PALs 2022 - 2023 Q&A with Joan Dartey, College '23

December 21, 2022
By Stephanie Shen, College '25

Joan Dartey, a senior studying psychology, spent a semester abroad studying in Ireland at Trinity College Dublin. During the 2022-2023 academic year, Joan is serving as a Penn Abroad Leader, Penn Abroad’s student advisory board focused on special projects and supporting fellow students interested in global experiences. Fellow leader Stephanie Shen sat down with Joan to discuss how she decided to spend a semester abroad in Ireland, some of her program highlights, and how her interest in international development was solidified by the experience.

What global experiences did you participate in and why did you choose them?

I did a PGS, a Penn Global Seminar, in my freshman year that goes to Japan, but the abroad component got canceled [in May 2020 due to COVID]. But last semester, I was super lucky to partake in a semester abroad program at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. When the PGS trip got canceled, that was heartbreaking, not gonna lie, since I was really looking forward to it, but I don’t regret taking the class because I made so many upperclassmen friends and learned a lot. 

As for the Dublin program, I wanted something that was a good social, academic, and financial fit. I knew I wanted to go to an English-speaking country, and I wanted classes that counted for my major (psychology) and minor (international development). It eventually came down to Ghana and Trinity. I’m from Ghana, so I knew it would be the safe option because I had family just ten minutes away. But Yasmina (one of the region-specific abroad advisors) and my mom encouraged me to challenge myself and try something new. In the end, I’m really glad I did, because I had a really good time. 

What was a highlight from your experience abroad?

Too many. Literally take me back. :) I enjoyed traveling around Europe. That’s the typical answer: my friends and I wanted to explore, and we went to Greece (for a friend’s birthday), Portugal, London (I had family in Northampton, so it was more like a personal trip). 

Those were all super fun, but I would say another thing is, coming into Penn, I feel like I lost track of so many hobbies, like art and dance. Going to Trinity, I had so much more free time, so I was able to join Trinity Arts Workshop, dance society, and really just tap into my passions. 

Also before finals, my friends just dedicated an entire day to hanging out, going to museums, grabbing dinner, and that was one of my highlights. 

I had a blast. I just feel like, at first, I was like, what am I going to do with all this free time, then I realized I could really use my time to do whatever. I joined fencing and really tried to undertake new things. My highlights were definitely travel, tapping into new passions and exploring new things, and that day with my friends. I just made so many new memories. 

How do you think your abroad experience may impact your career at Penn and your goals for the future?

It definitely solidified my interest in International Development. Prior to going abroad, I was still in the nascent, exploratory stages, and when I came back, I had just finished my minor, so it definitely cemented that interest for me. And now, as I’m applying to MBA programs, I’m really prioritizing schools that have a global immersion component because I realize just how invaluable that experience is. 

Is there anything you wish you knew before going abroad? 

  1. I feel like although you change, you don’t really change that drastically. 

  2. I wish I knew to be more adaptable, because I feel like it’s a completely new style of learning, and I learned my lesson the hard way. 

  3. Keep a budget, follow that budget. I think those are the main things I wish I knew. 

  4. Also, although they did have a Starbucks, one time I went and asked for a bagel and they didn’t have it. I wish someone told me that even the same stores sell different things. 

What advice would you have for your fellow students planning to go on your program?

Say yes to new experiences. I’m a homebody, so I definitely do like my personal space, and I’m more reserved, but you don’t want to come back home and regret that one time you didn’t go to that museum, or zoo, or friend date, or event the school was hosting. Time flies by so quickly that you just have to say yes and take advantage of your time there. 

How you have applied lessons you’ve learned abroad into your daily life at Penn?

The insight that you gain about a different way of life is invaluable. For instance, getting into Dublin, I realized the people really operate on a strict time scale. I went to a library to study at 6, and it wasn’t open. That’s not a thing. Pubs open at 7, lunch is at 1, and you work from 9 to 5. My roommate looked at me like I was crazy when I had my laptop open at 11 pm, since that’s not the vibe there. That was strange to me, since Penn had turned me into a night owl, but I realized that there were certain things I could take from my experience abroad, so this semester, I tried to prioritize getting my work done during business hours so I could spend more time nurturing my health/mental health, friendships, and do so much more and not succumb to that grind culture. 

How are global experiences important as part of a Penn education?

I think it’s so easy to get sucked into the Penn bubble, that it’s imperative to broaden your horizons, learn about a new culture, and get a world view. I think being abroad, you realize that, in the US, we are so us-centered, and I think it’s always so good to challenge yourself. 

Tell us something fun/silly relating to your semester in Dublin!?

So the only food I don’t eat is potatoes. Something about something that tastes like nothing is strange to me. It tastes like paper. Or what I’d imagine paper to taste like. Or like sand. Everyone is always like “that’s because you haven’t tried these potatoes, or my potatoes,” but I did, and it never changed my mind. In Ireland, everything comes with potatoes. And I got clowned for that. And I still have not changed my mind about potatoes.

Joan with her fellow exchange students abroad in Ireland.


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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.