Hello prospective study abroad students!
My name is Rita Guzmán, and I am a junior studying marketing, international business, and Portuguese. This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to intern abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Being in Ireland for two months led to constant self-reflection and insight about my identity.
As a Dominican-American, I’ve often struggled to define who I am. I was often at a crisis with my identity, as I often felt I was from “neither here nor there” or out of place. When I would visit family and friends in the Dominican Republic, I didn’t really feel I was from there as I was born and raised in a small Iowa town. Some of my family members would joke about how Americanized or gringa I was. However, when I was in the U.S., I’d find myself missing Dominican life. I had a stronger affiliation to my Latina identity in America. I was at a crossroad of what I considered my identity to be. Was I Dominican in the U.S. or was I American in the Dominican Republic? I’ve learned, especially after being abroad, that I was both. I became much more aware of how I identified myself in Ireland and on a trip to Norway.
What I loved (and now miss) about the people I met in Ireland was their warmth. When you land in Ireland, you’re immediately greeted with “a very warm welcome to Ireland. We hope you enjoy your stay.” To me, that sincere politeness was a treasure. The people I met in Ireland were kind, funny, and helpful. I could ask strangers or gardaí (Irish term for police) for help without any problems. This support led to one of my observations about living two months in Ireland: I did not feel out of place. Dublin had a lot more diversity than I expected. People seemed to just accept diversity and embrace coexistence. I never felt uncomfortable because someone was staring at my darker skin tone or curly hair. I never felt eyes on me in stores watching my movements. I never felt eyes on me doubting who I was or where I really came from, because it didn’t happen. People took me as I am.
Of course, people were often curious about me because they heard my American accent. I remember being in pubs, shops, or even bus stops and having people ask me about life in the U.S. While I was in Bergen, Norway (where Norwegian is principally spoken), this was especially the case. Some people even turned around and started following my friends and I just so they could speak English! However, Bergen was fascinating in that even though there was by far not as much diversity as there was in Dublin, everyone spoke Norwegian. So much so that when I’d go to a shop or museum, people automatically started speaking to me in Norwegian! I felt so flattered and accepted because to me, I clearly did not look ethnically Norwegian.
In Ireland, my coworkers and I had great conversations and insights on life in America and life in Ireland. My Dominican roots would pop up in random conversations as well, leading to more intrigue as many of the Irish people I met did not know much about the island. At work, I was asked about the origins of my last name and my ability to speak Spanish and Portuguese as they were listed on my resume. The curiosity about my life lead me to strengthen my identity as a Dominican-American.
An unexpected challenge I had abroad was handling the stereotypes of my identities, especially of Americans. I found myself giving reminders that not everyone fits stereotypes. It’d be like saying the Irish are (insert stereotype). Explaining the many differences within the U.S. gave the people I talked to more clarity. It also made me realize the dangers of making generalizations and stereotypes about other people and cultures. One of our internship seminars dealt with this topic. I now catch myself saying “the people I met in Ireland” instead of “the Irish were ___” to stay away from those generalizations and stereotypes. Being in Ireland made me so much more aware of my perceptions of other people. The bottom line is that it’s always good to ask questions to combat uncertainties and truly learn about other people, other countries, and other cultures.
My time in Ireland will stay with me forever. I’m hoping to go back as soon as I can! If you are looking to grow yourself personally and professionally, interning abroad is a unique experience to do so!
All the best to you on your journey abroad,