This fall, eight HWS students are taking part in the semester abroad program in Galway, a joint initiative of HWS and Union College. The Galway semester offers the opportunity to study with Irish students at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and to live alongside Irish families and international students. HWS and Union students also have joined clubs and organizations to better experience their Irish counterparts’ life and culture.
Katie Yochim ’16, a KEF scholar, is playing for the club water polo team at the University, and has practices with the team in between her two mandatory classes, “Irish Life and Culture” and “Irish in Sports” and her electives that include a course on castles, which, she says “Is just about as Irish as it gets.”
Elizabeth Strano ’16, a dance and English double major with a theatre minor, notes dance was among the key reasons she chose the Galway program: “I saw a wonderful opportunity to explore my dual interests in dance and English literature.
Currently, I’m taking academic courses in Irish literature and also pursuing extracurricular dance technique classes, which have helped me connect to other international as well as local Irish students. My goal is to pick up a little Irish step dance and some sean-nós dance along the way,” she says.
In fact, among the many highlights of the semester so far was a workshop she took on sean-nós dance. “It has roots in Irish tradition and is usually performed individually, relying heavily on improvisation,” Strano explains. “The workshops are held on campus but, like many events at HWS, draw people from all over Galway and the surrounding towns. It’s great to try a form of dance that is new to me and meet local people while doing so.”
In Strano’s blog, she shares information about a number of student clubs and organizations that she has joined in an effort to take part in as much as possible while in Ireland. “Muay Thai, baking, yoga, I’m going for it!” she says.
A unique component of the Galway program is that students are required to take part in a service learning project in the community. In 2006, the program became the first of the Colleges’ semester abroad programs to include a service component.
“Right now I’m working in the Ballinfoyle Community Garden where I’ve been harvesting vegetables, planting seeds, and weeding. I’m also going to be working on a promotional video to showcase the garden and encourage more volunteers to join,” explains Dan Hastings ’16, who is active with the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning at HWS.
For her service assignment, Yochim is among a group of HWS and Union students volunteering at a youth development program called Foroige, working with teens with autism.
Strano is also working with young people at Bohermore, a youth center in Galway. “The folks are all unbelievably welcoming and kind and the kids are rock stars,” Strano tells the followers of her blog. “They put a smile on my face. Such great energy.”
Having studied abroad in Romania in summer 2013 with Professor of Education Charlie Temple, Strano was also drawn to the Mature Students’ Society at the University. The group established a partnership with an orphanage in Romania and created the Galway-Brasov group.
“I knew I wanted to keep that connection going,” says Strano of her time in Romania, “And getting involved with the Mature Students’ Society and the Galway-Brasov group seemed like a perfect fit. I was put on the committee, so I’m excited to learn more and help out with events and such.”
Volunteering, studying and dancing along the local people has had a significant impact on all of the students.
“My favorite part of being in Galway is interacting with local Irish people,” says Hastings. “When I went to my service site, the first thing anyone said to me was, ‘Hello, would you like a cup of tea?’ The people here are so friendly, and I love talking with my three Irish housemates. We get to know each other, and it’s funny to see how similar and different our cultures are.”
“So far it’s proven to be one amazing experience,” notes Strano. “Acclimating here has been one of the scariest things I’ve had to do, but it’s also been incredibly empowering.”
Yochim points out she has “absolutely fallen in love with Galway. It is an incredible city with so much culture and exciting things to see and do. Whether it’s going to a pub, the farmer’s market, or for a walk along the water, it beautiful no matter where you look.”
Yochim is keeping a blog about her semester, which also features highlights from the many places the group has traveled throughout Ireland – as well as a trip she and some friends took to Barcelona, Spain, where she met up with her brother who is spending the year teaching in the country.
“I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else and am so happy to call Ireland home,” she says.