While studying abroad in Galway, Ireland, students from HWS and Union College met with local organizations, took courses at the Center for Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland-Galway (NUIG) and connected with Galwegians to become a part of the fabric of the city. They also used their experiences as qualitative examples in their study of community development and revitalization in Galway and the impact of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on the city and Ireland.
Professor of Sociology Jack Harris P’02, P’06, who led the program, says this work challenged students to “evolve from tourists” and to become “intelligent travelers,” a concept that took on new meaning for each student throughout the semester as they integrated themselves into the community and focused on the systemic challenges associated with homelessness, direct provision, transportation, poverty and environmental challenges, among other issues.
Their coursework included analyses of “third places” in Galway where people gather to create and sustain community. The students also created maps of the city that highlighted their own “social topographies” by indicating the places that had special meaning for them.
Evolving from tourists to intelligent travelers.
Sam Allen’s ’20 map included a point at the local gymnasium, where he both coached 9- and 10-year-old children and played on a men’s league basketball team. For Allen, the experience created a “palpable sense of belonging” and provided a space for cultural exchange.
Emilia Brush ’21 found her sense of residency among the runners of the Galway Brewery Running Club. To become an intelligent traveler, Brush says that “everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve made the effort to talk to locals to learn more about their traditions and community.” During the semester, she also traveled north, with Sadie Mapstone ’21 and Anna Murphy ’21, to compete in the Ceide Coast Half Marathon in Ballycastle in County Mayo.
As part of the course, students met with Galway City Planners, the Director of Economic Development and Tourism, faculty directors of the NUIG Community Development Program, the NUIG Director of Volunteer Services, the Coordinator of the Child and Family Agency and members of the Galway Traveller Movement.
The students also met with the Communications Director of Galway 2020, as their semester abroad coincided with the city’s designation as the 2020 European Capital of Culture.
Students were enrolled in an “Irish Language and Culture” course, which included modules on Irish literature, history and sociology. Organized by the Center for Irish Studies, students took excursions to Cork, Dingle, Dublin, Belfast and Derry. Their trips were accompanied by field coordinator Michael Lydon who shared his insights from an Irish point of view. In Belfast the group met with former members of the IRA, British Loyalists, and a former member of the British Army who served during “The Troubles” to discuss that period and the current situation in Northern Ireland.
“We visited archaeological, historic, natural, and cultural sites to understand what it means to be Irish, how Irish identity has been shaped, and what forces have been critical in shaping Irish society and culture,” Harris says. “We all now have a strong interest in how Brexit will affect the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Ireland’s economic relationship with Britain. And we love Galway!”