Students who study abroad usually pack along their laptop, some jumpers, and lots of socks. For her study abroad semester in Dublin, UC Irvine student Rachel Johnson brought along something far more precious – her three-year-old daughter Amelia! Read our Q&A with Rachel to learn more about her experience, and how having Amelia with her made it all the richer.
1. Could you introduce yourself please?
My name is Rachel Johnson and I attend UC Irvine where I study art history. I am currently studying abroad at the University College Dublin and have had the great privilege to study abroad last summer in Florence. Both trips have been made with my favorite travel buddy, my daughter Amelia.
2. Why did you choose Dublin for your study abroad experience?
When it came time to pick a program again it was important to me that my daughter Amelia and I be in a family oriented culture. This was something that was so unexpectedly special about our time in Italy. Italians embraced Amelia and went out of their way to meet her; in so many ways she bridged the gap between culture and language because no matter where you go in the world everyone identifies with being a parent or having kids. It’s a really beautiful thing to behold the generosity and kindness of strangers. Ireland is a country traditionally known for being family-centered and welcoming to travelers with children, making my choice to study abroad in Dublin a perfect location!
3. What made you decide to bring Amelia along with you for both Florence and Dublin? How has her accompanying you affected your experience?
Plain and simple, I couldn’t imagine not bringing her! So it wasn’t a matter if she would come or not but essentially how we would make that happen and where we could go. And honestly, I think she makes the experience a better one. [I get] to see things that I wouldn’t otherwise see, and slow down at her pace to enjoy the experience rather than ticking off a list of things to see and do. Time slows down and every moment is savored. How many sights I would overlook without her tiny hand leading me to every park and playground in the world. So much beauty I would miss without her little eyes to light up at every puddle, duck to feed, or flower to admire. Every detail we pass is ingrained in my memory forever because her small feet force me to keep her pace. Traveling the world with a child allows you the privilege of seeing the world as it truly is —beauty and wonder in all the little things. She brings so much joy to my life and the lives of everyone we meet, and I probably would not make as many friends or wonderful memories if I didn’t travel with Amelia.
4. What has been the most difficult part of your study abroad experience?
Where to begin with that question! Studying abroad for many students comes with its own challenges and bumps in the road. In my own experience, this has been magnified by being a single parent and wanting to bring my daughter along. I am completely on my own in providing my own housing and childcare as well as covering the additional costs of bringing Amelia. It’s easy to think that the hardest part of studying abroad is the getting there and you forget how difficult the journey is once you’re through on the other side, but the journey is never really over. That’s the lesson I’m learning this time in Ireland. We may have gotten here but nothing had went the way I had planned.
Within a month of arriving to Dublin my housing situation changed overnight for the worst, I was given a week to find a new place to live without warning or explanation. Scrambling to find housing in Dublin is a nightmare and with a child is pretty much hell. I had heard a hundred thousand no’s before finally hearing a yes but we kept persevering, we tried and tried again and we kept the faith. I guess I’m rambling all this honesty and messiness of studying abroad because it’s easy to think that traveling is Instagram perfect, caught between the filters of perfection, sublime beauty in frame, captioned by inspirational quotes and musings. While that is partly true it’s also fraught with uncertainty, discomfort, everyday difficulties, and a whole lot of winging it. But this difficult experience reminded me that THIS is where we are supposed to be, doing what we are meant to do. This journey makes us strong, it makes us resilient, it makes us warriors. Sometimes we just need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, continue down the road ahead and remind ourselves how strong we truly are.
5. What has been the most rewarding?
Now I hope I haven’t scared anyone off from studying abroad from that crazy anecdote because it has a happy ending, I promise. Studying abroad has again reminded me of my own personal strength and resolve. I’ve been greeted by the kindness of perfect strangers who help us out each and everyday, I would not be able to take on the nature of a feat like this that is so much bigger than myself without the friends we have made along the way. It reminds me that the world is still very much good and there’s a global community of people who will always love and support us no matter where we go. I have learned to take comfort in the unexpected, some things are better left unplanned, that anything is possible, and sometimes the universe has had a bigger plan all along and sometimes just sometimes it’s more wonderful than I could have ever imagined.
6. How has being abroad impacted your or changed your life?
I am immersed in a country so rich in culture, history, art, and architecture; Paradise for an art history major. I am enrolled in intensive courses pertaining to Irish history, heritage, and art, which I would never have the opportunity to take at the University of California, Irvine. For example, this semester I am taking an art history course in Irish Painting, a history of the relationship between Ireland and the United States, and an archaeology class that takes field trips around Ireland to understand the landscape as a document of heritage.
These classes not only count for my major but grant me a level of learning outside the classroom that I would have never had access to at my home university. There have already been so many moments that brought me to tears because I was in the presence of such beauty and artistic masterpieces created by the hands of the greats. It was truly a sublime and visceral glimpse into the past that connects us to the human condition of history.
I been blessed by once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to live and study abroad, moments that I will cherish forever. I think studying abroad should live on longer than a summer, or a quarter — it’s not a one-time experience you have in college — instead, it continues to live on in our lives as we become ambassadors to those around us in our communities and around the world. I want to continue to share how study abroad has changed my life and how it can change others regardless of situations or socioeconomic backgrounds. Through my journey as an underrepresented student, I, in turn, hope to continue being a testament to what can be accomplished through hard work and determination and to inspire others to always pursue their dreams.
6. What is your advice for students who are thinking about studying abroad?
GO! DO IT! NOW! But really, I see so many students who say they want to study abroad or travel but the next part of that sentence is, “but… I’m graduating soon”, or “I’m a _____ major”, or they even start the process and then give up when they realize there’s deadlines, paperwork, or any kind of difficulty. It makes me sad to hear the excuses that people make for not living their dreams; if you want something bad enough, then work hard to achieve it. Anyone, anywhere, from any socioeconomic background or education level has the potential and opportunity to seize the life changing benefits of seeing the world (and trust me it’s worth it!). With that said, I am always happy to extend my own personal experiences or advice to anyone who wants to hear more about the process of how I studied abroad or just wants to chat about travel adventures. Just reach out and get in touch!