Story by Bridget Gibley, Culture Editor
Photos courtesy of Bridget Gibley
On January 14, twelve Aquinas students got on a plane and waved goodbye to the States for the semester. After three planes, one long bus ride, and over a full 24 hours of traveling, we made it to Tully Cross, Ireland. By the time we got there, though, it was dark, so we went to bed not knowing what the town looked like. But in the morning, we woke to scenic landscapes, mountains in our backyard, and a whole semester’s worth of surprises.
Three months later, I have fallen in love with this place. Leading up to the trip, people kept saying that this program would change all of us completely, and I remember thinking it could never live up to the way past program participants talked about it. I was wrong.
Every day, I wake up in a cottage only twenty minutes away from the beach. I go on hikes with the amazing Tully Cross Twelve (our affectionate name for our group, smaller than in previous years) and our program instructors, the Bortons and their daughter, Posie. We make turf fires, with varying levels of success. We eat veg soup and chips at the pub and talk with the locals who have seen over forty years of Aquinas students come through Tully Cross.
I keep thinking about how unique this program is, and how lucky I am to be here. In any other study abroad program, we’d be living with either host families or in dorms. But here, we live in cottages in the heart of a community. And this community has embraced us so wholly. Coming from a city like Grand Rapids, I’m always pleasantly surprised when we walk into the pub and are greeted by name.
On our second night here, someone told us to talk to him if we needed anything at all over the next four months. “You’re far from home, but… you’re home,” he said, and this statement could not have been more true.
One of the biggest challenges, for me, is to not let this trip become everyday. Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in February? Been there, done that. Hiking up (and only barely sliding down) a mountain in incredible wind? No big deal. Learning how to navigate airports and metro stations (sometimes in different languages)? Just another day.
It’s easy for me to walk past a window and not stop to take in the view. After all, they’re the same mountains every day. But we’re not the same people every day. We have been changing in so many different ways over the course of this semester. So I try to remind myself of that– and when I pass a window, I remember that first morning, how amazing it felt to realize, for the first time, where I was. And it still feels new and wonderful. If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
Bridget Gibley is a junior at Aquinas studying English, Spanish and Women’s Studies. She thrives on reading, writing, and lots of coffee.