Last month, I was one of five fortunate students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville who studied science and innovation in Ireland. So, that means I spent a semester abroad, right? Maybe even a month? Actually, no. For a pre-medical student with little free time and a slim financial budget, my perfect match was a “maymester” course spanning about three weeks in May. Two weeks consisted of class time at my university and one week was in Ireland. Study abroad trips always seemed like this totally amazing but completely out of reach concept to me, especially when I saw the $10,000 and up price tag. I never knew about ‘mini’ study-abroad trips, but these are more affordable and realistic for some students. Saving and fundraising was so much easier, and, as a lover of adventure and learning (and affordability), I knew I had to go on this trip. Not only would it broaden my perspective of the world and make the most of my undergraduate years, but…who doesn’t want to go to Ireland?
Our little group was the very first study abroad course offered through the Biology department at my university! We were the prototype for future study abroad opportunities; which is exciting to think about. Everyone loved the course so much our professor scheduled another, bigger, trip for next summer. More opportunities were created for other biology students, due in part to our participation and feedback. I knew some of my travel partners prior to our trip and gained other lifelong friends by journey’s end. One of the other students there was pre-med with aspirations similar to mine. We were able to talk about our experiences, various opportunities, and even different medical schools we were interested in. Three weeks may not be a long time in the span of life, but it is enough to shape, change, and improve oneself.
We packed a ton of activities into our week abroad: sightseeing and so much wonderful food, going to see the Book of Kells, checking out the science gallery at Trinity College, touring St. Patrick’s Cathedral, participating in a design thinking workshop at University College Dublin, hiking along Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and touring the start-up tech company, LogoGrab.
The Long Room at Trinity College was a book lovers fantasy! It was surreal. I felt like Belle when Beast showed her the library in his castle. Adorning nearly every inch of the room were dark, wooden, shelves filled with beautifully ornate, leather-bound, books of all sizes and varieties. A timeless spiral staircase led to the second floor of the library, where there was a small window in each bookshelf so the reader could travel between the cases. This was truly one of those frustrating moments in which a picture can’t possibly capture the ambiance, atmosphere and emotion you feel when surrounded by such history and beauty. If you are ever in Dublin, go see this masterpiece for yourself!
I really ‘liked’ touring the Silicon Docks in Dublin. I learned that corporations such as Facebook and Google have offices there due to the tax breaks offered. I was just happy to say that I’ve been there. I never thought I would be at the building of a company that connects people all over the world and influences so many lives!
Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland was one of the most beautiful and picturesque places I’ve ever seen. The coast seemingly spans on forever. We hiked a good portion along the cliffs, both ocean-side and up above. We were also able to put our biology knowledge to good use as we identified different organisms during the trip; just for fun, of course.
We found time in our schedule to go sightseeing every day. We toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Museum of Natural History (or, ‘Dead Zoo’), and even a historic crypt. We laughed as we recorded each other rolling down grassy hills and gasped at the wonderful taste of even the smallest carrot. Around every corner, I realized Ireland was at the epicenter of history, culture and innovation.
Sightseeing in Dublin
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Throughout the week, it was also our responsibility to research a chosen topic. Mine was on Hereditary Hemochromatosis, an autosomal recessive disorder that affects the Irish population and global community. Those affected have a surplus of iron, which gets absorbed by the organs and can cause many health problems. At its worst, it can even cause death. Studies are being done regarding its link to other serious conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. As part of my project, I interviewed a post-doctorate researcher at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute and attended the Real Bodies exhibit in Dublin.
I toured one of the many labs at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute. It felt surreal to be in a place where so much innovative research is being done. This was certainly a highlight of my trip.
The Long Room at Trinity College
Enrolling in a mini-study abroad opportunity was absolutely worth it. Ireland is well known for its natural beauty and amazing food, but I appreciate it so much more now for all of the things I didn’t know that made my trip such a wonderful experience. I’m of the opinion that if any student wants to travel abroad, but you aren’t sure if you could do a full semester, then you should look into this alternative. And if you can do a whole semester or longer, that’s great! Combining learning and travel was a dream come true for me. I was able to fulfill two of my passions and do something productive with the first month of my summer break. Every country I visit somehow surprises me and changes my perspective of the world. As a pre-medical student, it’s important to take advantage of these opportunities now in order to be a more well-rounded person, better student, and, ultimately, a better doctor someday. Plan out your breaks from school so you can make the most of them. Good luck to everyone on your future travels! And, to Ireland, I’ll be back to drive your countryside and sip your Guinness, but next time with my husband.