The Power of a Coffee Cup

Guest Post By: Michaela Isaacs, a Junior studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through a Foster Exploration Seminar for Early Fall Start in Ireland, during 2022.

Everything in my life has a plan. Ask me where I’ll be next Tuesday at 8:45am and I’ll have an answer; my color coded, strategically organized, and meticulously thought-out paper planner has never failed to coordinate every moment of my life. From social plans, to my career, to my academics, I’ve never had the opportunity to experience “going with the flow”.

However, with the hectic nature of my summer schedule leading up to this trip, I simply was unable to plan out my study abroad agenda – I had no idea of what foods I wanted to try, or even any historical sights I might want to visit on my free-days. Additionally, I was incredibly stressed from work, and was struggling to find the space I needed to evaluate my life and current direction. Hence, I was truly hopping on the plane and for the first time in my life, “going with the flow”.

Rather than start with smaller reflections, noting the way the Irish ketchup pales in comparison to American ketchup, I’ll start with larger and more personal self reflections. Throughout this study abroad trip, I feel as though I have grown more as a person in a more condensed amount of time than I ever have; not only have I grown, but I’ve also made several key realizations.

Firstly, I realized that I’ve limited myself by continually constraining my actions and personality, taking myself too seriously and never giving myself the opportunity and space to evolve, change, and grow through experimentation and openness to new experiences. There’s one key moment on the program that showcases this. On our second to last night in Dublin, the members of my program and I were walking downtown and saw two men pushing a car down a street, attempting to start the engine. Previous to this trip, I would have steered clear, perhaps even crossing the street to avoid interaction. However, stemming from the way this trip has encouraged me to be more outgoing and open to new experiences, I ran over with several program members and helped push-start the car, successfully starting their engine. This is my favorite memory from the trip; not because it was the right thing to do, or because it makes for a great story and even better photos, but because it truly highlights just how much I’ve changed over three weeks.

Secondly, I realized that I judge myself far more than those around me do. This may sound ridiculous, but I’ve always been too embarrassed to dance in front of other people. I always considered myself to be professional, and put-together. But I realized that being professional and put-together doesn’t mean I can’t be fun, adventurous, and open to letting loose. I realized that I can have a balance between a successful academic and professional life and a healthy and fun personal life; karaoke nights included. I realized I need to find some definition of myself outside of my career, grades and extracurriculars, and that there’s nothing wrong with doing something I initially perceived as unproductive or not directly helping me achieve my ten year plan, like spending an evening dancing with friends.

Thirdly, I realized that you can’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. With my brother being an avid fisherman, you would have thought I would have fished before. However, with fishing being so far out of my comfort zone and list of desired activities, I never gave it a go. Fishing on the Irish coast, in Dingle, was by far my favorite activity, and I plan to start fishing with my brother in the fall. Who would have thought that I didn’t just reel in a fish, but rather a new outlook.

In regards to some slightly lighter takeaways, I’ve come away feeling more confident in my standing as a self-sufficient adult. From slipping a rib, to losing my drivers license in Galway and going to to the Garda station several times in attempt to track it down (never actually told my Dad about that), to getting my ears pierced on a whim (also didn’t tell Mom and Dad about that), to even something as simple as taking a taxi and flying internationally for the first solo, I’ve started to view myself as being a capable adult.

Heading into the trip, I was anxious about the lack of control I would have over my schedule and environment. But I’m happy to have learned that I am as flexible and easy going as I had hoped, and that I can in fact live in very close quarters with several people at a time, many of whom I wouldn’t have initially thought I would have been friends with. That brings me to my next point; I had such an incredible experience interacting and spending time with people who I most likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with, much less develop friendships with, had I not had the an accelerated environment that the program provided. This taught me that not all friendships blossom on the first meeting, but that that doesn’t mean that when they bloom they won’t be incredible.

Culturally, there are a few things that stuck with me. I will absolutely never get behind the idea of a pharmacy and a grocery store being completely independent, the lack of Targets (or one-stop shops), and how early all the shops and stores close. Additionally, I still am completely unsure as to whether pedestrians ever have the right of way. But I will get behind the relaxed and friendly culture, the enjoy-the-ride lifestyle, and the walkability of all the cities and towns. If had to sum up the Irish culture in one example, it would be with a coffee cup. The coffee shops I frequented nearly always assumed we were going to drink our coffee in-shop, and hence gave us big ceramic mugs. This symbolizes a lot; rather than the constant rush and hustle of the United States, which always provide to-go cardboard cups, the Irish prioritize the five or ten minutes it takes to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee, something I’ve never really done before. This leaves me with my largest takeaway, my final conclusion; living in Europe, and most certainly Ireland, is where I see myself in the future. I love the culture, the people, and the opportunity it allows for me to reinvent and reimagine myself.

In an overarching sense, by going with the flow for the first time in my life, and giving the fantastic program directors the reigns, I gave myself the opportunity to fully soak in the experience, develop and grow as a person free of any expectations, and fall in love with a new life and vision for myself.

I’d like to thank the UW Study Abroad for lifelong friends, incredible learning opportunities, and a life-changing three weeks. Special shoutout to Leta Beard, our Program Director, for fantastic surprises (rival only to a game show) and unparalleled budgeting and negotiation skills, and to Lindsey Friessnig, for always being a beam of positivity, keeping us on schedule, and always taking care of us.