Irish Heritage Tour As Seen Through the Eyes of a Student: Day 12

The Honors Program just completed its Irish Heritage Tour, where twenty-one students and two staff members traveled to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland from May 8th through the 19th. We have asked a number of students to blog about the journey, so each day is written from the perspective of a different student or staff member. Today's post was written by senior Honors Program student, Bethany Meadows. Bethany has already completed her Honors Capstone Project and will graduate in May 2018 with degrees in English and Integrated Language Arts Education. We hope you have enjoyed reading about our journey!

The journey back home after being in a foreign country is always a unique time. No one is ever exactly the same person when they come back as they were when they left; they've just had a plethora of new experiences that will forever shape who they are as a person. This is the second time I have been granted the fantastic opportunity to be shaped into a new person through an Honors Program trip. The first time was at the end of my freshman year on the Honors trip to Italy in May 2015. This time, on the Irish Heritage Tour, I am preparing to enter my senior year on campus and I wanted to share some points about what I've learned on these grand adventures and give some tips for those considering their own adventure.

Olivia holding a sweet lamb.
Focus on what unites people and cultures. Throughout my time spent internationally, I've observed that many people continue to focus on how different the particular place is from the United States. While I understand the need to contrast what we are used to against the unfamiliar, I find it much more rewarding to look at what makes humans the same. I try and focus on the universal "human condition," not the "Irish condition" or the "American condition." By taking notice of what makes people the same, we can unlock a much greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures. For example, I watched children play on a playground, laughing and giggling. With the veil of innocence that is universal, it reminded me that we are all the same at heart. Additionally, I watched couples express their love, elderly people share their wisdom, friends laugh at each other's jokes, and much more. These experiences are akin to our own no matter where we go, and by remembering that we are all on the same great journey, we can relate and understand others. 

American group leaders who made friends with our British tour guide.
Not all who wander are lost. Many times, the trips have an itinerary with loads of scheduled activities, which are all amazing in their own right. However, during free times, going off on an unknown adventure can be just as, if not more, rewarding. When you wander the streets without any destination (safely and in your group of three, of course), you unlock more about the culture. In the less busy areas of a city, you can find people shopping at a small local market or stumble upon a hidden gem of a pub that has the best food you've ever eaten. The bigger attractions are great, but these aren't the places that the locals frequent. If you can find those local establishments, you'll soon realizes that they reveal more than you could ever have imagined. As the Irish say, you need to mooch about; that is, walk around and hang out and observe everything.

Noah looking out over Edinburgh after a climb.
Disconnect from the virtual world. As much as I love to text, be on social media, and to google random things, I find it extremely freeing to not be tethered to my phone on a trip. Some people always try and find every wi-fi signal so that they can text, call their parents, snapchat, etc. However, sometimes reaching for our phones takes away from the moments that are happening now during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You will never be in this place with these same people again. At group dinners, there is a wonderful chance to actually talk about real issues and their lives instead of having their noses in their screens. Additionally, you are able to fully experience the mountains, cities, people, etc. when you aren't tied to the virtual world.

Connecting with each other.
Enjoy the small moments, despite setbacks. Some things will go wrong on a trip, but these moments do not have to define your entire trip. For example, jet lag and long plane rides give way to exhaustion; however, jet lag allows for more time to see everything on Day 1 and the long plan ride is just the start of the journey towards something fantastic. Moments that are unexpected or frustrating can become the fodder for inside jokes and stories for years to come. When you accept that things will go wrong, it allows you to appreciate all of the thousands of moments when everything goes right.

Getting lost might feel stressful for a moment, but sometimes the views are worth it!
I hope that you'll consider going on an Honors Program trip during your time at AU. These life-changing experiences are worth every moment. Adventure awaits!!

Haste ye back.


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