What began as a conversation in an Irish pub has morphed into a unique, intercultural experience for students of Alvernia University. A chance meeting between Dr. Thomas F. Flynn, president of Alvernia, and Dr. Gerald Reid, professor of anthropology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, led to a partnership enabling Alvernia students to study in Dingle, Ireland.
Sacred Heart offers an Irish immersion program and has a campus in Dingle, a busy and exceptionally scenic fishing port on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. President Flynn met Reid while vacationing there.
Their meeting resulted in two Alvernia students having the opportunity to spend two weeks in Dingle in January, studying with a group of Sacred Heart students. Another group of seven Alvernia nursing students traveled there for two weeks in May under the direction of Tracy F. Scheirer, instructor of nursing at Alvernia, who teaches a course in transcultural nursing.
An Irish immersion
The program gives students the opportunity to become immersed in Irish culture while gaining new perspectives from classes related to their major, said Melissa Manny, director of global engagement at Alvernia.
“This is a fantastic experience for students to take a required course abroad and at the same time experience all of the benefits of living in a different culture,” Manny explained. “I enjoy seeing students grow and transform after experiences like this.”
Kelsey Farmer ’20, who is majoring in occupational therapy and is part of Alvernia’s honors program, completed an abnormal psychology course in Dingle in January. She spent her free time mingling with residents of the little town and enjoying all it had to offer.
“I was able to learn so much about a culture I knew little about simply by being immersed in it for two weeks,” Farmer said. “The people of Dingle were so kind and welcoming, and I loved the food, especially the fresh fish and chips! We experienced the pubs and the traditional Irish dancing and singing, and were able to take several sightseeing trips.”
While she definitely enjoyed life outside the classroom, Farmer said the trip provided a profound academic experience as well.
“I was able to gain different perspectives regarding disorders in Ireland as opposed to what I already knew about them in the United States,” Farmer said. “It was so interesting to hear the locals’ take on alcoholism and schizophrenia — a welcome addition to lectures on those topics.”
In addition, her class participated in field trips, including one to a farm that housed people with intellectual disabilities.
Scheirer hopes that the May trip will result in new relationships and educational experiences for students. “I’m hoping that we can make some global connections,” Scheirer said. “Understanding the global impact of healthcare is extremely important for students who will be working in the field.”
Part of the transcultural nursing course to be offered in Dingle will deal with the Irish Travelers community — an ethnic minority sometimes referred to as “Irish gypsies.”
“We hope to be able to meet with one or more Travelers to learn about their healthcare beliefs and traditions,” Scheirer said. “This can help us achieve a better understanding of health overall.”
And spending time with the locals should help students learn to work with people of other cultures down the road. “Though English is actually the most used language throughout much of Ireland, Dingle is situated in Kerry County, an area in which the traditional Irish language is still spoken, along with 14 other languages,” explained President Flynn.
“I expect that getting to know people from different cultures will provide new insights that will be beneficial throughout my career,” said nursing student Madeline Overby ’19, before heading to Dingle in May. “You can learn a lot from books, but when you can actually experience something firsthand in another country, it adds a whole other dimension.”
That hands-on experience and intercultural immersion will result in real-world learning, a hallmark of an Alvernia education, explained Scheirer.
“We want to meet Irish student nurses for cross-cultural discussions and live among the Irish,” Scheirer said. “We’ll have some of our meals in Irish pubs and travel on the weekends. I think we will all benefit greatly from this experience.”