Building confidence abroad

First-year student Bella Hancock began her Carolina career away from Chapel Hill at Maynooth University near Dublin, Ireland. She was among the more than 80 first-year students who made up Carolina Global Launch’s second cohort this past fall.

Bella by a beach in Ireland.
Bella Hancock (right) in Ireland.

The college application process can be repetitive and occasionally stressful. That was particularly true for Bella Hancock, who was also trying to decide if she wanted to return to Europe, where she lived for several years, for college or attend a university in the United States.

It became a bit overwhelming at times.

But a checkbox on her Carolina application immediately piqued her interest and reignited her excitement for college.

“I saw the box come up and was like, ‘What’s Carolina Global Launch? I wonder what that is,'” Hancock recalled. “I looked into it a little more and was like, ‘Oh my God, I could go back to Europe. I could go to Ireland for a semester.’ I thought it was so freaking cool. My mom always tells me that that was the first time she saw me excited in the college application process.”

Carolina Global Launch enables first-year students to spend their first college semester at a partner university abroad to earn credits, explore a new culture and build close connections with fellow Tar Heels. After the semester abroad, the Tar Heels return to Chapel Hill to continue their studies.

Hancock excitedly checked the Carolina Global Launch box on her application, and instead of packing up to move into a dorm in Chapel Hill this fall, she began her Carolina experience studying at Maynooth University near Dublin, Ireland. She was among the more than 80 first-year students who made up the Carolina Global Launch’s second cohort this past fall. Students in the program also studied at the University of Granada in Spain and Stirling University in Scotland. Future cohorts in Ireland will study at the University of Limerick.

“It’s really such a unique opportunity to be able to study abroad for your first semester,” Hancock said. “It’s also really good practice and independence for your college life.”

While living in the Netherlands growing up, Hancock traveled extensively throughout Europe but never to Ireland. It didn’t take her long, however, to get a feel for the country. Within the first week of arriving in Maynooth, Hancock and her fellow Tar Heels were exploring the country through Carolina Global Launch excursions — surfing in the western coastal town of Lahinch, visiting local farms, taking walking tours of Dublin and wandering along the Cliffs of Moher.

The quick immersion in Ireland helped settle Hancock’s nerves and homesickness of both leaving home and being in a new country.

“I think the scary part of it is outweighed by all the cool things you get to do as soon as you land at the airport,” she said.

Hancock plans on majoring in medical anthropology at Carolina but decided that the semester abroad was an opportunity to explore new topics inside the classroom by taking courses on Northern Irish society, medieval Welsch literature and women in Greece and Rome.

Transitioning to college life, combined with adapting to a new country, was daunting at times, Hancock admits, but being with Tar Heels experiencing the same thing eased the changes and helped her prepare for the next 3 ½ years in Chapel Hill.

“It really helped me build my confidence in just navigating college and confidence in myself in general because I found a group of friends. We bonded pretty quickly. Having to navigate a foreign country, you’ve got to make friends. You can’t try to do it alone,” she said. “I definitely came out of it feeling like a more capable person.”

Now in Chapel Hill for her first semester on campus, Hancock is excited to begin another new experience. She plans to get involved in research as a lab assistant and join student groups.

“I’m rooming with one of my friends from that program. A lot of us are in the same building, so we see each other pretty frequently. We all do meals together,” she said. “I’m excited to see more about the extracurricular opportunities the school has had to get involved with —in the Chapel Hill community as well as the school.”

Learn more about Carolina Global Launch