“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Uversity Students at Cliffs of Moher

Wander up Dublin’s Grafton Street on any given day and you’ll encounter them — the students, walking in twos, and threes, elbows intertwined and chatting away excitedly in a different language to your own. They pause to listen to the buskers on the main thoroughfare before moving on down toward the striking entrance to Trinity College, inside which resides the ancient Book of Kells. Come the weekend, they might venture West, stopping for a time in Clare to visit the Cliffs of Moher where they’ll stand on the edge of the world before heading on to the cobbled streets and music-filled pubs of Galway. Maybe they’ll head North and walk the ancient walls of Derry, or listen to the story of the giant, Finn McCool, as they hop across the rocks that form his Causeway.

I remember it well; the novelty of the new, delighting in the different. The invigoration that comes from knowing that for a handful of time, this new land is yours to explore, to embrace, to be inspired by.

I studied abroad in the U.S. It was a pivotal year for me in many ways, not least because it was the year in which I enrolled in my first writing class. 6,000 miles from home and emboldened by the idea that this year was mine for the taking —one for seizing opportunities and indulging whims— I decided to finally devote some real time and attention to that thing I was passionate about but had always relegated to the realms of something that could never be more than “just a hobby.”

10 years later, I have a Masters in Writing under my belt, am employed as a content writer, and write regularly for several Irish publications in my free time. I credit study abroad fully for surfacing my creative aspirations, and giving me the confidence I needed to begin exploring my creative potential in earnest.

But the benefits of a study abroad experience extend far beyond the academic or professional. I have that year to thank for friendships that have stood the tests of both distance and time. Friendships formed through travel and adventure —shared experiences in cities and countries that were new to us.

Back home now, I can only imagine how wonderful an experience it would be to come to Ireland as a student whose sole focus is to fill your senses and your mind with the sights, sounds, traditions, and tastes of this beautiful island country. Richer still, does the experience become, for those with a creative soul, as they walk in the footsteps of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Seamus Heaney; of U2, Enya, and Sinead O’Connor. How great it must be to see, in person, the iconic landscapes that have been the setting and inspiration for so many films, works of art, and pieces of theatre.

Travel and movement is a part of our nation’s fabric. Ireland is a country that’s been moulded by those who’ve come and gone. Just as we’re a nation of storytellers, musicians, artists, and dancers, we’re emigrants and wanderers, too. Our journeys inform our art and help shape our unique cultural identity.

It is a combination of all these things —its rich history, stunning land- and seascapes, its reputation for creative ingenuity and excellence, and its welcoming people— that make Ireland the obvious choice for arts students looking to study abroad. With modules in cinema and broadcast arts, creative technologies, creative writing, dance, and music on offer at leading academic institutions throughout the country, it’s safe to assume that no matter what your area of interest, Ireland will deliver.

As 2016 draws to a close and the new year approaches, we cannot deny that the voice of xenophobia is growing ever louder. It has been heard on the political stage and it is echoed in homes and on streets in cities and countries around the world. Now, more than ever, we need broadened minds. Travel, the willingness to immerse ourselves in another’s culture, to understand and learn from those whose country of birth is different to our own, has never been more important.

So, go. Step outside of your comfort zone and choose to take your study abroad. Open your eyes, grow your knowledge, and unlock your creative potential. Keep a notebook in your pocket and a reel of film in your mind: be present, and record it all. For these are the images and the anecdotes that will inform your work and enrich your life for years to come.

This guest post was written by Uversity contributor, Maura McElhone.