I did not have a typical orientation experience when I came to Wellesley as a first year three years ago. As a member of the field hockey team, I moved in early and automatically had 20 best friends. Wellesley immediately felt like home, and my adjustment time felt relatively short. Later, after learning about the incredible opportunities that Wellesley provides overseas overseas, I decided in my sophomore year that I wanted to partake in a study abroad program. As a result, I spent the spring semester of my junior year at University College Dublin (UCD) in Dublin, Ireland.
I was both excited and terrified during my flight to Dublin. On one hand, I was thrilled to be spending the next few months in the country I had loved since I visited for the first time after my high school graduation, but I was also scared to leave behind the security blanket I had built for myself back home. My favorite things at Wellesley, like the small class sizes, close-knit community and historic buildings, could not be found at UCD, which is home to 32,900 students. I became just another face in the crowd trying to get to class.
At first, it felt impossible to adjust. I hated going to class with 200 other students and attempting to copy down notes in the 50-minute time frame, which never seemed long enough. I had to do a lot of work outside of class, and it was much harder to meet with professors if I had questions or needed help than it was at Wellesley. Additionally, there were few possibilities to participate in class, which made for a less interactive experience. I even had a class where no participation grade existed. All my syllabi listed were two big assignments for the semester, which meant that a large portion of my grade was riding on each test day and paper.
I felt completely isolated from my peers, with whom I never had the opportunity to engage with during our class times. I thankfully became good friends with my roommates and others who lived around me, but I struggled to feel like a part of this massive university, especially when it came to the Irish students. I would meet them in class, but most students commute and therefore wouldn’t spend a lot of time on campus outside of class.
I remember hitting a wall after three weeks, feeling the “honeymoon phase” — as a friend from home put it so well — end. Things were hard. School was manageable, but I felt homesick and found myself constantly comparing the experience to Wellesley. This felt completely overwhelming, and I was struggling with ideas about how to feel more at home here.
Thankfully, I decided to find ways to enjoy where I was. I had joined three clubs at UCD in the beginning of the semester, and I started going to their events. Whether it was the “battle of the bands” put on by the UCD music society or a Tuesday night film shown in the cinema by the film society, I started to fill up my calendar with social events where I was able to meet both Irish and international students. I signed up for trips with the school where I made incredible friends, and I planned trips with my roommates to different countries; my favorites included Italy and Hungary. Through participating in these activities, I found a place for myself in a large university.
In some ways, UCD even started to remind me of Wellesley. Once I found my niche, I found people who shared the same dreams as I did and who challenged me to become better every day. These people reminded me of the compassionate and dedicated Wellesley students I know and love, and I was so excited to have a group of people who reminded me of home.
It’s common to hear about how study abroad changed people, but I believe that it’s the full truth. Not only has my confidence increased, but I have also learned so much about myself through this experience. I have an appreciation for Wellesley that I truly do not believe that I would have gained without leaving it.
As I start to pack my bags and reminisce on my time here in Dublin, I try to remember both the good and the bad. I remember the friends I made, the live music we danced to in the pubs at night and the sunny (and rainy) visits to the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast. More importantly, I remember the hard times, the big classes and the feeling that I would never belong. I am thankful even for these times. I learned so much about myself through them, and these are lessons I am beyond excited to take back to Wellesley for my senior year.