Meredith Higgins

Kicking up our heels in Ireland. :) Céad mile fáilte! (A hundred thousand welcomes!)

Kicking up our heels in Ireland. :) Céad mile fáilte! (A hundred thousand welcomes!)

Meredith studied abroad in Antigua and Galway. She has worked for non-profits and in education.

Where did you go to school?

Wittenberg University

When and where did you study abroad?

First, I studied in Antigua, Guatemala for the summer of 2005. I returned to study/work in Guatemala’s Western Highlands after graduating from college, which was awesome! I also studied in Galway, Ireland for the Spring Semester of 2006.

What was the BEST part about studying abroad?

The best part about studying abroad was really the invaluable education I received as a result. I know that sounds corny, but it happens to be the truth. No class could have ever taught me the cultural and social norms to the exponential extent to which I experienced them while being immersed in another culture.

Another really great part about my studying abroad was that I brought back the best souvenir ever…my husband, Patrick. :) We met while I was studying in Galway, and he moved to the United States two years later so that he could pursue his career (and a life with this enamored American girl).

What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?

The immersion experience itself stretched me so far outside of my comfort zone, but it was undoubtedly the best part of studying abroad. I became fluent in Spanish and conversationally fluent in Gaelic as a result of being immersed (submerged, plunged into, overwhelmed, etc!) into each respective culture. I learned so much more than I ever could learn from a textbook or in a classroom. I partook in the everyday norms of life, and I absorbed the unique sites, sounds, and smells. I saw the world outside of my own little world, and as uncomfortable as it was, I loved it. I am forever changed (for the better) by my experiences.

What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?

One very tough experience I faced was my roommate deciding after one week that she would return home. She had decided to study in Ireland for the spring semester after already having been in England for the previous semester. She made the decision on the fly, and after about a week in Ireland, she decided to return home, leaving me without a roommate, and with plenty of reasons to do the same. I was the only American in our apartment. I knew NO one there. I had just lost my roommate, the only person I’d come to know in the past week. She left, so it must be pretty easy to change your mind and go back home for the semester. I contemplated leaving for a few days, but through the help of my study abroad advisor and my Irish flat mates, I came to see that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Home was an email and a phone call away, but Ireland was RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. Leaving would have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I decided, instead, to join clubs and organizations at the university I was attending, and I made every attempt to meet people inside and outside of class. Within the next couple of weeks, my homesickness had faded, and I had met some people who have become lifelong friends. What I faced was nothing more than stretching myself outside of my comfort zone. The discomfort was temporary (though difficult), but the growth and experience I received were invaluable.

How did studying abroad change your life?

Besides learning the social, political, and linguistic norms of culture outside that of my own, I found that I learned a great deal about myself for myself. I learned to be independent in times of uncertainty. I learned to listen–truly listen–when in the presence of another perspective. I learned to communicate in a way that is unfamiliar but appreciated. I learned to step back, and see things through a lens that is not American. I learned that the United States is not the standard for…well, anything. These perspective shifts and realizations truly enabled me to relate, understand, and respect those who believe (and, simply live) differently than I do. This prepared me for my career in that I am able to empathize and relate to the vast array of perspectives, practices, and products of culture.

What are your future plans?

Throughout my career of working in the non-profit and teaching fields, I have learned that my passion always reverts back to what changed my life: the Study Abroad experience.

What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?

My best piece of advice would be to remind yourself of the following during each step of the study abroad process…

Before you take the plunge: 
What is it that you really want from your study abroad experience? Language? Culture? Specific field of study? Make sure you can answer this question before you decide where you’re going to study abroad. It will make your experience much more worthwhile!

When you get there:
Remind yourself why you chose to go there. You will probably hate it for the first couple of weeks that you’re there. Homesickness will set in, you may even decide that you want to go home. That’s normal. You’re feeling the pains of growing and becoming internationally independent. You can do it–just remind yourself of why you’re there, and get involved so you can meet some awesome people!

When you get home:
 Prepare for reverse culture shock. Life will have changed a bit since you were home last, and you will find that your time away changed you too. Prepare for things to be different.

ENJOY IT! This is an incredible, life-changing opportunity. Soak up the atmosphere, and live it up. :)

Hannah Stanton-Gockel

Hannah studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador and spent six months in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica completing an internship with MayaTech Learning Centers. She is currently finis[...]

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