To those unsure of where to study abroad: if you want a primarily English-speaking, LGBTQ+ friendly country, freedom to choose whichever classes you want, a rich culture, and even an opportunity to ride horses for college credit, I highly recommend the University of Limerick.
I wanted a study abroad experience that reflected my academic and cultural interests, and I intend to work in thoroughbred horse racing after graduation, so an equine studies program was essential. Secondly, I wanted to study somewhere with acceptance towards LGBTQ+ people and a culture different from the one I was used to. Ireland was immediately on my radar due to the cultural significance of thoroughbred racing as well as their strong record on LGBTQ+ rights as of late. The unique culture of Ireland drew me in, as it is primarily English-speaking yet vastly different from the United States in many ways. Because Goucher had no programs in Ireland, I decided to look beyond Goucher programs. Finally, I stumbled across a program which ended up being the perfect fit for me: The University of Limerick.
The University of Limerick draws a significant amount of study abroad students each year due to the ease of application and acceptance into the program. During the 2023 spring semester alone there are approximately 500 study abroad students from countries ranging from the United States, to Taiwan and Spain. International students can take almost any class they desire from any grade level, so long as it fulfills requirements set out by their home university.
Because Goucher gave me freedom to take almost any class, I chose to take four equine science classes and one Irish history class. One of these equine science classes, Equestrian Skill Analysis, is a class which involves a two hour riding session every week, in addition to lectures and assignments. Yes, at University of Limerick, you can gain college credit by spending half a day at an Irish farm learning about horses and spending two hours riding. This class has been an unforgettable experience.
The city of Limerick is known as a large Irish city, but pales in comparison to the size of Baltimore. Coming from Goucher, Limerick was hardly intimidating and I learned my way around almost immediately. There are a myriad of shopping centers, parks, coffee shops, nightclubs and bars to spend time at. There are also many historical sites to explore, such as King John’s Castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral and museums to explore Ireland’s rich history. Finally, there are the traditional Irish pubs. This is practically a mandatory experience when studying abroad in Ireland. If you haven’t grabbed a pint of Guinness (or alcohol-free Guinness, which is served in many pubs) and listened to a traditional Irish music session (“trad session”), you haven’t fully experienced Irish culture. While other study abroad students spend their time at the bars or nightclubs, I am drawn to spending time at the pub, listening to a trad session and grabbing a pint. The drinking age is 18+ and despite alcohol being such an integral part of Irish social culture, you can have an amazing time here without drinking. After all, trad music sounds just as good when you’re sipping a Coke as when you’re sipping a pint!
Left: A traditional Irish Breakfast, Right: Sharing Guinness in a pub. Photos courtesy of Sophie O’Connor
Ireland may be a small island country, but there is plenty to explore. Some must see sights include the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula and the Aran Islands. These are all beautiful natural sights, some of which have been used in movie franchises such as Harry Potter and Star Wars. Must-see cities include Galway and Dublin. I have been told by Irish students that Galway is “the most Irish city in Ireland.” It is a smaller, gorgeous seaside city with plenty of history to explore. Dublin is by far the largest city in Ireland and is significantly more international than Limerick. Here, you will see many more nationalities represented compared to the majority Irish population in Limerick. If you wish to explore outside of Ireland, I have one word of advice for you: Ryanair. This Irish airline has incredibly cheap (as low as 20€!) plane tickets across the EU and UK. Many study abroad students at University of Limerick will spend weekends traveling Europe.
Finally, the attitude towards LGBTQ+ people in Ireland has gone from extremely hostile several decades ago, to one of the most liberal in the world. Ireland was the first country to pass marriage equality by public referendum in 2015: 62% to 37%. Acceptance of queer people in Ireland has only grown since then. I have never felt ostracized or uncomfortable because of my gender identity or sexuality in Ireland despite it being a largely Catholic country.
I cannot say enough great things about my experience so far at University of Limerick. I have felt accepted and welcomed for who I am by everyone I have met, and I got to take classes which fulfill my exact interests. I have enjoyed this experience so much, I am looking into summer internships in Ireland instead of coming back to the United States right away. The most amazing part of this is how willing everyone in the Equine Science program is to help me find an opportunity here for the summer. I seriously cannot recommend University of Limerick enough. If Goucher does not have a semester abroad program you find appealing, I encourage you to consider the University of Limerick’s semester abroad program. It has been a life changing experience for me.
Written by Sophie O’Connor ’24
Feature image: O’Connor at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.