18 lessons from visiting 18 countries in 18 weeks: An Olin semester abroad

Brock Mullen, BSBA ’23, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

I had the privilege of spending the past semester studying abroad in Ireland at University College Dublin (UCD). Olin provides so many opportunities for global experiences, and this is my second time getting to take advantage of an international Olin program. This semester not only provided useful academic skills for my marketing major, but also it taught me many life lessons. The classes at UCD are structured differently than at WashU, so I only had classes two days a week. I used the rest of my time to explore Ireland and the rest of Europe! I’d like to share a lesson I learned from each of the countries I visited:

Ireland: Make the most of unexpected changes

To accompany my second major in Chinese Language and Culture, I was originally planning to study abroad in China. However, that was not possible due to COVID-19. I was not expecting to spend a semester in Ireland, but I am so glad it worked out this way. I made amazing lifelong friends and had so many opportunities for experiences I never would have had otherwise. Although I didn’t get to practice my Chinese much (I found some people to practice with in Dublin, however), I have been able to travel to many places I never would’ve thought possible before this semester.

United Kingdom: Make time for friends

The first destination I visited was to see a fellow WashU student who is from Wales and was home for the holidays. It was such a great trip, even if we didn’t do anything “touristy” while visiting. Making time for friends is a must.

Slovakia: Be spontaneous

Sometimes, you just need to take advantage of unique opportunities as they arise. I saw an advertisement for €5 round-trip flights to Slovakia and purchased them on the spot. The trip was one of my favorite memories of the semester!

Belgium: Take advantage of the global Olin community

I decided to visit a group of my Olin peers who were participating in a special class at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Olin has students, staff and alumni all over the world, and it was amazing to see many people come together at this event.

Germany: Take a break and admire everyday beauty

While visiting the local sites in every place I traveled was great, some of my favorite moments were simply being with friends in a quiet park or on a random street. Don’t focus too much on the big moments; stop and look at the little things.

Spain: It’s okay to have an adjustment period

I do not like eating dinner at 9 p.m., so getting used to the Spanish lifestyle was challenging at first. However, amazing friends supported me and helped me get used to the different cultural norms.

Czech Republic: Relax and open up

On my visit to the Czech Republic, I felt great after taking time to relax and open up to friends. By growing closer to my travel companions, it enhanced our visit of the country and made the trip so enjoyable.

Norway: Be flexible

I did not intend to visit Norway, but due to a last-minute flight cancelation, I was forced to have a layover there. Although this didn’t seem ideal at the time, being flexible in my travel plans allowed me to explore a new place and gain great experiences!

Iceland: Plan to check something off the bucket list

I had always dreamed of visiting the beautiful nature in Iceland. I finally fulfilled my dream, and it was amazing! Taking the time and effort to make it a reality definitely paid off in the end.

Morocco: Reframe anxiousness as excitement

Because Moroccan culture is very different from the Western European culture, I’d grown accustomed to, I was initially nervous to explore this place. However, I turned that anxiousness into excitement by focusing on how much I would learn and grow from the experience—and it was outstanding!

Croatia: Don’t let rain (or any unfortunate circumstance) stop you from having fun

After learning my trip to Croatia would be filled with rain and storms, I was disappointed and not as excited to go. However, I was still able to have an amazing time—even if the itinerary had to change quite a bit to accommodate the weather.

Montenegro: Waiting is great time for thinking

When coming back from Montenegro, I was stuck waiting to cross the border for hours with no internet connection. This provided a wonderful opportunity to reflect, pause and practice using my imagination —a break that we all need sometimes!

The Netherlands: Allow shock to encourage curiosity

The Netherlands is a stunning place, and there are many societal and physical differences from other places I’ve traveled. Leveraging this surprise to pique my interest in the local culture allowed me to learn many new things that challenged my beliefs and perspectives.

Denmark: Take risks

I decided to try something new and do a bike tour. I was hesitant because I had not ridden a bike in many years, and I wasn’t sure if exploring a new city by bike would be difficult or dangerous. But, as the old saying goes, it was “just like riding a bike.” I’m glad I decided to take this risk for me and enjoy the reward of a pleasant experience.

Sweden: Be bold and try new things

I was in Sweden on Easter, and the only open restaurant I came across was a Mexican-Swedish fusion restaurant serving an Easter brunch buffet. I was hesitant to experiment with this new cuisine, but it ended up being some of the best food I had in Europe!

Portugal: Climbing a hill makes you stronger

Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is a lot like San Francisco—quite hilly! Going up all the hills can be exhausting, but the views at the top are always worth it. Just like in life, though the journey may be uncomfortable, sticking through it ends in with a nice reward (and nice calves).

Austria: Savor Moments

I visited Austria on a day trip, and I initially felt pressure to rush and squeeze in all the activities. However, I realized that taking the time to savor each of the new sites would provide a much more meaningful experience.

Hungary: Be adventurous

While I went on all my other trips with amazing fellow Olin students, I decided to do my final trip of the semester alone. It was fun to explore independently and be adventurous, and it provided me with a new perspective on traveling.

Overall, this Olin semester abroad was outstanding. It would not have been possible without my Olin peers and best friends Brad Gordon and Harrison Tanaka, the support of the Olin Global Programs office and the friendly people of the world. I’m looking forward to my next adventures at WashU and beyond!

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