Ireland Past Student Experiences | UMSL

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Read about past students' experiences in Ireland!

Name: Katie Hayes
Program: Short-term program in Irish Studies in Galway, Ireland
Major: English
Term Abroad:
 Summer before senior year


In summer 2017, I studied abroad at National University of Ireland, Galway. The program lasted a month, but I didn't come home for two.

Irish people live up to their reputation—almost everyone I met was friendly, hilarious, and full of unexpected stories. There was a joke in Galway that it is "the San Francisco of Ireland" because a lot of creative people tend to flock there.

By far, Ireland is one of the most captivating places I have ever been. Almost every weekend, we went on excursions as part of the program. The images of rolling green hills cannot capture how powerful the landscape is.


I was also there to focus on creative endeavors. Mostly, I wanted to spend time workshopping short stories and some poetry in the Creative Writing class. For a month, we did writing exercises nearly every day. The prompts were everything from "tell me about the worst job you ever had" to "a time someone talked about the good ol' days."

By the end of the summer, everyone in my creative writing class had a portfolio of work. We also were required to read something from our portfolio at an open mic night. It was only mildly terrifying, but we pulled it off.


Since I am an English major, the creative writing course fit in my program. The other course I took (Representing Ireland through Literature and Film) also counted toward my major. In one month, I gained six upper-level credit hours in English.

After the program ended, I traveled with three other students from UMSL and one student from New York that we met in the program. We went to Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. My friends and I jokingly referred to the United States as "the colonies" and, even though the program ended in July, I didn't come back home until the middle of August.


Name: Dana Channell
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for Irish Studies in Galway, Ireland
Major: Anthropology & Music
Term Abroad: Summer program during her junior year

Dana with sheep

For those who argue that there isn’t time in your program for study abroad, or that the courses offered might not actually move you closer to your major, or worry about costs or the daunting task of flying alone, let alone abroad, this is for you. I, too, had these same thoughts, and went through nearly three years of my undergraduate career safe in the knowledge that I would never get to experience another culture in the near future, and that if I wanted to travel abroad I would do it once I was graduated with a steady job and paid time off, thank-you-very-much. As a double major I doubted that it could be done, but I am here today to refute that claim as well. I am happy to say that I took a leap and was able to explore another culture, even learn some of a new language, and make lasting friendships all over the course of a summer.

            The Irish Studies summer program through the National University of Ireland – Galway offers a fantastic way to explore Irish culture through nearly every avenue possible. I chose two modules which fit my majors very well, taking courses in the archaeological heritage of Ireland as well as Irish Traditional Music and Dance, the latter of which was more than just an overview of techniques and song types but covered the intricacies of creating and shaping identity within these art forms in their naissance through the 21st century’s expanding emigration and globalization. I was able to put information learned in class lectures directly to the test through my experiences outside of the classroom in archaeological field trips as well as nights out listening to skilled musicians in pub sessions. If our lived experiences in Ireland brought up new questions or contradictions with what we were learning, our professors, who are all noted within their field, encouraged us to pick their brains and find out more. Interdisciplinary seminars attended by the entire program were led by professors from every module, and were oriented so that students could further their understanding of how Ireland’s culture relates to their own lived experiences, exploring topics including emigration and gender. For someone incredibly rooted within my own fields, opening up to explore new models of learning based on literature, sociology, and film also opened my mind to attending events outside of my class studies with the new friends I made. 

Dana Galway

            Some of the best and most memorable experiences were the spur of the moment decisions I made that I would never have thought of or followed through with back home prior to my study abroad experience. Attending a poetry reading by Irish writers at the Galway museum’s café with friends from the creative writing module, or accompanying a new friend to the Crane Bar, famous for the pub sessions and storytelling, as he brought along a guitar to join in, let me delve into the unfamiliar and love every minute of it. What amazed me most about my stay in Galway was its incredible cultural diversity, not unlike that of St. Louis. As I was walking down by Galway Bay on an unexpectedly warm evening with my book, I met a bird photographer and a family who were looking for the rare dolphin or seal that occasionally swam by the coast. After we got to talking, we realized that out of the five of us gathered there, only the young daughter of the family was technically “Irish.” As amazing as we found it at the time, I can completely understand why so many come from far away to Galway, with its welcoming street musicians and the delicious smells wafting from every restaurant and café doorway.

            Aside from my experience in Galway itself, the program also included two excursions to other regions of the country, both of which allowed us hands-on experience learning about the history of Ireland, from centuries-old stone forts overlooking icy blue waters 300 feet below to the gravestones and Christian pilgrimage sites that so many flocked to throughout the ages. Traveling into Gaeltacht, or predominantly Irish-speaking, regions, prepared with a few basic conversational phrases from extra-curricular language classes offered through the program, allowed me to experience a whole different side of Irish culture, challenging myself to initiate conversations and come out of my shell.

            I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have had to study abroad through UMSL, in many ways. Not only is the program itself fantastic and organized well on both ends, but the scholarship opportunities allowed me to afford traveling in the first place. In addition, the modules I chose counted for SIX credit hours toward my majors, and have even given me a starting point for further research I have been continuing through my departments here at UMSL. I am also grateful to myself, for taking the plunge to travel on my own for the first time, to travel abroad, to meet new people, and to dare to experience new things. I encourage you to do the same, because I know you can. Your life will be much richer for it, both in knowledge gained and lifelong friends made.



Name: Mia Michael
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for Irish Studies to Galway, Ireland
Major: History
Term Abroad: 
Summer during junior year


Opportunity. This one word has transformed my life and can transform yours as well if you dare to allow it. Study Abroad can prove to be one of the most gratifying, adventurous, challenging, and extraordinary opportunities that you undertake in life. It certainly has been for me, and I hope to whet your appetite through my experience. I sought opportunity this past summer for six weeks studying and traveling across Ireland as a participant in the Irish Studies Summer School at the National University of Ireland-Galway (NUIG). During my six week stay on the Emerald Isle I was able to earn six credits transferred back to UMSL, fall head over heels into Irish culture, and best of all embrace the challenges and rewards of leaving familiarity behind. Through my Irish Studies experience I learned so much about myself and the wonder of immersion in another culture.

The Irish Studies program at NUIG was beneficial and refreshing. Each student was given the choice of selecting two courses to enroll in concerning Irish subject matter ranging from literature and film, to dance, music, archaeology, history, and society. Our classes were taught by Irish professors renowned for their expertise in their separate academic fields. Each class met two-three times a week for one to two hours. Professors and the school’s staff readily answered questions from fellow students and myself and sought to provide a helpful environment conducive to learning. Additionally, the summer school organized interdisciplinary seminars led by faculty on such topics as Irish Emigration, Nationalism, and Sport. It allowed us to dive deeper into an understanding of Ireland from an Irish perspective!


My experience in Ireland was educationally enhanced even further through weekend field trips arranged by NUIG to the Aran Islands and to the Dingle Peninsula. Rather than simply talk about these historically-fascinating locations, the school provided for us to travel to and explore them, significantly increasing our cultural immersion. I savored standing on Ireland’s southwest shore looking westward while waves from the Atlantic Ocean rolled in over my bare feet. Likewise, towering over the Atlantic on a 300 foot cliff situated at the pre-historic Fort Dún Aonghasa was breathtaking and historically magnificent. 

After the 4 week program ended, I decided to take off on my own 1 ½ week exploration of Ireland. Traveling alone, I ventured again to the southwest coast of the island staying another night in Dingle and two nights in Killarney. After renting a bike, I rode the Slea Head Drive through a couple of rain showers and past a few sheep. It was MARVELOUS! Famine huts littered the countryside and a gentleman overseeing their upkeep chatted with me for a bit after I had the chance to walk in them and picture what life may have been like during the Great Famine. After leaving the southwest, I traveled to Dublin where I spent three days soaking up Irish Nationalism, meeting scores of people from all over the world, and enjoying the simplicity of traditional Irish music, friends, and laughter. Continuing northward, I stayed next in Belfast, a city of turbulence and division, but also a city progressing steadily toward unity. During my visit, a bus tour took me along the north coastline to the famous Giant’s Causeway (a geologic masterpiece one must see for themself), to the centuries-old ruins of Dunluce Castle, and on to the historic walled city of Derry. In Belfast, I participated in several walking/driving tours of Nationalist and Loyalist neighborhoods gaining a perspective of history not possible in a classroom. Before returning to the States, I stayed one last weekend in Galway and celebrated the unforgettable memories made over the summer.


Study Abroad in Ireland has been one of the most outstanding experiences in my life. Not only was I given the opportunity to dive right into centuries of Irish history, explore castles, and enjoy engaging conversation in many a pub, but I discovered what living is truly about. Stripping away familiarity and living in a different culture forced me to appreciate the beauty of living one day at a time rather than taking life for granted. Sometimes the best way to learn is to dare to step away from what we know, what we are certain of, and instead trust in the possibilities that await us. 

You cannot put a price on memories made in a distant culture nor on education and experience gained from a different perspective. So stumble into adventure; wait….just run right into it! I urge you: explore, engage, be excited, be nervous, and completely embrace the opportunity that awaits you through UMSL Study Abroad.




Name: Kati Minas
Program: UMSL exchange at the University of Limerick
Major: Sociology
Term Abroad:
 Spring semester during senior year

Kati in Ireland

Before attending University of Limerick in Castletroy, Limerick, Ireland, the farthest I had ever been from the Midwest was California. The day I left I felt a huge mix of nervous, excited, anxious, and proud. I never thought I would get a chance to visit a foreign country, much less study and live in Ireland for four amazing months.

When the plane touched down in Shannon, Ireland, I could hardly contain my excitement. After landing, the stark contrasts from American life became immediately apparent. The European terminology was instantly obvious, ex: using the word “lift” instead of “elevator.” As the semester, or “Module” as it is called at University of Limerick, began, I settled into life as a foreign exchange student living in Ireland. It took a bit of an adjustment.  Locals would ask, “Are you here on holiday? Where are you from?”  And I would reply, “I’m attending UL, and I am from America.”  To which sometimes received a laugh, and the local would ask, “I know that much, but what state?!”


The University of Limerick is a fairly large school, with a huge international presence.  Upon entering the campus, visitors are greeted by two large flagpoles, followed by a beautiful, tree-topped, half mile road to the Student Centre. The Student Centre of the University holds a courtyard with a bank, a bookstore, three restaurants, and meeting areas.  It also holds the home office of the Student Union, which is an integral part of all student and campus activities.

Limerick City is located in County Munster, which is in the Southern part of Ireland. It is home to many great pieces of Irish history, such as the Treaty Stone, St. John’s Castle, and St. Mary’s Cathedral. I would suggest to any student to visit these places at least once, as they are major parts of Limerick City history.
Aside from historical sites, Limerick is home to the Milk Market, which is a multi-vendor weekend long farmers market in the heart of City Centre. Here, fresh foods and unique products from all around Europe are available to sample and purchase.


I took one school trip outside of Limerick City. It was to Giant’s Causeway/Belfast, Northern Ireland. Belfast is approximately 5 hours north of Limerick City by bus, and well worth the travel. Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland provided beautiful, picturesque views of the ocean, as well as access to the strangest rocks naturally created on Earth. The many adorable seaside communities dotting the coastline were exactly how they look in travel magazines. Belfast’s Peace Wall was a sobering and powerful experience. The tour through the war torn areas still had residual paintings and murals of times during the troubles.
I absolutely adored my time in Ireland. I made quite a few close friends in such a short period of time from all over the world. After this experience, I feel I have a better understanding on the history of the European Union and the United Kingdom. After the initial culture shock for integrating into life in Ireland, I quickly picked up how to live and how to act. University of Limerick is an excellent school to visit on Study Abroad. Their International Department as well as the International Society is extremely welcoming, caring, and attentive to the needs of exchange students. Limerick is an old city with lots of historical relics intertwined with a gritty cool modernity, a huge music scene, and cultured fun people. I would suggest visiting Ireland to anyone who is interested in Irish History and doesn’t mind a little rain. 

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