Georgetown is a different kind of place during the spring semester. There’s the obvious stuff: the euphoric lure of Spring Break, the anticipation of cherry blossom season, the excitement of the first warm and sunny afternoon, Frisbee on Copley Lawn, radios blaring from Village B windows and overly eager Hoyas proudly wearing shorts at the first hint of warm weather. This is Georgetown in the springtime.

But Georgetown is different in the spring for another more subtle reason: Students are missing. A significant portion of students, particularly juniors, goes abroad each spring, taking a bit of Georgetown with it. Absent students make Georgetown a different place to be in some ways – campus is a little quieter, a little emptier. And as someone who chose to participate in the mass exodus from Georgetown last year at this time, I find myself finally able to reflect on my study abroad experience.

When my plane took off for my semester-long journey to Ireland last January, I was more than ready to go. I couldn’t wait to leave Georgetown behind me for a while, and I couldn’t have been more confident about my decision to study abroad. Growing up with a European parent, I traveled often and learned to adapt to different cultures at an early age. Ireland had the obvious advantage of a common language, so I figured I’d fit right in. I was ready to be little Ms. Independent for six months.

Within hours of my arrival on the Emerald Isle, I had been knocked off my high horse. I was no longer the cultured and capable world traveler. I was the tired and cold little girl who couldn’t even figure out how to get the electricity to function in her small and dark apartment. I was the idiot who couldn’t understand a single word the bus driver said because of his strong Irish lilt. I was the klutz who fumbled with her change and couldn’t figure out one form of currency from another. I was the perpetual lost soul who asked for directions at every turn. I was the shivering wimp who slept in her earmuffs and gloves every night because her window was broken and the cold Irish winds whipped into her room. I was the weirdo who requested skim milk with her cereal and received a horrified stare from the waitress – apparently, whole milk was the only way to go.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. Not at all. I had a positive study abroad experience. I met amazing people, visited unforgettable tourist attractions and discovered lots of hidden local treasures. Ireland gave me lots of moments to savor. And a year later, not a day goes by that I don’t remember my time there with a smile.

But none of that stuff really matters. The most important thing about my trip was not the trip itself. It doesn’t really matter where I went or who I met or what I did. Instead, what is important is what my study abroad experience taught me about myself and about my relationship to Georgetown.

I’ve been at this school for over three years. I have three years of memories and experiences on the Hilltop. But my most important revelations about Georgetown came in the six short months that I was away. Being 3,000 miles away from campus, my entire view of Georgetown changed completely. At the risk of sounding sentimental, my time away transformed Georgetown from just another university to a place I call home.

When I chose to go abroad, I liked Georgetown but didn’t truly appreciate it. Sure, I had friends I liked, classes I liked and a job I liked, but I was more than ready to leave all that behind without too much sentimental attachment to the Hilltop. But when I got to Ireland, everything changed. I missed everything about this school. And I mean everything: the smell of New South brunch on weekends, the clang of the garbage trucks outside LXR at daybreak, the constant commotion of Red Square, local residents walking their yappy little dogs across campus, chai-slurping medical students pulling all-nighters in Leavey. It was all the little stuff – stuff I never thought I’d miss. But I did. I missed it all and couldn’t wait to get back. And for the first time, I realized that Georgetown is my school, and there’s nowhere I would rather be.

They say that every student who goes abroad gets something different out of the experience. I couldn’t agree more. I loved Ireland. I learned a lot about another culture and assimilated into a new way of life. But the most important thing I learned was the fact that Georgetown is the right place for me, and I never appreciated it enough before. For me, the best thing about my trip was not the people I met or the experiences I had. The best thing for me was boarding the plane at the end of my semester and knowing I was heading back to a school I truly love. And that’s the greatest gift of all.

Clare McMahon is a senior in the College.

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