Shannon McDonnell visited Ireland, attending Dublin City University, during her spring semester in order to get more in touch with her Irish roots. Photo courtesy of Shannon McDonnell.

The International Center at the University of Rhode Island offers a variety of choices for students to study abroad in the country of their choosing. One location students can visit is Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, which is the place where junior Shannon McDonnell decided to spend her spring semester.

“Growing up, I was always taught to be immensely proud of my Irish heritage,” said McDonnell. “My great grandparents all emigrated from counties Cork and Kerry in Ireland and made every effort to keep their children in touch with those roots.”

McDonnell remembers singing along to Irish drinking songs, eating her Nana’s Irish soda bread and telling stories of her cousins who were in the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Although McDonnell was immersed in Irish culture from a young age, she had never witnessed Ireland first hand.  

“I decided to study abroad in Dublin so that I could finally see where my family came from and learn more of my own history,” said McDonnell. “I’ve always imagined Ireland to be a magical place with kind people, beautiful landscapes and a strong and vibrant connection to its history and folklore and I wanted to experience all of that wonder for myself.”

Although Dublin is over 3,000 miles away from Rhode Island, McDonnell says that the culture is not all that different from what she is used to back home.

“The main difference I have noticed is in the way that strangers interact with each other here,” McDonnell said. “When I am sat on the bus on my way to class it is more likely than not the person sitting next to me will start a conversation. We might talk about where we’re going, what we’ve been watching on the telly, or even just joke around with one another about things we see as we drive along. Strangers are fast friends here, very different than the independent travel style I am used to from home.”

McDonnell noted that the culture in other parts of Ireland are much different than Dublin because they are less used to tourists and more rural. These areas typically speak more Irish than English.

“I’ve learned that the level of language erasure in each part of the country has to do with the level of tourism in that part of the country,” said McDonnell.

McDonnell has been in Ireland for a little over a month now. In the short time McDonnell has spent in Ireland, she has visited Wicklow where she hiked along the mountains and Glendalough, Northern Ireland to see Giant’s Causeway, among other places. McDonnell’s favorite thing she has done is take a bus tour of Northern Ireland with her sister who came to visit.

However, Ireland is not the only country McDonnell has spent time in lately. “As it is so cheap to get to other European countries from Dublin, I have also been lucky enough to go on trips to Paris and Switzerland,” she said.

Last weekend, McDonnell met up with her mom, who was abroad on business, in Zurich, Switzerland. While there, the McDonnells enjoyed the festivities of Carnival, a hugely celebrated festival in Lucerne.

“Everyone was wearing elaborate costumes, little kids were tossing colorful confetti into the air, competing bands were playing against each other in the street, and free food was being passed our way from various vendors,” said McDonnell. “The city was old and colorful and when we walked along Lake Lucerne we had a breathtaking view of the mountains. I just got back today and can’t stop looking at the photos I took of all the excitement.”

Before coming to Dublin, McDonnell remarks that it was hard to leave home since she is so close to her family. “But studying abroad has been something I have dreamed of doing for years,” she said. “So I was determined not to let fear or homesickness stop me.”

McDonnell believes that students should study abroad because it introduces them to cultures of all kinds.

“I am studying in Ireland but I have students on my floor from Germany, Sweden, France, and China and I have learned so much already from my friendships with them,” said McDonnell. “Studying abroad allows you to expand your gaze of the world so that you have more than a single story of what life looks like. And it’s an adventure and an opportunity you may never get after college.”

For more information on how to study abroad, URI students are encouraged to visit the Office of International education located at 37 Lower College Road. Their office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.