Student Reflections on First-Generation Abroad: Ireland


At the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare Ireland

Dear Prospective Student,

My name is Kelsey O’Donnell and I am a fourth year student double majoring in International Studies and Anthropology. For my entire third year, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Cork, Ireland. As a first-generation college student, my sisters and I are the first of our family to attend university, while I am the first of my family to travel abroad.

As indicated by my choice in majors, I have always enjoyed learning about other cultures and traveling. As a first year student at Iowa, I was bombarded with information about events and opportunities. The event that really stuck out to me though was the fall study abroad fair. That was where I first learned about all the study abroad programs available. I was determined that I would not graduate without taking the opportunity to go abroad. 

One of my biggest concerns, along with everyone else thinking about studying abroad, was the cost. I got a work-study job at the university and started saving money. I also made a list of all the scholarships that I was eligible for. The most important source of funding for me was through the study abroad office. I applied for every study abroad scholarship offered before I had even decided on a destination. I also applied for scholarships through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which can be put towards study abroad fees. With the generous funding I received, I was able to pay about 50% of my study abroad fees with scholarships. Another tip is to take advantage of the exchange opportunities offered, which allow you to pay UI tuition while abroad. Ireland was not one of the offered exchange opportunities, but there are many other countries with this option. It is also important to remember that the cost of study abroad is what you make it. In many countries, you can live comfortably for the same amount of money you would be spending in Iowa City. Of course, you will want extra money to do some traveling, but do not ever think it’s impossible.


Cork Ireland, my home for nine months

I never planned to go abroad for an entire academic year; however, once I realized that this was a viable option for me, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take the chance. By studying abroad for a year, I was able to truly carve out a home for myself in Cork and immerse myself in Irish culture. I fell in love with the rolling green hills that dot the Irish countryside, the friendly people, and their charming accents. I dived into the history of Ireland and had the chance to visit ancient monuments and castles all over the island. I was challenged by the vastly different approach that Ireland takes towards education. I took my first solo trip and discovered just how strong, capable, and independent I was. Most importantly, I made some of the best friends I have ever had from countries all over Europe. Studying abroad allows you to have some of the best experiences of your life.

I highly encourage every student to study abroad- whether for a winter break, a summer, a semester, or an entire year! It is scary to push yourself out of your comfort zone and fly off into the unknown by yourself, but you will meet so many people that are doing the exact same thing as you. You will broaden your perspective on the world, discover more about yourself, and return with so many amazing memories! 

Kelsey O’Donnell

​Learn more about the Study Abroad Diversity Ambassador Scholarship or read more reflections from our Diversity Ambassadors.

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