In Fall 2014, Iain Gould ’16 (Columbia, MO), a Transnational Studies major, spent his semester studying abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK.
What is something you had no idea you would get to do, but did?
I had no idea that I would have the opportunity to be in the University’s Hairspray musical. I heard about it through some friends that I made early on. I’m inherently a shy person, and being on a stage in front of people is not something I normally pursue. However, I decided that I wanted to broaden my horizons. I figured if I messed up I was already leaving in a few weeks anyway. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and it was a great way to meet new people. Needless to say, it also helped me with my public speaking. I am hoping to take on small roles in plays here at Westminster now as well.
Did the experience change you? How?
I have found myself to be more confident and independent. I am more willing to undertake challenging tasks or positions. I am also more willing to ask important questions. I’m not afraid to look stupid for asking for more information. I’m also less interested in certain social scenes than I was before. Now I’d rather spend my free time getting to know my home state’s history and its natural phenomena better. I was often disappointed by how little my Irish classmates knew about their history and geographical highlights.
What is your favorite memory from your trip?
We took an ERASMUS field trip to the north coast. When we got to a rope bridge, the guys from my apartment and I ran ahead of the group and got there before anybody else. It was really windy and the waves were getting bigger. Unfortunately, the bridge was closed. We watched the waves crashing against the side of the cliffs instead and talked about trying to find a boat to take out on the water. The view was spectacular. We did the same thing at the Giant’s Causeway. We got there first and climbed some columns as close to the edge as we could. Then we just stood there shouting at each other and pointing at the waves rolling in. It was a big deal for me, being from the Midwest and only going to the beach once when I was really young.
If you knew then, what you know now, what would you tell yourself if you could go back to before you left on your trip?
Have as much communication with your host institution as possible and research the place you are visiting as much as you can. I had a class my freshman year where we were told that to be happy with something, you had to not have expectations for it. I always thought that was an interesting view and took it to mean I should actively try NOT to learn about Belfast before going over. That didn’t turn out very well and led me to be unprepared. Now I think that the author of the book was wrong. You will always have expectations, but if you do research and get to know what a thing is before you see it, then at least you will have a basic understanding of it; your expectations will be realistic, and you will be better prepared.
What do you think is the most important thing you learned through the experience?
Traveling abroad is never going to work out exactly how you think it will. You will always run into something you didn’t plan on. For me I ran into trouble with the UK border agency due to miscommunication between my host University and myself. That being said, you learn a lot about yourself and your own abilities to overcome those challenges. However, the tedious legal switchbacks were well worth the hassle. The Irish country was absolutely stunning and the people were very friendly.