IAS Guest Blogger #1: Preparing for Study Abroad

Becca Hankla is the first in a series of guest bloggers for IAS.
Read more about becca here.Becca Hankla Bio pic

All summer I’ve been hearing this from friends and family: “So when do you go back to school?”

And I’ve been so excited to say, “Well, actually, I leave for Ireland on September 14!”

Which is often accompanied by a look of puzzled excitement, and once I get past that, they begin to tell me what I have to do. From these wonderful people I have compiled a checklist approximately a mile long. For exemplary purposes, I provide page one, items 10-17.

  • Save money for travel.
  • Visit my school friends.
  • Get rain boots.
  • Get a good raincoat.
  • Spend time with my parents.
  • Hang out with my sister.
  • Catch up on my American Netflix before it goes away.

Some of these are simple things that I need to do, like buy a raincoat. I am not a fan of being soaked and cold. Some other things are not so simple, like hanging out with my sister when she’s busy, I’m working two jobs, and she starts school in three weeks. And of course, there’s the American comforts like a mini-marathon of “Melissa & Joey” on Netflix. (Seriously, check it out. It’s fantastic.)

I’ve also crossed some things off my list.

Get a passport. (That was a hairy encounter and if you ever want to die from laughter, I’d love to share).

Register for classes.

Figure out which suitcase to use.

Tell Queens University of Charlotte that I’m not going to be there this fall. (You cannot imagine how many different offices are worried that I haven’t registered for classes and have sent panicked e-mails to me.)

And the list continues. But it will all get done in the mere 50+ days I have left.

So why Ireland?

Most people don’t understand that this is my dream. On September 14, I will depart my beloved America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, for the Emerald Isle. My trip will be different from that of my eighth-generation ancestors May Ella and James Dougherty, who left Ireland on a ship in 1851, but no less monumental. I will finally see the places that I have been dreaming of since I was little. I will touch the history I have studied for years. I will finally see Ireland.

And I will get to travel. My best friend, who studied abroad in Florence, says that I just have to try the gelato in Rome. My history professor tells me that the Alhambra in Spain is truly an historical experience that I cannot forgo. My high school French teacher says I need to practice what she taught me and visit Nice or Paris. Plus, my love of “Downton Abbey” says a trip to Highclere Castle is a must.

Just writing that makes me want to get packed and go right now. But there is a flip side to this coin that is begging to be mentioned.

I’m scared.

I currently attend Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. It’s a tiny private school, boasting a mere 1,869 undergraduates on 95 of the most beautiful acres in the Myers Park neighborhood area of Charlotte. In addition, it is exactly 218.07 miles from my driveway in Atlanta, Georgia.

In September, I will be a fully enrolled student at Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland. In contrast to my tiny private school, my new Irish University is just a tiny bit bigger, with an enrollment of 17,000 students. I guess the phrase is “little fish, big pond”? In addition, the distance between me and my driveway will no longer be a three and a half hour drive, but rather a distance of 3,888 miles, according to Google.

So it’s safe to say I’m scared. Although I am comfortable in my skin, I get homesick sometimes. I love to talk with my parents on the phone. My 13-year-old sister is one of my dearest friends. And I’m going 3,888 miles from them. I’ll be away from my university home where I have professors who know me, friends I’ve bonded with, and my campus tour job and worship leader position. Everything I know about college is about to change.

There are two sides to this adventure. I can be scared of all the change, the newness, the distance, and the culture difference. I could call and cancel my trip right now. But I think back to one thing that tells me I have to do this. I look at the picture of my 10-year-old self. I think about what she wants. She wants to go to Ireland. She wants to see the castles, eat the food, develop a slight accent, and sing the Irish music. Am I supposed to the let the fears of an almost 21-year-old destroy her dreams? Am I supposed to risk the adventure of a lifetime in order to have a semester of comfort? The answer to this question is no. The answer is heck no. The answer is “shut up insecurities!” I am going to Ireland. I’m a little scared. But that’s okay.

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