Study Abroad

Spring Break in Zagreb with student blogger Molly Dubois

A skillet full of zucchini and carrots next to a cutting board covered in cauliflower rest on a wooden table.

This is the third post in a series of blogs from HECUA’s student correspondent in Northern Ireland: Molly Dubois. Molly is a senior at the University of Minnesota, pursuing an individualized degree in Youth Studies, Political Science, and Democracy and Social Change through the College of Continuing Education’s Intercollege Program. For Molly’s take on her first weeks of study abroad in Northern Ireland, click here.

Next Chapter

I am writing you today from sunny Zagreb, Croatia. It is spring break for my program, and while I have tried to spend as much time as possible in Northern Ireland during these few months to become rooted, I am thrilled to be here. I am visiting a close and inspirational friend and former instructor whom I had the privilege of learning from in the past. She grew up in this region, and works diligently towards progressive and inclusive social change within it. I am partially here to visit and travel, but also to help in any way possible as her organization prepares to co-host a conference and workshops on refugee and migrant entrepreneurship. It is a true privilege to be here along side her in her own context.

While in Zagreb I will also be responsible for finishing some of my own research and reports before returning home to Derry/Londonderry. Though this week will surely fly by, I deeply appreciate this opportunity to again step outside of what I’m familiar with and experience something different. Stepping away, even for just a bit, has always seemed give perspective to my personal understanding and ambitions. Reflecting on opportunities of this nature and their relationship to my lived experience has inspired me to present this post on chapters to you.

It is officially spring on this side of the equator, and in many places it is finally starting to feel that way. The changing of the seasons seems a natural invitation to be mindful for many, myself included. Perhaps it is the birth of animals, the smell of fresh air and the sounds of our defrosting planet, or the lengthened kiss of the sun, nonetheless, many of us love to love spring. I find something particularly beautiful in what spring evokes in individuals. To me there seems a contagious optimism that blooms alongside the flowers which demands a hope for growth, passage, and in this case of my own stride, an opportunity for a new chapter.

I have a love for pinpointing chapters of my life. It helps me explore my growth and clarify potential strains in what comes next for me and mine. I am fueled and fulfilled by stories and enjoy thinking of life in that way. I am warmed by my own belief that lived stories are personal and yet extraordinarily interconnected. 

Landscape photograph in Northern Ireland with yello flowers and

It rains a lot in Northern Ireland, but that’s why it’s so green. 

I find when it comes to my life, the beginning of a chapter can be hard to place if it is not organized and intentionally defined. Each day contains a plethora of transitions! I can say what my current chapter would be in this HECUA program. It began the evening I finished my junior year at the University of Minnesota. Upon handing in an in class final examination essay on the pros and cons of the privatization of war, my train ride home felt different. I had good knowledge in the months preceding that I would be leaving for Northern Ireland and embarking on a new voyage, but it did not feel like a tangible reality to me until I walked out of Blegan Hall and onto the Green Line, ending that beautiful  chapter: Junior Year.

The weeks that would follow were the organized starting points, the truest introduction to where I am now. I went to New York for the first time to visit a dear friend of mine from several years back. Navigating the city of dreams with a friend who had followed her own was all I could have hoped for to focus my own intentions on this new beginning. I ate the food, saw the sights, got lost on the subway, got lost in myself, and found that some connections never change no matter when and where they are revisited. I have yet to properly assert the amount of gratitude I have for Megan and her lovely friends for their flawless hosting of this fresh chapter. Nonetheless, I selfishly acknowledge that the experience I had with them and myself  was instrumental in my experience well past my departure from them.

I landed in Northern Ireland and was welcomed with warmth by Paul, a wonderful man who is a close friend and colleague to my mentor back in the states. Paul helped me in my jet-lagged state place myself in a context so different from my own. I was blessed to be connected to some wonderful people with hearts in the land and society I would be interacting with for the rest of my program. When my program officially started on the second of February, I felt beautifully confused, welcomed, and overwhelmed with the weight of what was ahead of me.

I’ve gone from meeting new people, seeing new places, learning new things, to just now mentally and physically preparing to leave this space. While I still consider myself an outsider, I’ve also come to consider this place a home. I feel this chapter nearing its ending. Synchronistic phenomenons further this feeling. During my week in New York I navigated from Brooklyn to Manhattan and experienced the world of theatre, more specifically Phantom of the Opera and Broadway, with someone I love. On this side of the world I’ve worked at The Playhouse Theatre, celebrating their 25th year with a masquerade ball that featured an immaculate and innovative performance of Phantom of the Opera and a collaborative work with the National Theatre, all the while exploring and building beautiful relationships and experiences.

In this chapter I’ve been hosted and have hosted others emotionally and physically. I have played. I have asked what masks I wear, what roles I play, and why I act in the manner I do, how others characters and events are connected to me and myself them, and I have taken control by letting go of control as to what may be on the next page or in the next scene of this story. I am in love in this story, deeply so, with each and every word of it, audible or not.

It is a beautiful note that I will be carrying so much of this chapter into my next. Many of those in my program, who I did not know when starting this chapter will be returning to the Twin Cities. Others, such as those who have guided my studies, internship, or simply checked how I was getting on should be sure to expect letters and calls. As for those I have worked with, in particular the group of Dutch Art Education Masters Students I helped organize and became close with, it is my hope to attend their senior presentations and visit as I have been invited to. I am thrilled to have so many beautiful people to invite into my arms and home as they have for me. I know time and life will change the dynamics and logistics of our connections. I have no doubt, however, that even those not geographically near will harbor a connection that will not fade, due to the space and time of growth and connection we have managed to share here. Unity after all, is different than proximity.

So yes, my chapter of rolling hills, walking Strand Road, talking and working with extraordinary ordinary people of all ages and backgrounds, watching Netflix in bed with my flatmates while eating Zora’s Takeout, visiting the sea, castles, and historic spaces, reading Jonathan Swift on the train, enjoying a quality Guinness, and really looking in on myself and my country from a different perspective is coming to an end. My program ends in 27 days. After that, I will go to Germany to visit a friend who studied as an international student at my high school, and his family. From there, I’ll visit a good friend from England who worked at a summer camp in Minnesota with me and his family. Then it’s back to Northern Ireland to meet my mother and sister, show them the island, and introduce them to some very special people. After I send my overweight suitcase back with them, I intend to go and visit friends in the Netherlands as well as the Balkans.

I have decided to declare the end of this chapter abroad to be my return to the states. I will return ready to get to work on efforts of bettering democracy and social change at home. I will do so with the help of the experience and reflection I have gained through my time in a place and with people working towards the same in their own contexts. I am glad to know I will always carry the lessons I have learned here with me, and am elated to move forward with them in a new chapter.

This next chapter is due to be another one of excitement for me as it marks the beginning to a different end: my undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. Not only will I return to my beautiful family, friends, community,  and cat, but I will also be finishing off the chapter of my undergraduate career. I am thrilled for my courses. I will be taking a course on program evaluations for youth work, teaching and learning with media as a mode of civic engagement for young people, mass communication, modern political thought in the environment of revolution, democracy and empire, a sculpture course, and  lecture lab combo on the chemistry of food and cooking. After completing those, I will graduate in December with a degree I have created and poured myself into, a degree and lived experience that would not be the same if it were not for my participation in this program and all the relationships I have been blessed with along the way. I am elated to see what the end of that chapter will lead to in the ones that follow.

Red circular sign marking the entrance to an underground metro tunnel.

Minding the gap between now and when I return home. 

The End.

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