These students landed in Europe in the middle of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic–and came away the better for it

Photo courtesy of University College Dublin

When Isa Caputo landed in Ireland for her fall semester abroad, it was cold, dreary, and pouring rain—apt weather that matched her mood after leaving her close-knit family behind in New York.

The first-year math major did everything together with her folks back home. While some people would find being cooped up with relatives unnerving, Caputo’s pandemic summer was something she was reluctant to see come to an end.

“Leaving them obviously was a little difficult, but I was definitely excited for the new experiences that would come my way in Dublin,” says the student.

Kyle Jones, a fellow student, agrees. He is one of about 80 students who were on the same flight with Caputo that left Kennedy Airport in September for the capital of Ireland.

The Pennsylvania native left behind two brothers, a sister, two dogs and a cat (“who I absolutely miss,” he says, referring to his feline, Abraham).

Saying goodbye for an adventure into the unknown didn’t hit him until departure day arrived.

“I was really excited and not worrying about missing home at all up until that day when I realized I’m about to get on a plane,” he recalls.

Fate may have played a role. Jones had several choices for his start. Montreal, his first choice for the program, didn’t offer a biochemistry major, his area of study. London felt like it would always be there.

“So that means choosing the more interesting one. And, I’m also Irish,” he says.

Jones and Caputo landed in Europe square in the midst of Brexit and a global respiratory disease. Restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have meant no in-person classes at University College Dublin, where learning occurs mostly via recorded lectures and virtual classes. Labs, where the hands-on experience is important, are still in-person.

Jones and Caputo understand that this is the way it is for now, and do not regret their overseas experience.

“It has made me more culturally aware in the sense that even though I haven’t had much experience with Irish people, I have picked up on their behaviors and the things they say and do, which I find interesting,” says Jones.

He and Caputo miss human interaction because of limitations imposed by the virus. They have come to embrace other opportunities for developing close bonds with others. Food is at the core.

Caputo and her three roommates from Massachusetts, Washington, and Japan have a full kitchen in their apartment, where they have been cooking for each other and learning about one another’s cultures.

“I thought I knew a lot about sushi and then we went out to a sushi restaurant for her birthday, and she was talking about all these different sushi things,” Caputo laughs, recalling an outing with her Japanese roommate.

Take-out meals are ordered from different ethnic restaurants so everyone in the program can try something new or indulge in an old favorite. Dublin is cosmopolitan and offers an array of international cuisines, says Jones.

The need to cook, meanwhile, has given Caputo a new appreciation for the process. 

“You have to pick your recipe, shop for all the ingredients, manage your time so that you have enough time to cook everything, and then comes the cooking itself,” she says. “That can be super overwhelming, especially with the stresses of school, but I think experiencing these new norms will help me be able to adapt in other situations.”

The students have also been venturing out and about the city. Before the most recent lockdown, Jones went to Phoenix Park, one of the largest parks in Europe. He also visited the coastal town of Dun Laoghaire, strolled through a farmer’s market and admired an old lighthouse. Caputo spent a lot of time outdoors too, visiting St. Stephen’s Green, the iconic park near the middle of the city, and joining friends for window-shopping along O’Connell Street, the retail thoroughfare.

Aside from touring the various sites, Caputo and Jones are members of’s student-led Community Council, which designs programs and plans activities.

They are carefully watching the calendar as their time in Ireland winds down. Their entire group will board a flight back to the United States, landing on Christmas Eve in New York. The first thing Jones plans to do when he hits U.S. soil? “Probably hug my mom,” he laughs.

Both Jones and Caputo are headed to the Boston campus to continue their studies when the spring semester begins in January. Jones is thinking of a pre-med co-op as a pharmaceutical researcher, but is still deciding.

Spending the semester away from the comforts of home and learning how to navigate the norms and customs of another culture have left them better prepared for life’s ambiguities, they say.

“Independence and adaptability absolutely go hand-in-hand,” says Caputo, “but I feel more comfortable with feeling my way through unfamiliar situations now than before.”

Jones agreed. “I’ve learned a lot about how to be an adult.”

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