“How did I, from little lake Elsinore California, get to travel the world, get to study abroad and end up meeting somebody who is so absolutely wonderful followed by the opportunity to live here in Dublin now. This is crazy. I would have never imagined that a year ago when I was about to study abroad.”
Rachel Byrne graduated from the University of California Irvine this past year and is living an amazing life in Dublin, Ireland. On a day dedicated to thankfulness I wanted to share this interview with a gracious and wonderful woman who has embraced studying abroad to the fullest. Please continue reading below to hear Rachel’s story.
Rachel took on not one but two study abroad programs as a single mother during her undergraduate degree at UCI. She was holding her one month old daughter, Florence, while we conducted this interview and beamed at her four-year-old daughter Amelia as she sat by listening to our conversation.
I started by asking Rachel why she chose Ireland as a study abroad destination:
“It’s an interesting process selecting a programme as a parent because there are many things that normal students studying abroad don’t have to think about when looking at a map and pointing your finger thinking “I want to go here!”
I had gone through this process once before when I had studied abroad in Italy the year prior to my Ireland programme. This wasn’t supposed to necessarily happen again but I thought “oh I want to study abroad again!” I saw it as a glass half full situation, if it happens, great, if it doesn’t it doesn’t we’ll just see. I felt super fortunate to have already gone once prior.
When I studied abroad in Italy it was in Florence and the most important aspect of Italy to me was the family-centric culture. When I was thinking about where I wanted to go a second time I loved the family culture of Ireland and the community base where everybody cares about their neighbours. Ireland struck me as a place that would uphold those values.
I know it’s a stereotype to perceive of Ireland as a place where anybody will help you on the side of the road like you see in movies but it’s a real thing that I get to experience now living here. Over and over and over again the amount of help I received during my programme was overwhelming. What makes travel so valuable for me is that finding that everybody around the world has kids and everyone is happy to help. The English language really helped to minimise struggle as a parent. “Ireland is the perfect place to have kids and I fell in love with it living out here. Now I get to take it at a slower pace which was the fun part of studying abroad– I realised halfway through once I had met Rob that I would be back. Home is still California, I still have family and I still have friends. I got to go to graduation at the end of December after University College Dublin’s semester was done and back to UCI to finish my last quarter.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about last year and how involved UCEAP were in helping Amelia and I. It’s just so touching and it means the world to me. I have to look at each individual person who has touched my life even if it’s just a conversation. I think back to all of the conversations I’ve had with people in the study abroad office when things looked doubtful and they said “no, no, no you can do it, you got this”.
When I asked her how she met her dashing Irish husband Rob, Rachel told me this beautiful story:
“When I was studying abroad in Italy I brought a friend who watched Amelia but this time around I had to find my own childcare in this country so that was definitely stressful. It all came together and then fell apart when I got here but I got here!
When I arrived, I was living with a single mother from Italy, planning to help each other with childcare and only paying 400 euros a month in rent. It was all perfect and I jumped on it, taking that big leap of faith to count on other people which is a scary part of studying abroad.
Sometimes you really have to count on other people to pull through or just the help of strangers. Or often you have to find that strength inside and figure it out for yourself.
As early as October, Rachel was given one week’s notice to move out without any warning.
“I was left freaking out. Caroline, the lady who put me in that house, felt responsible and so she began helping me find a new place to live. On Thursday, Rob (my husband) put up an add on a whim to advertise a couple extra rooms that he has in his house.
At 10:30 at night Caroline calls him and says “I have this American girl, she’s really sweet, would you be happy to meet her?” She actually hadn’t been calling any men because she didn’t feel comfortable putting me into a house with guys but he had written online that he had kids so she thought he sounds like a stand-up single dad. The next day we meet and it hadn’t even crossed my mind but once I got here and I was sitting here waiting I thought “what if he is a cute dad?? What happens??” And he gets out of the car and I thought “aw damn… he’s super cute.”
We just shook hands and it was just magic. I love sappy movies but I didn’t believe in that stuff personally—that kind of stuff happens to other people. But I moved in on Sunday and by the next Friday we went on a date. It took five days and we’d already been on a date –and we knew!
It’s one of those things that you hear people talk about in but when you know you know. Both being single parents we were both very serious and knew we didn’t need to date for a long time. A month later he’d already proposed and a month after that, right before I was about to leave, I found out I was pregnant and we thought “oh my gosh, we’re having a child!” which was crazy. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to top this year in terms of the fun and excitement and having so much to celebrate.
It just goes to show is that anything can happen. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you find love or a relationship in another country but if you’re open to saying yes, which is what studying abroad is, showing up every day saying yes to doing something unexpected, out of your comfort level, meeting people, leaning a language, trying new food then you are opening yourself up to what study abroad is supposed to do to you as a person which is change your life.