Studying abroad has certainly had its ups and downs. In the last, really five months, I have loved and hated Ireland. The study abroad experience is different for everyone in this sense. Most of my friends will also be leaving in the next few days and after discussing this with them I have noticed that most have mixed feelings about their departure. The general consensus seems to be that we are all really sad to leave Ireland and each other but we are very excited to return home to our families and friends, especially for Christmas.

Before you depart everyone will tell you that it goes by way to fast. However this is not the feeling you have when you first get here. For me and my friends it seemed like being here would stretch out forever. Now that it is over, I will admit the time went relatively quickly. Looking back it is definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life. I met a lot of new people and learned more than I ever could, not only about Ireland and some of Europe, but also about the U.S. Prior to studying abroad I had not really traveled even outside of Wisconsin. Now I have friends all the way from California, to Alabama, to New York. There isn’t anything I would have done differently but there are a few tips I have for you as embark on your own experience.

Don’t be afraid to walk around on your own a bit. This may sound a bit odd but you have no idea how much more you experience when you are alone. Cork City Center has an array of amazing shops, restaurants and parks and sometimes to take this all in you need to just go out on a stroll by yourself. I suggest trying O’Connell’s located by Tesco for some great hot chocolate! Also next to it is Hot Shakes, one of the greatest milkshake bars in Cork. These are all things my friends and I discovered on our treks through the city and then shared with each other.

Introduce yourself! This is really important. Some people are really good at meeting others and inserting themselves into situations, others need a push. It is really important to not be afraid to talk to others, whether you just need a friend in class or directions. I have learned so much about the Irish culture because I struck up a conversation in one of my classes with an Irish girl sitting next to me. And by the way, they don’t force you to mingle whatsoever in your classes so you have to take initiative to meet people. Another great way to meet people is the awesome workout classes that UCC offers! They are wonderful and you can find a schedule for them on the website or just walk down to the gym and ask. P.S. you need a swim cap to go in the pool. This was a shocker for me.

And the last thing, don’t ever let the weather stop you. In Ireland it does rain a lot and if you are going first semester I would highly suggest a rain jacket and boots. I got a long fine without an umbrella but some people also bring one of those or buy one. I would also suggest some gloves and a hat for the end of the semester or the beginning if you are in the Spring. The Irish people are stubborn in the sense that the rain does not faze them and you have to develop this quality as well. You will have to walk to class in rain and to the store and basically everywhere you go at some points. In Ireland just because the sun is shining doesn’t mean it isn’t going to rain. However, don’t let this bother you. More than likely it will stop eventually. You are only here for a little while, go out and enjoy every minute!

Claire Hephner is studying abroad at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.