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They may seem to be worlds apart. But these two—students at colleges nearly 4,000 miles apart—have much more in common than they may think.

Catherine Potter, a native of Ballynahinch, County Down, is also a junior, but she’s a law student at a college in Northern Ireland.


Hailey Shaffer
, of Monticello, Indiana, is a junior at the University of Indianapolis, majoring in chemistry and biology.

What connects these two girls? In a way, they’ve switched places for the semester. UIndy’s Hailey is in Northern Ireland, studying at Queens University in Belfast. Catherine is studying here at UIndy.

So how did that happen?

“I have always loved an adventure and being on my own,” Hailey says. “I really loved the idea of studying abroad after taking a Spring Term trip in May 2011 to the U.K. “After seeing all the science classes Queen’s had to offer, I knew it was the perfect time for me to set out on my own adventure.”

For Catherine, the opportunity arose when she was chosen by a special program designed to bring students to the U.S.

“‘Study USA’ was developed to provide undergraduate students in Northern Ireland with an international perspective in an entrepreneurial country,” she says. “This year the program selected 75 Northern Ireland students to study business in private, religiously affiliated colleges across the country. After an application and two rounds of interviews, I was offered a place on the program to study business at the University of Indianapolis.”

Hailey, meanwhile, had no doubts about taking the plunge to leave everything familiar behind her and venture abroad.

A taste for adventure

“I’ve always been an independent, adventuresome girl,” she says. “When I first came to UIndy I considered going abroad, but it’s best to do it your junior or senior year. I needed a school that offered biology and chemistry courses and where people spoke English,” Hailey says. “I didn’t make the decision until I read about the Irish-American Scholarship at the International Relations office at UIndy. This program let me look at four potential schools. I knew Queen’s would be an amazing experience. ”

As for Catherine, “I have thoroughly enjoyed my year at the University of Indianapolis,” she says. “From tasting local delicacies like Taco Bell to group project work in my classes, time has flown by. When I leave the U.S., I will do so with a new perception of America and the American people.”

Hailey recommends that students spend time studying overseas if at all possible.

“You can’t learn it all in books,” Hailey says. “Sometimes you just have to go and explore and learn on your own.”

Catherine agrees with the idea that travel can be life-changing, and her Hoosier sojourn seems to have made a real impression.

“The most important thing I will take away from my year at the University of Indianapolis is that the experience does not end when I fly home. The friends I have made here will keep me returning to the States for years to come, and a country that once appeared far removed from my life now feels like a second home. It is the students and staff at UIndy, the friendly people of Indiana, and the exciting places to visit throughout the USA that will ensure that I will not be saying goodbye at the end of this semester. I think a ‘See you soon’ will be more fitting.”

Planning to travel?

Still, Hailey says, “Studying abroad is not for everyone—you have to be able to handle being put out of your comfort zone, as well as meeting new people and trying new things. To incoming freshmen, I’d say there is plenty of time to decide if it’s right for you. If you make the transition from home to college with ease, studying abroad is not too much more of a challenge. I am definitely more confident, and I feel more knowledgeable about the world. And I was amazed with how easy the whole process was.”

Catherine goes even further. “If I could, I would make it mandatory for all students to spend at least a semester in another country,” she says. “Study-abroad opportunities offer so much more than educational development. They allow you to really get to know another country and its people in a way that could never be achieved by just holidaying there. Whether you choose to study for just one semester or a full academic year,” Catherine says, “I can guarantee that any study-abroad experience will change not just your perceptions of the world but also your perceptions of yourself!”