BY Stephanie hauer, ’20 // PROFESSIONAL WRITING, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE
When I boarded my flight to Dublin, one of the things that worried me most was being away from my family for four months. I had no idea that my time abroad would help me build new and exciting connections with my family in ways I had never dreamed of.
I knew for a long time that I wanted to study abroad in Ireland. My grandmother grew up in County Antrim, and her stories of home had enchanted me my whole life. So when I entered my junior year of college with a plane ticket in hand, I was ecstatic to be accomplishing this long-held dream. I was also nervous about being in a new place away from my family and close friends. I touched down at 4 in the morning, smiling but a little bit scared, and watched the sunrise blossom over this beautiful city that would quickly become my home.
Dublin instantly wrapped me up in a big, welcoming hug. Everyone I encountered was kind and generous. The thick accents slightly obfuscated friendly greetings and offers to help. I settled in and started exploring, emboldened by the charming atmosphere around me.
As much as I enjoyed being in the city, I was also eager to explore beyond its borders. My goal was to visit the homelands of my grandparents and relatives. This adventure would take me to Northern Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, and Scotland. Europe was now on my doorstep, and I periodically packed my bags with excitement.
My first ancestral trip was with Champlain to Northern Ireland. I had grown up hearing stories of Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and Ballintoy, so I was beyond excited to see those places included in the itinerary. But the best part was that our route would drive us right through my grandmother’s home town of Armoy. While we were on the bus, our driver let me know when we were approaching, and I looked out the window with starry eyes at the streets my grandma had walked along herself. Armoy was charming. It was small and cozy and sweet.
The surrounding countryside reminded me of the landscapes that I drive through when I head up to school in Vermont, and I felt connected to my grandmother in a whole new way. Now, whenever I go to Champlain, I will remember this moment and feel closer to my grandma, even though she lives 700 miles away from me.
My parents came to visit during fall break, and we did a whirlwind tour of Europe to visit more of the home countries. Our first stop was Warsaw, Poland. My mom’s father was descended from Polish people. He passed away in 2015, so I was looking forward to learning more about the country his family came from. Warsaw was wonderful, and I felt so at home there. The food was incredible; I’m a very picky eater, but pierogi make me happy.
The cornerstone of our time in the city was the wall at the Warsaw Uprising Museum. They have a memorial wall with the names of all the insurgents who fought against German occupation of the city in World War II. We found a relative of mine, who I later found out is my half great uncle, on the wall as a private first class. I’d never even heard of the Warsaw Uprising, but this was a great introduction to it because it was an opportunity to learn about history and heritage at the same time.
Next, we took the train to Berlin to meet my family for dinner. I only expected my uncle, aunt, and cousin. When we arrived at their apartment, I walked in to find almost a dozen people in the living room. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members were all gathered to welcome us. They had varying degrees of proficiency in English, but they balanced out their limited vocabularies with enthusiasm and laughter. It was incredible to meet all of these people I didn’t know before. We could reference mutual family members like my grandpa and my uncle, and they all knew who I meant. It was very healing to share memories of them, and to hear new stories, since both of them have passed away. It was amazing to be a part of the network of Hauers from across the globe.
Our final stop for this trip was Switzerland. We spent a day in Lucerne and were blessed with amazing weather (even though the predictions all said rain and fog). We crossed Lake Lucerne and crested Mount Rigi-Kulm. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was in awe of the city. My dad’s mother used to vacation here, so it was extra special to walk her footsteps on a vacation of our own. My parents and I also visited Aarau, the town where my grandma was raised. We even found the section of shops in the center of the city where she used to work.
Fall break ended, and my parents returned to America, but I wasn’t alone for long. My sister came to visit me, and we took a weekend trip to Scotland. We scoured the city of Glasgow until we found a plaque dedicated to another relative of ours, James McGill. Glasgow was a beautiful city, as was Edinburgh, and the people there were very kind. The Scottish part of our heritage is somewhat diluted, as it is from a few generations back, so I don’t know as much about it as my other nationalities. This weekend with my sister was a great opportunity to learn more.
My semester abroad not only helped me connect with my extended family, but also with my immediate family. It has been a long time since I’ve been on vacation with my parents, and being able to spend a week of leisure with them was a lovely bonding experience. When my sister visited Dublin, I got to show her around the area and teach her all of the things I had been learning throughout the semester. I also forged new friendships with my flatmates, classmates, and even my professors. I met many new people, encountered new perspectives, and immersed in a different way of life for a while.
My time in Dublin taught me a lot about my relationships with others, and about my own self and identity. I am so grateful for the chance to make so many connections in such beautiful places, and I will return to America soon having grown and developed in new and exciting ways.