow students. 76 percent of respondents said they spent their summer working, and 24 percent said they spent their summer traveling.

For those who traveled, their endeavors involved temporary apartments, crowded hostels, classes in European cities, or leisure trips with friends and family. For those who worked, there were internships with finance companies in Minneapolis, magazine publications in Ireland, and labs in the Iowa City area.

Some students forfeited the Midwest for Hawaii, working as waitresses and discovering that the size of the world is bigger than classrooms and church pews, and that no matter where you are, there’s an opportunity to be sharpened in faith, friendship, and daydreams.

Other students took their studies to Europe like I did. Together, we’ve discovered that leaving our homebase is uncomfortable and hard. The whole ordeal of international travel is intimidating, no matter which country we explore. Still, it’s here in the heart of discomfort and unfamiliarity that we see the most remarkable and unparalleled growth. It’s here in the difficult and unusual that we figure out how to be brave, kind, empathetic, and curious. As for me, I discovered in my time abroad that I can thrive no matter where my feet are planted. And as cliché as it sounds, I’m learning more about how to love bigger, ask better questions, and empathize with others.

As we move into this fall semester, it’ll be easier for us to become distracted with the many directions we’re being pulled. There are clubs, organizations, ministries, meetings, football games, work schedules, and other activities to consume our time. There are out-of-class components that make courses feel three times as hard, and there are already essays due in the first two weeks of classes.

But it’s imperative that we use this past summer as a launching pad into the school year. It’s important that we consider the lessons we’ve learned — no matter how cliché — and hold fast to the countless bouts of growth we experienced — whether that be halfway across the globe or right here in Iowa City.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.