Why everyone should visit their Mother Country(ies)

Tags: Ireland,Spain,Madrid,Dublin,Travel,Study Abroad,heritage,melting pot

by Shannen O'Brien, Madrid Intern

It’s pretty common for Americans to refer to the US as a melting pot, where many ethnicities and cultures all blend in together. For Americans studying abroad in Europe, there isn’t a more perfect opportunity to visit the country where your ancestors emigrated from! This past weekend, I went to Ireland to see for myself what lies behind my (very) Irish heritage.

My friend and I started off by landing in Dublin, the capital of Ireland. It happened so that my friend knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about Ireland, and as we were walking through the airport and seeing different advertisements/signs in Gaelic, he started asking me questions about everything. I was actually impressed that I could give him so many explanations for different aspects about Irish culture I had always assumed were common knowledge. For example, he asked me why there was orange on the Irish flag when on St. Patrick’s Day it’s custom to wear green in the US: this is because the Catholics selected green as their color of identification, and the orange is used to identify the Protestants that are predominantly located in Northern Ireland.

What made this weekend trip even more special for me was getting to meet up with my father, who was on a golf trip with his friends. Not only did I get to see my father, but I was also seeing the side of the family who gave me my Irish heritage! On the bus back from the Cliffs of Moher (which is a site I highly recommend visiting), my father was telling me that my grandfather has the correct coat of arms for O’Brien hanging up in his house, and that O’Briens were the first dynasty in Ireland- the man who unified Ireland was named Brian Boru.

Being the incredibly Irish lass that I am, this was one of the most enlightening trips I could have possibly taken during my time here in Europe- never have I ever been more proud to call myself Irish, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for Irish culture and the scenic landscapes I saw throughout this weekend. You’ll surprise yourself with the amount of knowledge you have about one (or several) of your backgrounds if you travel to your mother country. I advise anyone who even suspects that they have a European background (which is a vast majority of Americans) to go on a “birthright” visit, so to say. You can’t truly understand your heritage or culture unless you dive in head first, and it is so worth it.

That’s why next semester I’m already making plans to visit Italy, courtesy of my mom’s side of the family. I have a little bit of research to do and figure out where in Italy my great-grandparents were from, but WSA offers fantastic trips all over Italy for reasonable prices! Maybe you can run into me there and tell me about your Italian heritage!


Crystal Cascante, University of Florida

Happy Backpackers

I've been in Europe since the beginning of January and have traveled every weekend. This Easter Weekend was by far the best one. The hostel was perfect and super convenient, I made a ton of new friends, and our guides (Andy, Rhianne, and Elena) made sure we saw absolutely everything in the city. The meals included were all absolutely delicious, and Andy even brought snacks every once in a while to hold us over in between meals. We were given our Easter Mass tickets the night before and strategically planned to be in the front for mass. We followed Andy's suggestions and got to sit in the very front for Mass. The wait was worth it and so was every cent of the trip's cost. I barely spent any of my own money, just on transportation to and from the airport, gelato, and food on my last day there. I would 100% recommend this company to all of my friends!

Crystal Cascante, University of Florida ~ AIFS London, Spring 2016

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