Alumni Spotlight: Leanne Howard

Leanne Howard grew up in Reno, Nevada, where she is currently finishing up a degree in English Literature and French from the University of Nevada, Reno. Leanne enjoys reading, writing, and running, and playing basketball with friends in her spare time.

Why did you decide to study abroad with USAC in Galway, Ireland?

Leanne: I had already studied abroad with USAC in Pau, France from September 2009-April 2010. The program was affordable, efficiently run, and full of cultural immersion opportunities. I have always had an interest in Irish history and culture, so when I decided to study in Ireland, I wanted to get the most cultural exposure for my money. Previous experience told me USAC would provide that!

sunset in Galway

What made your study abroad experience unique and special?

Leanne: I got lucky, because the cultural immersion I wanted before I studied was readily available throughout the entire length of my program. The Galway Film Fleadh, The Galway Arts Festival, The Galway Races . . . those were once in a lifetime experiences, and on top of those, I got great classes and field trips, too.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Leanne: Personally, this experience only further increased my interest in Irish history and culture. My professors gave me the compliment of telling me when I was abroad that I seemed like I’d lived there before—and this experience only made me want to make that come true. Professionally, I am now working at the study abroad office on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, helping other students get abroad like me! And academically, as I reach my undergraduate graduation and consider going on to graduate school, I’ve thought about continuing on with school in Ireland, and it’s nice to know that some Irish professors might be able to write me a letter of recommendation.

Highlights: Both my classes were some of the best I’ve had in my college career. Before my Irish Theater course, I didn’t know much about the history of theater, but I fell in love with the Irish literary tradition through that course. At the same time, the professor of my Irish History course, Dr. Angus Mitchell, is one of the world’s foremost historians of Roger Casement, one of the Irish rebels responsible for the Easter Rising of 1916. I was really taught by experts, and Galway was the perfect place to make those lessons come to life, with its proximity to the roots of Western Irish culture and its fantastic summer festivals.

I think the highlights overall were the cultural immersion opportunities provided to us through the program. Field trips to places like the Burren and the Aran Islands let us hike around ancient Irish ring forts and castles, while the festivals at home brought us in contact will all the most impressive of the Irish arts—music, theater, dancing, comedy. I’ll never forget watching Misterman, a one-man play by Enda Walsh starring Cillian Murphy, on opening night with my theater class... and then meeting Cillian Murphy afterward, or walking down the streets of Galway with the Macnas parade!

Morning: I would wake up somewhere between 8 and 11 (depending on my course schedule). I would whip up a quick breakfast in our kitchen, chatting with the other girls in my apartment if they were there or watching the weather on our TV. Then, I would walk about five minutes to class. I took an Irish History course and an Irish Theater course. Both classes ran for about two hours, with a break in the middle for a quick coffee or snack. Usually, we would discuss readings, go over power-points, watch clips of films, or even leave the classroom and go on a historical walking tour as part of our class lessons. By the time we got out of class, I’d be ready for a lunch break at home or at an on-campus café, and for making afternoon plans with friends.

Afternoon: Afternoons were always different, a great time to get stuff done or try out a new activity. A few students I know joined the Kingfisher Club, a nice gym on campus, for around 50 EUR for five weeks. They would work out together in the afternoons. I preferred to run on the riverside path that stretches beside our housing. The path led to a hurling field and a nice running track. I saw lots of locals running or walking there, too. The USAC group would also gather about once a week to watch and discuss Irish films. I’d also set aside afternoons for grocery shopping downtown, finishing up reading or homework, visiting the campus library, or lounging in the courtyard outside our housing if it was sunny. There were always groups of students planning something, so it never got boring!

Evening: Being in Galway over the summer means that there’s something new and fantastic to do every evening. I was lucky enough to participate in the Macnas Parade, a yearly part of the Galway Arts Festival (which was going on during my program). The Macnas Parade is a huge spectacle of costumes, stilts, dancers, puppets, floats—everything you’d expect from a large-scale parade, all set to an artful and poetic theme. Each year, locals are asked to participate in one section of the parade, and usually they memorize a skit and perform it before the parade starts to move. The USAC students in the Theater class got to volunteer along with locals for this part, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I made friends through Macnas whom I’ve since gone back to Ireland to visit—and it felt great to be with them in costume on the day of the parade!

Aside from Macnas practice twice a week, I went to theater performances with my theater class, special screenings at the Galway Film Fleadh (film festival) that included live interviews with Martin Sheen and Irish politician Bernadette Devlin, and concerts from Irish bands like Belle X1 under the Galway Arts Festival’s Big Top. And that was all before July began, and the Galway Races came to town . . . during which time the streets of downtown Galway were packed with visitors, all dressed to the nines (ladies in hats, men in suits) for the occasion!