A fulfilling study abroad program is made up of lots of different components – and some of the most important go beyond the classroom. For example, a big part of my study abroad experience was the service-learning project I participated in for five weeks in Dublin, Ireland, through the Global Diversity Program. Based on my experience and academic background, I was placed into a volunteer-run organization called Fighting Words. Fighting Words is a center for children, young adults, and adults with special needs to receive mentoring, help with skills development, and tutoring in creative writing.
Along with one of my fellow Global Diversity classmates, I served as a writing tutor for children. We would go to the center two to three times a week and facilitate creative writing and storytelling activities for children in grade school. Working with the local children and teachers was a wonderful way to get a feel for the larger community. Being at a volunteer-run center, we met lots of people from in and around Dublin who spent much of their time tutoring and mentoring through writing. The walls were lined with books and students were encouraged to write stories that were as unique and imaginative as they were. Part of the service-learning included taking a class once a week where we would discuss our time volunteering and learn more about the relevant history of the city. My other friends in the Global Diversity Program were placed in different organizations, ranging from tutoring refugees to raising awareness for the LGBTQIA+ community in Ireland.
Some of my other outside-the-classroom experiences included a weekend trip to Galway. My friends and I took a bus from Dublin to Galway for our last full weekend on the program. We stayed in an AirBnB and planned a tour of Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. When we bussed from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, we were all in awe. The landscape is too beautiful to capture in words, and even pictures don’t really do it justice. We walked along the cliffside for quite some time, and it was wonderful to see one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions.
The next morning, we went to the Aran Islands. We were told that the best way to get a feel for the Islands is to bike them, so my friends and I rented bikes for ten euros each and set off. The bike lanes went along the coast of the island. The muted landscape and sound of the sea, the sea breeze hitting my face as I rode, became one of the highlights of the entire program for me. That weekend was a great way to end my semester abroad, and I left feeling really connected with Ireland.
In short, the best study abroad programs will always have many components. To get the most out of studying abroad, you have to do more than just sitting in a classroom. Whether it’s through excursions, internships, or volunteer opportunities, be sure to make the effort to engage with your host community in ways that go beyond tourism or sight-seeing.
Anisha Mallik is a Pitt junior studying Politics-Philosophy and Economics. She studied abroad in Spring 2018 through the Global Diversity Program, which brought her to Greece, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. She is interning at the Study Abroad Office for the 2018-2019 school year.