Did you study abroad?
I didn’t study abroad in the traditional sense; I left Ireland after graduating and lived and worked in France for eight years! My motivation was simple – there was no work in Ireland in the early eighties so emigration was the only option. It was an incredible experience and one that gave me the perspective on cultural differences that I still have to this day. I was fortunate to work at the University of Lille and immerse myself totally in French life and culture. At the beginning it was overwhelming and uncomfortable, but I survived the initial impact and learned so much about myself and how I deal with cultural differences. This is still my point of reference when dealing with my own international students who come to Dublin to study and experience Irish culture.
What was your favorite traveling experience?
I spent a summer as a volunteer in Ghana when I was an undergraduate. This was probably the most challenging and rewarding travel experience I’ve ever had. I had the privilege of working and living with the local people of Bolgatanga and Bole in northern Ghana. To say this was life-changing would not be an exaggeration. I learned so much from my time there, the value of life, of people, of resources. It totally turned my notion of what’s important upside down – the westerner learned the essential lessons of life from the African – and I’ve never forgotten those lessons!
What changes would you make to the study abroad industry?
If I could, I would open study abroad up to all students who want to travel and not just those who can afford it. I truly believe that study abroad is potentially life-changing and it saddens me that so many students do not have the option of going abroad because of money. I would like to see the students being challenged more. As providers, we need to be creative about how we can provide the essential services and experiences to the student while allowing them to interact and engage more directly with the new culture -- even if this involves a degree of discomfort. We will be there to help them interpret and deal with these feelings and also learn about themselves and the host culture. Of course, we must care for each individual student and ensure his or her safety, but we also need to give them the opportunity to feel uncomfortable, disoriented, and out of their comfort zone, so they can learn how to deal with these feelings and situations. We often say you cannot wrap kids up in cotton wool – is this what we are doing in study abroad?
What does your home-country's culture value that is taught in your program?
Anyone who has ever been will know that the unique aspect of Ireland - apart from its breathtaking landscape - is its people! We value people, we are interested in people, we love to spend time with people – all people, Irish or foreign. This permeates every aspect of life in Ireland and feeds into our courses in so many different ways. Our classes in Irish Literature, Popular Culture, and Communication & Global Competence are a true reflection of this peculiar Irish characteristic. We are curious about the other, don’t feel threatened by the foreigner, and wish to learn from everyone. Students who take our International Internship or Service Learning programs will experience this in a very real way. Their interactions with Irish people at work and in service leaves a lasting impression of how the Irish value people.