My name is Celeste Hinson, and I am a senior with majors in political science and public policy. I have just spent my junior year abroad on exchange at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Studying abroad has been nothing short of the best experience of my life. I cannot put a value on the incredible perspective that living abroad has given me in terms of understanding different cultures, overcoming a fear of living on my own and traveling to 13 countries in a year after previously never leaving America. Academically, being able to study social sciences and humanities outside of the United States has been delightfully enlightening. There is an understanding of current affairs acquired by living in a country as modest as Ireland that is impossible to attain living in a nation as robust as the US. I even enjoyed my program so much that I’m considering completing a master’s degree program abroad!
None of my experience would be possible without UNC Study Abroad and the help of my advisor, Ben Briggs, who was available for many chats about my studies and who helped me seamlessly enroll for the spring semester when I decided that just the fall wasn’t enough time to live in the dream I had made my reality. Of course, studying and living abroad isn’t always easy. There was initial shock at the smaller sizes of literally everything, the seemingly impenetrable Irish slang, and the relative desolation in Ireland to the US. Further, doing exchange meant that I was on my own to figure out how to balance a new country, a new school, and, to start with, no friends. This was tough for about two weeks while adjusting to the cozy culture of southwest Dublin: there is no such thing as a “supermarket,” and punctuality is not prized there. The rat race of America on which I grew up is nonexistent, and I felt a bit dazed until I integrated into Trinity’s sublime campus and met other international students. Funnier, “You all right?” is not asking how one is, but simply “hello.” You only make this mistake once or twice before you learn. All of the things you hear about culture shock rang absolutely true, but that culture shock wore off, and the initially frustrating differences became beautiful quirks I began to cherish. The quaint, old city of Dublin that seemed strange to me in August felt like home by September’s end. By springtime, I was giving city recommendations like a local!
Working diligently my first two years at Carolina allowed me the flexibility to take classes of interest that are not necessarily available at home, and I consequently developed lasting connections in Dublin. I am thankful for Dr. Stephanie Shady, who has since left UNC following her Ph.D. dissertation, for my recommendation letter and her guidance in moving abroad as a female traveler. One important difference in instruction at Trinity (and in all of Ireland) versus at Carolina, is that there is an assumed initiative amongst students. You are much more responsible for your own learning and success by proactively reading, spending more time studying and less in class, and only completing one or two papers or projects for the entirety of your semester grade, which means they are very heavily weighed. I now prefer this style of instruction, but it’s a jump from the ample learning (and grading) opportunities at UNC.
The highlights of my year abroad must be meeting my now-boyfriend on a spontaneous trip to Como, Italy; spending St. Patrick’s Day with my lovely Irish roommates in Dublin; and converting so many unassuming Europeans into Tar Heels during March Madness (and watching games at 4 a.m. Irish Time!).
I would recommend everyone who has the chance to study abroad to do so. It can change your life in all the best of ways by molding you as a student, person, and global citizen. Carolina has given me a magnificent experience at home and abroad, and while I made the choice to do a direct exchange program, requiring me to navigate a scary, yet exhilarating experience mostly independently, the Study Abroad office offers various program types, including faculty-led for those who prefer a network of Tar Heels around them.
As you likely know, at Carolina we say, It’s a Great Day to be a Tar Heel, or ‘GDTBATH,’ and I have learned this past year that this mantra is seemingly worldwide. Finally, Hark the Sound, always, even from four thousand miles away.