(Group picture at some ruins near Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland)
Since 2015, CIPUSA and our Affiliate in Arizona, Empower International, have been building and leading innovative, informative, and transformative study/tour trips abroad for U.S. students and professionals. We have seen growth and change in the work we do, thanks to increasing collaboration and strong relationships we build with our international partners, alumni, and faculty from across the nation and abroad. This year we had our first opportunity to collaborate with a university to create and support their own student and faculty Spring Break trip. Grand Canyon University (GCU), is a private Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona. They approached us with interest in having a purposeful opportunity for Sociology and Justice Studies students, and 5 faculty, to go to Ireland in a way that was connected to the university mission and purpose, and connected back to their classrom environment and learning. It was not hard to create a fantastic week abroad for all, that embedded service, compassion, peace, global awareness, community and togetherness.
We asked students to share their impressions. Kaila Sims, gaining her undergraduate degree in Psychology from GCU, provides insight from her own perspective. She is one of 24 students that jumped at the opportunity to travel with 5 of their professors to Galway, Shannon, Derry, Ballycastle, Belfast and Dublin over Spring Break. The theme was “Peace and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Community”. Overall, we had a robust look and dialogue about the Easter Rising and the Troubles from various points of view; through city walking tours and late night chats with our B&B owner (who lived through the Troubles as a 14 year old all the way through her adult years), through those who saw their father killed and lying in the streets od Derry, as well as the oppositional view. Additionally, a visit and day spent with a Christian peace and reconciliation center provided a third view point; one of healing and forgiveness. University dialogues and chats with vulnerable populations (Irish Travelers and the Roma community), provided in depth looks at people, and community in a new perspective. Finally, cultural tours such as Medieval dinner banquets, Celtic music/dinner shows, Irish Folklore, and breathtaking cliffs and sea rounded out one of the most magestic trips we have all had. The luck of the Irish surely was with us!
Lets see how our students summed up this trip…...they always have a fascinating way to share their insights!
First Name: Kaila
Name of College / University: Grand Canyon University
Area of study: Psychology
1) Why did you decide to participate in the trip to Ireland?
I wanted to embrace another culture! I love listening to people tell their story. I was really interested in hearing first-hand accounts of the conflicts in Ireland.
2) What were your thoughts leading up to your trip? (Your expectations, concerns, emotions, etc.)
I imagined that I would learn a lot about the culture and about traveling abroad in general. I didn't know exactly what to expect because I have never traveled abroad and didn't know many of the people who were going on the trip, but I was extremely excited to go!
3) What was your biggest “takeaway” from the sharing of knowledge and your discussions on systems in Ireland versus in the U.S.?
It felt as if everyone we came in contact with in Ireland wanted peace and reconciliation. Though the conflict is different, the US is also experiencing certain tensions--especially regarding race, gender, and firearms. One thing that I found really incredible was Corrymeela and how they provided a space for open conversation and healing. I think that is something that we desperately need. Sometimes it feels like we paint the faces of those who have hurt us onto the entire group they belong to and it makes it hard to see them for who they are. Creating a space for people to have meaningful and healing discussions about their hurt might start to chip away at that so we can really start to see and care for one another.
(Visiting the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Ballycastle)
4) Any favorite memories or meaningful moments from your trip?
The whole trip was phenomenal! I really enjoyed both of the walking tours and our time at Corrymeela.
5) Impact of your trip – How do you plan on using your experience in Ireland in your life back home? How did the trip affect you personally and/or professionally?
I really loved the way drivers only used their horn as a courtesy to other drivers over there instead of the way we tend to use ours in frustration here. It may seem kind of insignificant, but I think it speaks to the way they live their lives. I think I will try and slow down and do more for others and less for myself. Turn some things that may frustrate me into a way to care for those around me. Patience in and out of work.
6) Describe your experience in just one word: Transformational.
7) If your best friend wanted advice, as they now want to go see Ireland, what would it be?
Talk to people and go on some walking tours, so you can really connect with the cities and people you see.
8) How can you connect the trip to your professional career and studies at GCU?
Imagining others as being just as complex as I am and giving them my time and really listening to what they're telling me.
(The group's tour guide in Derry, Ireland. His father was killed in The Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland, during the late 20th century. He continues to share this history with others.)
(Finding inner-peace at Giants Causeway)
(A student was selected to sing to "stay out of the dungeon" at the group's Medieval dinner banquet at Bunratty Castle)
(Walking tour in Derry, learning about The Troubles)
(The group at NUI Galway for the International Social Work Day hosted by IASW)