Not that I was scared to leave America for three months, but I found it relatively difficult to pick up and take off just like that. Would it be easy to adapt? Would studying abroad for a semester be what I hoped?
As I raised multiple questions regarding a long term, study abroad program, I found the answer to all of them. I didn’t have to leave for an entire semester, nor an entire month. Merrimack offers short-term study abroad courses, which would help me to achieve my goal of studying abroad, but without all the baggage.
This summer, I was able to receive an experience of a lifetime, all in a matter of 10 days.
The Emerald Isle, The Land of Saints and Scholars, or just Ireland for those who are not on a nickname basis with the country, was my destination. Over a course of 10 days, Professor Kathy Cain, her husband Jim Cain, Dean of Campus Life, Donna Swartwout, and Linda Murphey, previously the Assistant to President Hopey, led our small group. We prepared for our journey by taking the class “Writing Through War and Peace, The History of Ireland.” During these weeks, my classmates and I discovered the unforgiving number of battles Ireland has seen over the course of three centuries. These battles were won and lost by Irishmen, but ultimately led to the demise of Catholic dominance in Northern Ireland. This time is referred to as, The Troubles, when an ethno-nationalist conflict peaked in the North.
During our trip, we visited the places we had only learned about. Dublin was our first destination. As a group of college students, we couldn’t wait to get to Dublin, for obvious reasons of course. But as the trip unraveled, we realized there was more to Dublin than just the flow of that black and tan Guinness.
The culture Dublin possesses is more than meets the eye. This famous city contains more history than a textbook can explain. Within Dublin are Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the General Post Office, site of the Easter Uprising in 1916. However, explaining the city trademarks could not do it justice, it takes a trip with those who acquire exceptional knowledge of the area to fully grasp its beauty.
After two days in Dublin, Belfast, Northern Ireland, the setting of the Troubles, was our next stop. I anticipated Belfast to be a war zone; boy was I in for a surprise. This large city, like Dublin, is beautifully designed and filled with twice as much history. Within this historical city, we visited Queens University, the birthplace of the Titanic, and both Catholic and Protestant sides of town. The main attraction in Belfast, especially when studying its preliminary troubles, is the peace wall. The term peace is used very loosely in this case, due to irony of its mission of separating the Catholic side of Belfast from the Protestant side.
During our time in Belfast, we were fortunate to meet several people with firsthand encounters of the Troubles. Three very witty taxi drivers, Paddy and two Bobbys, drove us through the parts of Belfast that seemed so distant to us, but were their own neighborhoods years’ prior. Paddy and Bobby, the Catholic drivers, allowed us to listen to their personal anecdotes of encounters with not only British military but also bombings and gunfights.
It is one thing when you study abroad and observe the people and surroundings, it is another reality, something much more extraordinary, when you can discuss with locals, their heartfelt stories, which have helped shape them to become the people they are today.
Aside from the trips to the big cities, we saw the beautiful emerald countryside Ireland is known for. Giant’s Causeway was the next stop. This particular spot once used to be an active volcano. Now, this landscape along the coastline is fragmented rock with an amusing tall tale to explain its shape. From Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a questionable means of transportation from one cliff to another, the mountains of Scotland could be seen. It was a view that was so close, yet so far.
If you are one who wishes to study abroad, but may find that long term is not for you, discover the short-term study abroad options Merrimack offers. The trip to Ireland, a ten-day, end of May excursion, has been the biggest virtue I will take from my Merrimack experience and I urge everyone to consider this adventure.
Until later, slaintè.