Home from home: The lifelong connection you will feel with your study abroad destination
By Charissa Roberson
Growing up in Maryland, USA, Charissa Roberson wanted to broaden her study experience - so she signed up for a semester abroad at Ulster University in the fall of 2019. In three short months she rediscovered her love for learning, became familiar with the area’s multifaceted history, built lifelong friendships and gained an appreciation for a cup of tea. She shares why she thinks you should choose Northern Ireland as your study destination.
I had the pleasure of studying abroad at Ulster University, Magee Campus, in the Cinematic Arts programme. Those three months I spent in Northern Ireland were and still remain some of the best of my life. I loved the gorgeous scenery, the complex history, the colourful lingo, the stunning rainbows and the rousing, heart-tugging music. I learnt to properly appreciate a good cup of tea (with some custard creams) and to always be prepared for rain. But more than anything I fell in love with the city of Derry and the people I met there. As a country girl I was a little worried about living in the city but in Derry I never felt unsafe. Within weeks I was comfortable navigating the city and by the time I left, it felt like home.
'I loved the gorgeous scenery, the complex history, the colourful lingo, the stunning rainbows and the rousing, heart-tugging music.'
Northern Ireland is a wonderful place to live. I lived in Coppin House right along the Foyle River; I could see the sunrise over the water from my window every morning. I would frequently go on runs or walks along the river, across the stunning Peace Bridge, or through the many beautiful parks around the city, such as St. Colomb’s Park across the river or Brooke Park on the city side. I also loved walking around the 400-year-old walls surrounding Derry’s old city and learning more about the area’s multifaceted history. No matter how many times I explored the city centre I never got tired of seeing the Peace Bridge arching over the glimmering river or looking back to see the Guildhall against the sky.
Derry is a fascinating city but it was the people that made my time there unforgettable. Everyone was so friendly, kind and willing to listen. I became close to many of the international students who were at Magee. For example, while living in Coppin House I shared accommodation with a number of international students from Germany, Portugal, India and the USA, as well as some local students. We regularly had ‘family dinners’ in our dining room with each of us contributing a dish. We also enjoyed movie nights, games and cups of tea together. Before long we really did feel like a family. On Thanksgiving my American friend and I were missing the usual feast and festivities we would have back home - so all our flat mates came together and prepared traditional dishes with us and decorated our common room for a fantastic Thanksgiving feast. That day is one of my favourite memories.
'Before long we really did feel like a family.'
I thoroughly enjoyed the Cinematic Arts modules I took at Magee. My professors were professional filmmakers and script readers who were currently working in the industry; as such they had a wealth of practical knowledge to pass on. Our classes were longer than I was used to but a lot of the time was spent in practicals; where we put into practice what we had learnt. Also unlike university in the USA, we were not swamped with homework. We had a few major assignments that we were expected to be working on throughout the semester, but we were not assigned loads of busywork. This gave me time to breathe, enjoy my surroundings, invest in my relationships with other people and even enjoy my learning more.
I hope and pray that I will be able to return to Derry someday soon. Those three months that I called the city my home were truly some of the best of my life. When I finally had to say goodbye it broke my heart to see the skyline disappear into the distance. I have so many wonderful memories of that place and the precious friends I gained from my time there. Despite the distance, I still keep in touch with many of them and cannot wait until I see them again. I am so grateful to have studied and lived in Derry and I would highly recommend a semester (or longer!) to any student.
'I am so grateful to have studied and lived in Derry and I would highly recommend a semester (or longer!) to any student.'