I've been having an incredible time of growth and adventure in Ireland thanks to Uversity. If you haven't gathered already, you won't find any other program like it and your experience will be unique to anyone else's. So my story is just a fraction of the possibilities.
With Uversity, it feels like the whole island is at your fingertips. Since arriving in Dublin in September and moving to Cork a week later, I've also been to Limerick and Galway, seen the breathtaking cliffs of Moher, attended the first ever young adult writing conference in Ireland, and gotten a chance to speak to some of Ireland's leading artists and academics.
Even if you aren't thinking of Ireland as a destination for your studies (I wasn't), it turns out Ireland is an incredibly rich in culture and art --it's part of the fabric of the society. And I can't understate the level of access I've gotten here to arts communities and the cultural scene at large. For one, Ireland isn't a big place so it feels much easier to get in on the ground floor of things than it did in the states. But Uversity is a huge help as well. Suzie, the Director of Mentoring (one of the kindest people I have ever met) and my own Creative Mentor, Fiona (who I couldn't survive without) seem to be working around the clock making calls and sending emails for me to make sure I make the most out of my year here. And you can tell they'd be doing it even if it wasn't there job.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to your formal education life as well. I chose this program because I was tired of a dry, academic approach to art. I wanted to stop reading and writing essays about writing, music, and dance, and just go make things. The revamped curriculum this year really makes space for that to be possible: for you to have time in your studio or at the library or wherever, working on what is more important to you. And of course, the huge advantage of Uversity is that what you work on isn't limited to any one medium or practice. I can't think of anywhere else that would let me work on a fantasy mixed-media collaborative story/world building project and award me a degree for it. But Uversity really takes what's important to you and makes it important to them. The size and the nature of the program means that you always have an army of people on your side, rooting for you and supporting you.
Besides the Uversity core curriculum, you also take classes at various universities throughout Ireland, and this really is an unprecedented opportunity. This meant I was able to dip into the creative writing program at University College Cork and pick out the classes that would be relevant to my practice and my practice only. It meant that in addition to writing courses there, I can go across town to the Crawford School of Art and take a studio art course there as well. What I've ended up with is a beautifully personalized program and nearly unlimited access to the facilities of two institutions of higher education in Cork. I get to use the dance studios in the giant UCC gym AND play the Steinways in the CIT music building.
A personalized program doesn't mean I'm not being pushed and challenged, though. Far from it. The modules I chose were not what I expected, but exactly what I needed. I went into this year thinking that I knew how I worked as an artist and I just needed the space and resources to work (and I got that) but I've also learned so much about myself and I feel like I've really expanded the scope of what I'm capable of. I wasn't expecting to (or really wanting to) learn about how awareness of my body relates to writing, but I did and ended up being introduced to the world of dance in a way I hadn't expected. I wasn't expecting to learn how to use an digital audio suite, but I did and then wrote and produced my own radio documentary. I wasn't expecting to write a musical...but that just kind of happened --all on top of the projects I wanted to do in the first place and learning how to live independently in a new country (also hugely valuable experience). Looking back, it's amazing to see what I accomplished in just three and a half months and I still have eight and a half to go!
I couldn't finish this review without mentioning how many incredible people I've met here as well. The Uversity cohort is small and close-nit, with this cool dynamic where we live all around Ireland but meet up often and stay in touch. We all naturally become a sort of mini-expert on where we are living and when people in the cohort visit from place to place, they have friends to offer them a sofa and best pub recommendations, etc. It's also an incredible feeling to be in a community of such diverse artists. In our interactions we naturally feed off one another's energy and learn about different mediums. Collaborations form and you get opened up to whole new interests. I'm helping out a filmmaker from Brazil with some writing and a radio guy really convinced me that sound is magical.
And what's great is that, if you play your cards right, you won't just be a part of one cohort. You'll always have the Uversity cohort, but you also get plugged into one or two (or three) other programs and scenes. So I have a great international arts community in Uversity, but also have put roots down in a great writing community in Cork, and I'll soon be branching out into visual art, music, and dance. I won't lie, it's tricky business, but if you plan ahead and put yourself out there, you're looking at lots of new connections, friends, and potential collaborators.
As with anything, Uversity is what you make of it. My experience will probably look very different from yours. But the freedom and flexibility of Uversity and the unique (admittedly, sometimes messy) experiment that it is means that its an opportunity for you to create an unprecedented adventure for yourself --and get a world-class degree out of it. You'll grow, you'll have fun, you'll make art, you'll get to know Ireland better than a lot of Irish people even do, and well, basically you'll have the craic. Maybe even deadly craic.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to know more! My twitter, Instagram, and tumblr are all "somethingsareup." And my tumblr has some detailed blog posts on my adventures in Ireland. Just click "archive" to find them.