A Study Abroad Column

Madrid, Spain

During my fall semester, I had the privilege to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland. On August 13th, I arrived at the Orlando international airport with only my backpack and an extra-large suitcase. I boarded my flight surrounded by total strangers and landed 10 hours later with no one there to greet me.

It was my first ever international flight where I didn’t have someone waiting to pick me up, and it’s the first time that I’ve had a real opportunity to explore and learn on my own. 

After two months into this trip, I had a group of international and American friends, knew my professors, settled into my apartment, and had an immense sense of independence.

But there is a difference between being a guest at a new location and being a resident. I was no longer just spending a couple of days at a place. I lived there, meaning I should do more than only consume and take what was around me. 

For my whole life, I’ve acted as a guest. I’ve gone to new places and only took. I spent summers in Canada, eating food, and enjoying the things the country provided for me. When I went to Africa, I rode horses and went on safari dives, never once thinking about the recourses I’ve used or the fact I didn’t once contribute back to the place I spent the last few weeks living in. 

The same was for my first two months in Ireland. I had only taken what was provided, instead of viewing the location as a place I could also contribute back. 

A couple of weeks later, one of my study abroad advisors had asked me if I was interested in finally giving back. And as a person with a newfound sense of independence, it was time for me to do so. 

Howth, a small seaside town in Ireland, was hosting a two-day beach clean-up. Volunteers would arrive at 7:30 am by bus both days and spend the days picking up trash and reviving the area they love. 

Throughout the hours I worked, I was stopped multiple times to ask about where I was from and be thanked for spending my time making a difference in a place I was spending an extended amount of time in. 

The two days I spent cleaning up the small seaside towns was insignificant compared to the amount of time I traveled, learned, and enjoyed Ireland. However, its impact on the locals around me and the people whose country I was enjoying was much more extensive. 

By picking up trash off those beaches, I was doing more than manual labor. I was showing that I had respect for where I visited and that I cared about its well-being. 

After I got back into the states, I made a pact with myself that if I’m ever in a new country for an extended amount of time again, I will spend some time of my trip giving back.