Student Voices – Interning Abroad with a Visual Impairment

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Meet Holly Stevens (Dublin Summer 2017 | Wofford College), a Finance, Spanish, and Economics major, two-time study abroad alum, and Gilman Scholar with a visual impairment. After studying abroad with IES Abroad Salamanca last year, Holly was ready to take on a new adventure—a full-time summer internship in Ireland.

Any internship, let alone abroad, is a big step in a student’s college and professional career, but Holly didn’t shy away from new experiences in new places. Read on to learn more about Holly’s time during the Dublin Summer Internship Program!

IES Abroad: What motivated you to intern abroad? Did you work with the study abroad office at your school?

Holly Stevens: After studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain, with IES Abroad for a year, I knew I wanted to stay in Europe. I knew Dublin was smaller than other major cities, and was accessible as I had visited in January 2016. I was also intrigued by the financial culture of the city, so I decided to apply. I then received multiple scholarships including the Gilman Scholarship, and here I am!

IES Abroad: What was your housing like in Dublin and was it accommodating to your needs?

HS: Yes, it was. I lived in a student apartment at the University College Dublin, and I had five other female American roommates. We all had our own rooms, but shared a kitchen and common area. It was on the ground floor making it easy to find.

IES Abroad: Tell us about your daily commute. How is this different from how you’re used to getting to-from class, or work, at home?

HS: I used public buses to get everywhere in Dublin. It is different because it gave me the freedom to independently go places not within walking distance.

IES Abroad: Did you find Dublin challenging to navigate at first? If so, can you describe those challenges and how you tackled them?

HS: The most challenging part was the switched traffic lanes. As a visually impaired person, I am used to using my ears to navigate traffic, and everything is switched. Thankfully every crosswalk had an audible green light that beeps.

IES Abroad: What does a typical day at your internship placement look like?

HS: I worked in finance and communications at the Asthma Society of Ireland, a charity that focuses on asthma research and advocacy in Ireland. I worked directly under the Chief Officer of Communications and did research on articles, analyzed other countries’ asthma societies, created databases of politicians, and researched new and less expensive technology options. My team was small, so we had gotten to know each other fairly well. The office is in the middle of the city—near O’Connell St. (a very famous street in Dublin) so my walk home was pretty fun.

IES Abroad: How does the work culture in the United States compare to that in Dublin?

HS: I think that office culture in the United States is more straitlaced and strict, but here everyone works hard, but jokes around (slags) eachother. This makes working fun and is the reason I am constantly laughing.

IES Abroad: What were your career goals/interests before interning abroad? Did your internship abroad shape/change your future career goals or spark a new interest?

HS: Before I interned abroad, I wanted to be a financial analyst. I have done a bit more communications work this summer that wasn’t originally planned, but when I did do the financial part of the internship, I really enjoyed it. Working in those two roles really solidified that I want to work in a more numbers-based job.

IES Abroad: What has been easier than you expected during your time in Dublin?

HS: Navigating the city and fitting in with my coworkers and other IES Abroad students. I think my time in Spain with IES Abroad taught me how to adapt to new situations, and I am doing that on a larger scale here.

IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from interning abroad?

HS: The most valuable lesson I have learned is to be confident. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but it is okay to make those mistakes. You need to be confident in who you are and take risks. Those risks (like interning in Dublin) can bring on amazing new opportunities.

IES Abroad: Do you have any advice for other students who have fears or concerns about going abroad with a visual impairment?

HS: Just do it! It may be scary, and you may face awkward situations, but if you use your tools and let people know, they are incredibly understanding and helpful—especially in Europe. Europe is incredibly socially conscious, and it is refreshing to see a different way of life as a person with a disability.

IES Abroad: Was there anything that surprised you about Dublin?

HS: Nothing really surprised me as I had visited Dublin in January 2016 on a school trip with Wofford, but every day I was astounded by how kind people there are. Every day, someone offered to help—they weren’t pushy and they didn’t assume I’m helpless—they just asked me, and when I declined (or occasionally accepted if I couldn’t read a sign) they just left me on my merry way. This is a wonderful cultural phenomenon and one that I think should exist in the States.

IES Abroad: Did you get involved in anything outside of your internship, or attend any IES Abroad field trips or events?

HS: I wasn’t involved in any “clubs”, but I did travel a good bit and attended the IES Abroad Northern Ireland and Causey Farms trips, which I really enjoyed.

Want to hear more from Holly? Be sure to check out her blog

Do you have more questions about what it’s like to study or intern abroad? Contact an IES Internships Ambassador. They’re recent alums with a lot of study abroad and internship expertise, and they volunteer to answer your questions. They’re here to help!

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