Stories that Shaped Us: Study Abroad Student turned International Professional
Ayla Graney, an ISA Wellington and Endicott College alumna, has been living abroad since 2016, where she earned her Master’s in Visual Communication from TU Dublin and now works as a web/graphic designer and content creator at Noms.
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to study abroad with ISA in New Zealand and later live abroad full-time. Check out her unique story below and hear her advice for others wanting to follow a similar path!
When did your passion for travel and exploring other cultures begin?
Growing up, I was very much a small town girl, who was generally quite content with staying in my hometown. When I was 19, I really wanted to visit a friend who lived across the country, in a place that was significantly different from where I was raised – both culturally and geographically. I loved my first taste of travel so much that, shortly after, I applied to study abroad in New Zealand. New Zealand is about the furthest you can get away from upstate New York, and although many aspects of life are similar to the US, the Māori culture is vastly different. Being immersed in that culture really opened my eyes to what experiences traveling could bring me.
How did your semester in New Zealand impact you personally? How about professionally?
My time in New Zealand changed my life. I became a more open, confident, and content version of myself. After my semester in New Zealand, I spent a year in Ireland, then another year in New Zealand, and an additional 6 months traveling around Australia and Asia before returning to Ireland in 2019.
Professionally, I was able to make invaluable connections with professors and peers who helped me find a job when I returned in 2018. I was able to familiarize myself with brands and design agencies when studying abroad, which gave me a head start on determining who I’d like to work for. All of this led me to my dream job at a small design agency in Wellington, where I was lucky enough to work for the final nine months of my visa.
What inspired you to move to Dublin to earn your Master’s? Other than the length of time, how was this experience different from your semester abroad?
There were many reasons that I chose to move back to Ireland for my Master’s, including good design programs, cheaper tuition, and really lovely connections that I had made during my gap year. The biggest selling point for me was the fact that most individuals who complete a post-grad program in Ireland are granted an additional 1-2 years of working visas after graduation. A major difference between the two experiences was who I spent time with. While I did make kiwi friends, the study abroad program was mainly composed of US students, whereas I was the only student from the US in my Master’s courses.
Tell us about your current job working as a graphic designer and content creator!
After spending 18 months of my Master’s researching how design can be used to facilitate positive actions (specifically focusing on how humans interact with nature), I realized that I wanted to work for a business whose beliefs and core values aligned with my own. I also was tired of sitting behind a computer screen and knew I wanted my work to bring me closer to the community. At this point, I was a regular customer at an organic, low-waste, wholefoods shop near my home, so I decided to give retail work a try and applied for a part-time sales assistant job. After it became clear to the owner that I could bring a pragmatic and creative energy to the business, I was promoted to a full-time web/graphic designer and content creator position. If you are ever in Ireland, check us out.
What’s your favorite part about living abroad? What’s the most challenging part?
My favorite part about living abroad is the people you meet. A majority of my closest friends are those I have met while living in Ireland and New Zealand, each of them offering a different perspective on cultures that I have grown to love. The most challenging part, especially over the last two years, has been the uncertainty of “what’s next.” Before the pandemic, I always had a general idea of when I would go home to see family, when I would apply for an additional visa, or when I would need to pack up and move on. That has all been made rather difficult since 2020, although I am incredibly privileged to know that many doors still remain open for me.
Any advice for anyone interested in moving back abroad?
If moving abroad is a step that genuinely feels right for you, I would recommend it. If you plan to be in one place for a while, bring the essentials – pillows and bedding, your favorite mug, a travel sewing kit. While you are getting used to your new home, stay in hostels that are known for housing long-term guests. They are a great way to meet people who are familiar with the city and who may have potential employment connections. My final piece of advice would be to reach out to anyone you know in the local area upon arrival – within a week of being back in Ireland, a mutual friend introduced me to a man, who has been my partner now for 2.5 years.
Inspired by Ayla’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!