Reflections on Ireland Study Abroad

When I signed up to study abroad I had little idea what I was getting myself into. As I read more about the class I realized that I was getting an opportunity to study Yates and Irish history while traveling throughout Ireland. After reviewing the syllabus and course materials I started to understand the basic structure of the trip. We would be traveling as a group to various cities in Ireland and taking a bus to get from one to another and taking several day trips to sights relatively close by. I had no idea if I would be sharing a room with another student or if I’d have a room to myself. I expected sharing bathrooms. I didn’t know if we would ever have our own kitchens where we would be expected to cook for ourselves or if we would be eating out all of the time. I was a little nervous about this. I had heard that Irish food was exclusively beef and potatoes. I’m a pescatarian so this made me anxious before we left. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that vegetable soup was nearly always the soup of the day, and that pizza and fish and chips were readily available at most of the pubs if not all of them.

I learn much better by traveling, or even having people close to me travel. It makes the history mean so much more to be real. After I have been someplace, my ears perk up when I hear anyone talking about it. Visiting places makes history click for me and talking to locals about how history is still relevant brings history to the forefront of my mind. After visiting Belgium and visiting town squares I could understand why guilds were so important and why we learned about them. When visiting historic recreations like the Genesee Country Village and Museum, I can understand how butter is made, and I can see how parts of American culture have formed. Likewise, in visiting Ireland I learned more than I could have ever learned from any lectures or textbooks. Visiting Strokestown and the famine museum helped clear my understanding of how such a tragedy could have happened. It was real to me to see how large the beds were on the boats to America. I also learned more by having professors with me. I was able to ask questions right then and there and get answers to things that didn’t quite make sense to me that I may have ignored or forgotten if I couldn’t have asked right away. I didn’t understand why the Irish plantation owners were willing to pay to send their tenants away. I learned that they were responsible for their tenants. It was their responsibility to either pay for them to work in work houses, to keep them on their land, or send them someplace to hope that they could live better elsewhere.

Visiting the famine museum made learning about the troubles in Northern Ireland easier to understand. The conflict in the north is incredibly complex and I recognize that I won’t be able to understand it ever fully, but knowing learning about the famine showed me that the hunger strikes meant more to the Irish than might have ordinarily met my eye. The Bogside tour was also a peak into the conflict that I would’ve probably never gotten had I not studied abroad in Ireland. I certainly could have visited Ireland on my own and looked at the murals in Derry, but I wouldn’t have been able to meet the artists and get a tour to learn what they meant to the community and the men that made them.

Learning about Yeats was probably one of the more challenging things for me. I knew nothing about Yeats other than what I had learned in the online lectures before the trip. He seemed like an incredibly interesting person with a complicated life story and an impressive life work to show. I know that I’m an engineering student and the math and science world has always clicked better in my brain than any English or literature so I had to take the summer school with a grain of salt and try to pick up anything I could. I learned about some of Yeats’ poetry that focused on Yeats’ fascination with age. It was very interesting. I’m still very slow at drawing my own conclusions on his work and what even some of his simplest poems mean. However, the teachers in the seminars were excellent at leading discussions. The groups were small and encouraged participation from everyone. It was wonderful to hear other people’s opinions and insights and by the end of the week’s seminars I felt like I had learned quite a bit that I might be able to listen into a relatively educated conversation about Yeats’ work.

Personally I faced a few difficulties on the trip due to health. I got a cold early on in the trip either due to change in temperature, travel or being in tight spaces with so many peers. I thought that I was going to be fine so I took a few Advil Cold and Sinus that I had packed and tried to ignore it the best I could. Later, with my weakened immune system I also got pink eye on the trip. Incredibly unfortunate, but it could have happened anywhere. However I guess it was a blessing in disguise. I had the opportunity to try to learn a bit about the Irish health care system. I tried to get some Nyquil. The pharmacists had never heard of the household American drug. They aren’t allowed to put painkillers and cold medicine into the same drug. They were wonderfully kind and even helped me fill a prescription for my pinkeye. Pharmacies in Ireland don’t accept health insurance either as far as I learned. They suggested that I take my receipt home and see if I could get a refund there. Fortunately the pharmaceuticals that I needed weren’t very expensive. It was so interesting to compare and contrast the American system and the Irish one.

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