It was only 10 days, but how was it only 10 days? It felt like months of life experience, crammed into that week and a half. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Taking a Study Away trip was terrifying. Taking the trip without anyone I knew was even more terrifying.
But new friendships and the excitement of being new places pushed me to expand my knowledge and immerse myself in a beautiful and enlightening way.
My name is Abigail Blaes, and I took a Study Away trip to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the summer of 2018.
Getting over fear
The initial fear of being alone on the trip quickly disappeared after a few outgoing students took the first leap at creating friendships. Little did I know that this 10-day experience would result in some of the most genuine, beautiful human connections I had ever had.
The course focused on the conflict and resolution of the Northern Ireland Troubles that occurred from around 1968 until 1998. I quickly learned the remnants of this conflict still linger in more ways than one.
We began in the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and moved north from there. Each person on the trip began to open up to the group and to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I began to feel what it was like to be a “traveler” and to be in a foreign culture. Each experience was striking, from walking through historic ruins, speaking to survivors of the Troubles, standing at the spot where the Bloody Sunday massacre occurred and witnessing the divide between the two communities that still exists today.
I was able to witness in one trip the destructiveness of prejudice and hatred as well as the restorative and healing nature of forgiveness and effort to understand. I learned more than I ever thought I would. About the Troubles and about myself.
There’s something about being in an unfamiliar place and experience unfamiliar things that gives you perspective. More than once during the trip, I found myself thinking about what my takeaways from this experience were.
The list was far too long to fit into a single blog post, but I was able to narrow the list down to a few I feel are most important.
Compassion is the most important value a person can have
We’re not perfect – not as people and not as a country. There is so much opportunity for improvement, for growth. Northern Ireland has been through those growing pains and has lived first-hand the aftermath harsh divisions can lead to.
Having genuine compassion and care for one another goes a long way though. While on the trip, listening intently and attempting to understand another’s perspective helped to further open the conversation. A little bit of attention and a little bit of compassion truly helped.
The world is so much larger than any of us can really imagine
My worldview is altogether too damn small for how big the world actually is. Even though it’s hard and not always pleasant, we have to start making the effort to know one another.
I know that I can continue to ask questions when I don’t understand another’s perspectives on a political matter or lifestyle choice. I know that I can also work on answering other’s questions without becoming defensive. Maybe if we all work on being more open and seeking out what we don’t already know, we can begin to understand each other more.
We don’t all have to agree on everything. But as a really smart person on the trip said: what we need to be doing now, instead of building walls, is inviting each other to the table.
Being labeled as an outside or as someone who doesn’t belong can have a lasting impact
I guess that I have “belonged” my whole life. Even when I didn’t feel like I did. I was still able to blend in with the crowd.
But it became very obvious that I didn’t quite blend in with the crowd when I was out of America. I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. And I went to a country pretty similar to America. It’s hard to think about what it would have been like to be in a country where I didn’t know the language, didn’t look like everyone else, and wasn’t treated with respect.
Being identified as an “other” made me uncomfortable. But it gave me a knot in my stomach thinking about those who live in constant fear because of that same label.
I’m so incredibly lucky to have the Missouri State community to teach me, support me, and challenge me
There aren’t really words to encapsulate the impact studying away can have. I had never left the country prior to this trip. I had hardly left Missouri. But Missouri State gave me that opportunity. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
But more than this, Missouri State gives me the opportunity everyday to learn from others, challenge myself to be better, and to begin this lifelong journey towards cultural competence. There are few things more important than this.