Megan Hughes, a junior from Tampa, Florida, is studying Business Analytics with a minor in Sustainability. Megan studied at Dublin City University in the fall of 2022, though her decision to go abroad was not as straightforward as it is for most Notre Dame students. As a member of Army ROTC and the Notre Dame Women's Cross Country and Track & Field teams, saying "yes" to Dublin meant giving up a carefully crafted balance between Academics, Athletics, and Army for a wide-open semester free from the routine that characterized her first two years at the University. Megan reflects on her journey in Ireland and how what initially seemed like saying "no" to commitments at Notre Dame transformed into a beautiful "yes” — to Dublin and to a newfound sense of self.
Whether it be the consequence of a strong family tradition or some other inner surety, the trajectory of my young life has always been very clear to me. Until I arrived at college, my approach to life had been steeped in a confident direction and discipline from which I rarely wavered. In my mind, Notre Dame was always the ultimate goal, and every day, I am so grateful to attend Our Lady’s University. But what followed upon arriving on campus in August of 2020, I was less prepared for. After years of knowing exactly what I wanted my life to look like, a foreign thought crept into my head, one that I could not shake. Now what? The “Notre Dame dream” had suddenly come into focus—transforming from an abstract concept to a lived experience—but there was no blueprint for what came next. The four years sprawled out in front of me were an enigma as I set out to answer that lingering question.
At first, I took comfort in the routine and structure provided by academics, athletics, and participation in Army ROTC, chasing after goals and aspirations in each and working to create a balance between them. After a bit of a rough start during the pandemic, I was happy, to be sure, that I successfully managed all three and found myself thriving (on paper, at least) in this new environment. But as I passed through my sophomore year, the gnawing question became something more complex. The concept of studying abroad had lived in the back of my mind all this time, but it did not flow logically from how my college experience was taking form.
On what felt like a whim, I submitted an application to study in Dublin just before the deadline. Suddenly, January 2022 came, and I found myself with an acceptance letter and a monumental decision to make. There are no do-overs when it comes to your four years of college, and I knew I wanted to make the most of it… but did that mean going or staying? The chance to study abroad was one of a lifetime. Still, it came with risks tied to my commitments on campus and vacating the comfort and security of Notre Dame that I had become so accustomed to. Fear of the unknown loomed over me for months as I struggled to choose whether to remain in South Bend or go to Dublin. During this intense discernment, I realized the decision had to be my own; try as they might, close friends and family could not make it for me. For many reasons, deciding whether to go abroad was one of the most difficult choices I have ever made. I ultimately said yes, and while I still wrestled with it all summer, some part of me knew it would be the decision that I looked back on in 20 years gratefully, fondly, and unapologetically.
Fast-forward to September 4, and I find myself on a plane heading to Dublin. It felt like the first time I had deviated from expectations and the logical “flow” of the version of college that had been playing out in front of me. But just a few weeks into the program, on a trip with 52 other Notre Dame students to Glendalough and the Monastic City in Co. Wicklow, I had never been more sure of anything in my life. Hiking the upper ridge of a valley dotted with grazing sheep on a beautiful, sunny day with new friends, I thought: This is what I signed up for. There is nothing quite like a wave of certainty after months of dwelling in doubt, and it found me there in that moment. In many moments just like it over the following months, I rediscovered a love of nature and cherished both the excitement of a new place and the still and quiet in between, especially on walks through the city, the coastal trails in the West of Ireland, and my European adventures. Finally, free from stress and worry, I could just be.
Meeting new people and being forced into situations where the only way out was through held valuable lessons and the start of lasting friendships. Despite my initial hesitations, I began noticing the freeness with which I threw myself into the unknown and tried new things, which would have otherwise been, on the whole, uncharacteristic of me. I grew proud of the person I was becoming in such a short amount of time. While in Ireland and traveling throughout Europe, I engaged with new challenges and opportunities in ways I never thought I would and continually surprised myself in discovering my potential to be independent. Routine still found its way there, but instead took shape in class dinners during the week, Sunday evening Mass at Newman University Church, learning the Irish language and playing games at Notre Dame’s O’Connell House on Wednesday nights, becoming regulars at a nearby pub, and training with the athletics club at Dublin City University. The dilemma I once felt trapped in became laughable as I embraced the possibilities brought by each new day in Ireland. I looked forward to every class, every casual exchange, every trip, and every chance to immerse myself in Irish culture.
There is something extraordinary about the unique setting Notre Dame has created for international study to become a transformative and deeply meaningful life experience. Trips throughout Ireland, experiential learning, and the sense of a second “home” at O’Connell House laid the foundation for some truly incredible memories and connections I simply would not have had the opportunity to forge back home. The few dozen strangers with whom I had crossed paths at the Notre Dame Dublin Global Gateway back in September became a tight-knit community of friends and mentors I could confide in, laugh with, and fully enjoy all of the wonderful experiences we managed to fit into a few short months. I emerged from my time in Dublin with a newfound confidence, a deeper sense of self, and an enriched perspective open to whatever my next chapter may have in store. More than anything, the semester reinforced that life and all the opportunity it holds is truly a gift, not to be wasted on the notion that every path has to be perfect and logical—especially from an outside perspective—for it to mean something. Looking back, I am forever grateful for saying “yes,” because the promise of that “yes” held a beautiful answer.
Learn more about opportunities in Dublin.
Originally published by dublin.nd.edu on March 20, 2023.at