HOWARD LAKE, MN This past fall, 16 students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in St. Cloud got the chance to travel to rural Ireland for 13 weeks of studying abroad.
Emily Darsow, of Howard Lake, was part of the group. A 2017 graduate of Holy Trinity School in Winsted, Darsow is currently a junior studying nutrition at CSB.
Of studying abroad, Darsow said, “It was something I knew I wanted to do.”
CSB SJU has a highly ranked study abroad program, and Darsow said, “I’d spoken with a lot of people who’d gone abroad before me, so I thought it would be a good opportunity.”
Out of the three Ireland programs offered, Darsow chose to go to Galway, because the rural setting and small class size appealed to her. She said she chose Ireland in part because, “I have just always been interested in Irish culture for some reason. Ireland is a very laid-back, chill kind of country, so I liked that a lot.”
During their time there, the students lived in four cottages owned by a local hotel near the village of Spiddal, about 30 minutes outside of Galway, which sits on the westernmost edge of Ireland.
“We all got super close,” Darsow said, noting the students spent a lot of time together throughout their stay.
The students took classes in a room at the hotel, where they studied humanities, theology, history, and, with a nod to the wool and sweater industries in the area, knitting.
According to Darsow, the director of the program got to pick a required course for the students, and she chose knitting.
“She was an awesome lady we all loved her,” said Darsow.
When the students weren’t studying, they spent time exploring the country, and just hanging out and playing games, like soccer.
“You just get the chance to really bond with people,” said Darsow. “You get to experience something you wouldn’t experience on campus. You definitely don’t have the normal resources you’d have on campus, but it teaches you to do with what you have available to you.”
One challenge of living abroad was, for Darsow, “coordinating grocery runs.” The students would get groceries from Galway once a week. “There were little bumps and stuff,” with that, Darsow said, “but you figure it out eventually.”
On free weekends, the students could go into Galway or Dublin. Darsow preferred Galway, because “it’s not a super-big city like Dublin. It’s right on the bay on the west coast and you have a cool view, and the people were super nice. It’s a really cool city . . . I loved it a lot.”
Most weekends, though, the students went on excursions to explore the rest of the country, going down to Southern Ireland on one trip, and to Northern Ireland over a five-day weekend, where the students got to visit Belfast and Derry. Their visit was over Halloween, so they got to take part in Derry’s famous Halloween parade, which is said to be the biggest Halloween parade in the world.
One of Darsow’s favorite parts of the whole experience was the people.
“I really like the little things,” Darsow said. “The people I got to be with the whole time, and travel and explore with. Even if we weren’t out and about traveling, just hanging out as a group was super fun.”
She also enjoyed making new friends among the people of Spiddal.
“The whole west coast is fairly Gaelic,” said Darsow, adding that the students got to learn some Gaelic, “so it was fun to go into the town and say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you’ in Gaelic, and get to know the locals. We got to meet this cab driver who we made really good friends with,” Darsow said, adding that the students would call him up when they needed to go into Galway.
“You learn a lot about a culture and countries outside the US [by studying abroad],” Darsow said, “and you learn a lot about yourself. You get to make super cool connections, and even outside the classroom we got to learn a lot about the culture.”