I was pointed to the article “Culture Clash or Expensive Field Trip” after reading Dawn Duncan’s response. I don’t intend to add on to the heap, but this is too important to me and countless other students to not say something as well.
To begin, using a week-long study abroad, while a great opportunity, as the basis for discrediting entire semester long programs is a bit problematic. I am not claiming that May semester trips are any less worthwhile, but the basic structure of how they function is vastly different than spending 5 months living and studying in another country. Of course you will not be able to experience the amount of culture I think you were expecting, in just a week. May semesters are heavily planned and organized and there is little chance to separate from the group of Concordia students you traveled with.
As an alum of the Galway semester program, I can point out several ways in which my global awareness was forever changed even though I chose a country that spoke the English language.
1) There is no hand holding with this semester long program. Upon arrival, it is expected that you will navigate from the Dublin Airport to Galway City Centre and then find your way to the apartments where we lived. This process was not set up for us, and immediately we had to think on our feet. We had to go through class registration on our own and do work ahead of time to find classes that fit Concordia’s requirements. We got to figure out public transportation, navigation to places we needed to go, and in some cases health care. We still had to balance our study time while taking advantage of the chance to travel to other incredible countries. We had to learn how to manage our money to last 5 months with little prior knowledge about average monthly spending in relation to travel expenses.
2) No, there isn’t as much daily coursework at NUI Galway, but I challenge you in saying that we don’t have to work as hard. Instead of short term learning, we had to readjust our strategies in order to be successful for term papers and final exams. There are only a handful of ways in which to earn points for our grades, so no, we could not slack off unless failing was a desired outcome. I am confident in saying that my knowledge retention from classes I took abroad two years ago is higher than the courses I took in the last semester of my senior year.
3) Just because the Irish speak English doesn’t mean Ireland and the United States have the same culture. Yes, there were some similarities and I won’t speak for all of my semester mates, but I definitely experienced a learning curve when integrating into Irish culture. My personality and mindset about life and other people have forever been changed because of my semester abroad. (Side note: Irish accents are not the easiest to understand, I might add. In fact the first two weeks I may have well been trying to understand another language.)
4) The opportunity to travel to other countries is not only an enjoyable benefit but one of the most enriching parts from my semester. The basis of knowledge I had from life in Ireland in figuring out things on my own and always having a back up plan is what helped me to navigate non-English speaking countries so well. Yes I went to Scotland and England too, but my experiences in the Netherlands, France, and the Czech Republic were nothing short of incredible because I was not afraid to take chances. I had engaging experiences with locals in every country that spoke little English. I became comfortable exploring streets and parts of cities that were not common tourist attractions. I was not afraid to navigate public transit systems in other countries that had no English translation. These opportunities all contribute to the stronger, more confident person I am today.
So Sean, while you are entitled to your opinion I think making claims about programs you did not experience is disrespectful to the countries and cultures involved, the students who traveled, and to the faculty that have dedicated themselves to building a great program. It makes me sad that you did not get to have the experience you were expecting. However, I disagree with you using that as the grounds for a blanket statement for all English-speaking semester programs. Each student’s experience is their own and what each got out of their semester is directly correlated to what they put into it. My wish for you is that you are able to have a chance to experience these countries again with more time, freedom, and the attitude to learn.
This article was submitted by Courtney Quist, contributing writer.