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Erica Szewczyk Smith '12 and her study abroad experience in Northern Ireland

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Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Connecting the Westminster community to the World through international travel and study-abroad provides enriching experiences and experiential learning opportunities that Westminster College's liberal arts curriculum celebrates. One alum, Erica Szewczyk Smith '12, still recalls her study abroad experience as one of her fondest life memories. As we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we lean into Erica's experience abroad in Northern Ireland when she was a student.

What was it like to study/travel abroad in Northern Ireland?

Studying abroad for a semester in Ireland was one of the best experiences of my life and remains some of my most cherished memories. I had an incredible time exploring the beautiful country and coast, the Republic of Ireland, and several other countries around the UK and Europe. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and what I'm capable of while navigating new places, people and challenges. To my surprise, I quickly adjusted to life at my new school, University of Ulster, Coleraine and felt the way I always did at Westminster, like I was home.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from Irish culture?

I was warmly welcomed as soon as I arrived in Northern Ireland by everyone I met. The biggest lessons I learned were about kindness, friendship, and enjoying life. When I first arrived on campus, a generous student I had never met before helped me find my flat I would stay in while abroad. I was assigned an "Irish Family" who welcomed me to their home several times for meals and helped once when I became sick without hesitation. Most importantly and surprisingly, I met and became friends with other students from Ireland, Belgium, Canada, and Spain to name a few. This core group of friends became my family and confidants while in Northern Ireland - we traveled to many countries together, shared meals, and even had a special Thanksgiving dinner in our flats on American Thanksgiving 2010. I am so thankful to keep in touch with many of them to this day.

How did Westminster College support you?

The Westminster College Study Abroad Office was integral in helping me make my dream of studying abroad in Northern Ireland a reality. I will always remember how supportive and helpful they were during my sophomore year in preparing and exploring options for studying in Northern Ireland, helping me apply to universities, and corresponding with my university to ensure my credits would transfer appropriately. One of my best memories of my time at Westminster College is when I was accepted to University of Ulster, Coleraine, Doreen Matune met me after my class in Old Main to surprise me with my acceptance letter and a Westminster College four leaf clover t-shirt. I would have never succeeded with my goal of studying abroad without Westminster's support and guidance - I always knew I could reach out to the team in the Study Abroad office while I was in Northern Ireland for any questions I had or help I needed.

To learn more about Westminster College's Office of Global Engagement, visit here.