How to Build a Community When You Study Abroad

Jul 27, 2015 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPA Study Abroad Interview: Mikala Gilroy

Meet Mikala, a Lasell College student who studied abroad in Dublin during Spring semester 2014 in an effort to learn a bit more about her heritage. As you'll read below, she discovered a lot more than that while she was in Ireland. Mikala gives us an insight into building a community when you study abroad, a few pleasant surprises about Dublin and what it feels like to return to the States.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.

MIKALA GILROY: Hello! My name is Mikala Gilroy. If you couldn’t tell by the name, I have a deep Irish heritage. So naturally, I wanted to go to Dublin to discover more about it! (I’m also a Boston native, and if anyone knows Boston they know that that’s a huge part of living here.) I’m a Communications major at Lasell College in Newton, MA. In my spare time, I really like graphic design, going to concerts, discovering new places, and running. Another thing that has peaked my interest since going abroad is traveling!
CW: Describe your background for us. Had you traveled before? What made you want to study abroad?
MG: The funny thing is, I wasn’t a big traveler before studying abroad. I’ve been to Texas and California, but never anywhere outside the United States. I’m a big homebody; I love being with my dog and my family. When I decided to study abroad, my parents were supportive but terrified. The thing that I wanted most from my time abroad was the ability to mature. I wanted to branch out, get out of my hometown and meet new people from all over the world. As corny as it sounds, I mostly just wanted to discover myself a little bit more and what I want out of life (try to suppress your gag reflex).

CW: What was it like to study abroad in Dublin specifically as a communications major? What classes did you take while you were abroad? Were you able to use the city as a classroom?

MG: Being a Communication major came in handy because Griffith College is a massive Communication and Business school. There were a lot of courses to choose from that transferred over to Lasell very easily.

I took only four classes abroad: "Media Law & Ethics", "Irish History & Culture", "Irish Modern Film", and a journalism class. The two I found most interesting were (obviously) the history class and the film class. They both offered me so much insight on the Irish way of life and the city itself. I felt like a native by the end of my trip just because of these classes.

Our professors were great too! Tommy Graham, our history professor, is one of the smartest people I know to date. You can ask him any question about Ireland and he knows the answer. On tours, he would often kindly interrupt the guide and tell everyone else tidbits of information that the guide didn
’t even know.
CW: Was there anything about Dublin that surprised you (positively or negatively) or went above and beyond your expectations?
What surprised me the most about Dublin was the ease of sustaining a life there. I thought I would be homesick the entire time, but instead I embraced where I was and made a lot of friends. The city itself is very Americanized (and personally reminded me a lot of Boston!) so it was easy to just step into the culture.

I also had no idea that the people would be so nice! I heard about Irish hospitality, but I didnt expect them to be as nice as they were. You could ask anyone for directions, smile at random passersby, and have full heart-to-hearts with complete strangers. Theyre just awesome.

I was also surprised about the amount of internationals who were living in Dublin! This created a great opportunity to talk to different people about their background and compare to American culture.

CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.

MG: The day before Easter I went out for a run because it was an abnormally warm, sunny day in Dublin and figured I could go for a bit of fresh air! This backfired when I turned the corner in Portobello right by the Grand Canal and completely wiped out in front of about 40 people. I was expecting Boston hospitality - meaning that zero people would help me - but immediately I heard things like, "Are you alright, dear?" and "Can you stand, love?". To my surprise, everyone dropped what they were doing and helped me try to get back on my feet! This didn't exactly work out because I ended up spraining my ankle, so I decided to sit down until I could regain my strength. One girl offered to give me money so I could find a cab. One guy got off his bike and sat with me for 20 minutes while talking about local pubs we love and helping clean up the wound on my knee. I was so impressed with how everyone made sure I was alright. This definitely left an impression on me because I know now that there are real hospitable people out there and the world isn't as bitter as it makes itself seem.
CW: Was there a sense of community at Griffith College where you took classes? What about among CAPA students?
Griffith is a very small college full of primarily international students. You see the same people everywhere, so that made me feel at home. Even though CAPA was the smallest study abroad group (there were eight of us), there were about four other American groups there. In total, there were about 40 U.S. students and since we were all in the same apartment building, it was so easy to go over and hang out. By the end of the trip, we became a huge family. No matter what, there was always someone available to do an activity with me, whether it be shopping, grabbing a pint, or seeing a movie.

Meeting locals was easy! It’s what makes Dublin such a great city. Going to a pub to grab a few drinks is the best way. I found that having a pint and talking with locals went hand in hand. But the Irish people are so open to speaking with foreigners that literally anywhere is a great place to meet them.
CW: Tell us about your neighborhood in Dublin. 
MG: Our neighborhood was great! It was very close to all of the tourist spots in Dublin - so close that  everything was in walking distance! St. Stephen’s Green was mere streets away from our school (about a 20 minute walk), Camden Street was a 10 minute walk down the street, and on good days I could easily walk into the City Centre in a half hour’s time. Our area was also very diverse. We had a mosque and a Catholic church sitting within two miles of each other. I loved this area so much that I would definitely look into this area as a place to live after I graduate.

CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Dublin" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?

MG: One of the pubs down the street of us called Leonard’s Corner was great for meeting an older crowd. They were so cool! They offered a lot of advice and had the best sense of humor. The bigger pubs, however, are more for the younger crowd. They were fun because they were interested in American culture (and made fun of our accents).
CW: Having been back in the States for a bit of time now, what emotions have you been experiencing? What has been the biggest challenge and how have you coped?
MG: Coming back from a foreign country that you loved where you lived with people who were your make-shift family for five months to return to the United States and to people who havent left your town ever causes you to go through mourning. After I got back, there were many teary nights that involved wine and Buzzfeed Travel articles. However, this became a blessing in disguise! I still message almost all of my friends from abroad weekly, even a year later.

My biggest culture shock is realizing that no one cares about my abroad stories. No one cares about how I aimlessly walked around Paris until 3 a.m., and they don’t care about how the line from Zoolander, “¿Dónde está la biblioteca, Pedro?” became our favorite line to repeat on our spring break Barcelona trip. However, the best way to cope with this is just to stay in contact with friends. Reminisce and review, because you’re not the only one going through this grieving period.
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations?
I grew up because of studying abroad. Before January 2014, I relied heavily on my parents and couldnt see a life without them. By the end of this trip, I loved living independently and relying on myself. I know now that I will be alright in the real world.

Most importantly, I found confidence. My social skills have boomed, my self-love has increased, and I know that the world is so much bigger than Lasell College (or Massachusetts, for that matter!). There are people that have the same interests and hobbies as me living all around the globe. My goal now is just to go back out again and find them.

Thanks Mikala!

Find out about the CAPA Dublin program

Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Interviews