The hallmark of the Colleges’ study abroad program in Galway is the community service experience each student undertakes as part of the program. Students report that their experiences working with social service organizations immerse them in the Irish community and culture.
“Through my service learning project I was able to discuss Irish life and culture with the other volunteers, who then gave me insight into what it means to be Irish and how Irish society is structured,” says Gina Mercuri ’14, a history major, who worked at the Ballybane and Ballinfoyle Community Gardens. “I feel that this experience made me a more mature person on many different levels. In addition to learning how to travel in a larger city, I became more comfortable working alongside people of all ages, not just other young adults.”
In the fall, Mercuri was one of 10 students to study in the program led by Associate Professor of Political Science Kevin Dunn. Other students included Eleanor Blase ’13, Megan Colburn ’13, Kelly Halkyard ’13, Amber Jackson ’13, Bronwyn Krug ’13, Sarah O’Brien ’13, Christine Sullivan ’13, Abigail Wandell ’13 and Jeseca Wendel ’13.
Dunn finds the program unique and inspiring. “A number of Irish professors and students commented that, because of the structure of our program, HWS students experience more of Galway and Ireland in one semester than most visiting college students do in a year or even four,” he says. “The service work component of the program has had the effect of making the student’s experiences more community-based.”
From community gardens to non-profit health organizations, students in the program gave back to their new communities throughout the semester. Jackson, who was placed at a non-profit organization raising money to provide better cardiovascular care for the larger Galway community, notes that the program gives HWS students the opportunity of becoming a true part of the Irish community.
“Apart from living with Irish students, the service learning component and planned excursions really allow visiting students to connect with their community and feel like a member of it, rather than just a visiting student at the National University of Ireland in Galway,” explains Jackson, who is a double major in English and media and society. “This experience abroad has most definitely changed my life in ways beyond articulation. I quickly got incorporated into the Irish way of life in many aspects, giving me a deep appreciation for the culture there. I made friends I’ll always have and experiences I’ll always keep with me.”
In addition to their service work abroad, students traveled throughout the country, including weekend trips to Dublin, Cork, Dingle and Northern Ireland. Students also went on a day trip to the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland.
Offered annually, students in the program also take two requisite courses, a director’s seminar and a class on contemporary Irish culture and society. Additionally, students can take two electives in a variety of disciplines, including politics, history, theatre, science and literature.
For more information about the program and its offerings, visit: http://www.hws.edu/academics/global/ireland.aspx.