Elle Wignall (B.A. English ’13) studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland, as an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa. After graduation, she returned to Ireland for a nanny position in Cork, Ireland, before returning to Iowa to work as a business communications consultant at Wells Fargo in Des Moines. Below, Wignall reflects on the importance of studying abroad and the long-lasting impact it has had on her life and career.
How did you choose to study abroad in Ireland?
Well, I had always wanted to visit Ireland. There is so much history there, and I wanted to experience the beautiful countryside. I also wanted to follow my passion for writing through the six-week Irish Writing Program in Dublin. It was a rigorous writing program that offered classes in Irish theatre, history, and writing.
What did you gain as a result of studying abroad?
On an academic level, I gained some serious self-discipline when it came to reading deeply and exploring my writing. It was invaluable to have real-life writers as instructors along with a group of dedicated students. The focus was on fiction writing, which was a new area for me. I formed friendships with the other students—they provided a great writing support structure for me. When you’re in new surroundings, your senses are heightened. In a way, the experience made me more observant, which helps me in my writing.
On a personal level, it was simply a life-changing, eye-opening experience. I got to learn another culture and it gave me a whole new perspective. I became more reflective and learned how to live in the moment. I also became more confident through travel. I was able to figure things out on my own—including navigating public transportation, adapting to a new culture, buying my own food, etc.
More than anything, the experience helped me to realize that writing could become a career. I had time to practice the discipline of being a writer, and I realized that it could be challenging and rewarding.
You returned to Ireland after graduating from the University of Iowa – what did you do there?
I knew that I wanted to go back to Ireland at some point. I applied for a Work Holiday Visa and worked as a nanny for a wonderful family in Cork, Ireland. I cared for two girls, ages four and two. I’m still in touch with them.
How has your study abroad experience impacted you professionally?
Employers always find my study abroad experience interesting, and it makes for an interesting conversation topic during interviews. I believe my study abroad experience makes me a more competitive candidate when interviewing for jobs. Perhaps more importantly, my study abroad experience made me a more compassionate citizen of the world. It made me a critical thinker and I think I’m a better communicator for it.
Any advice you’d like to share for current UI students considering study abroad?
Find a way to do it! There are so many study abroad programs—literally something for everybody. It will change your life and make you a better person. It’s such a good opportunity—don’t pass it up!