Just one year ago, the University launched its first international study-abroad experience, known as The Ireland Program. Led by Social Work Chair Terry Keller and History Chair Mary Robinson, PhD, 15 Lourdes students spent 3 weeks last summer living and learning alongside residents in Tullycross, Ireland.
What they took away from the experience was friendship, knowledge, and a desire to give back.
Welcome to Tullycross
"People ask me about Tullycross – and I always start by explaining that when our group was there, we increased its population by nearly 50%," notes Professor Keller. "It's a very quaint and archetypal village in Ireland. Most residents have lived there their entire lives."
With a population of around only 50 full-time residents, Tullycross brings new meaning to the word "small town." Most of the village's population works in agriculture or construction, though the village also offers several small businesses including a local shop, draper, café, bed and breakfast, and two pubs.
Tiffany Scott, a senior business administration major, says that the sense of welcome the group received from the residents was overwhelming.
"When we arrived, we found that the entire community had come together to throw us a welcoming party. This was my first time traveling abroad, and I wasn't sure what to expect. They made us feel at home immediately!"
Asked about her experience, Tiffany explains that one of the most surprising and rewarding aspects was learning about Ireland's history from the residents. "They were very open to dialoging with us, and answered any question we asked."
Students give back
The experience impacted the students so much that they decided to use monies set aside for a closing celebration to establish a charitable fund for Tullycross.
The fund established through the Ireland Program (which does not yet have a formal name) will go toward providing health services to those in Tullycross. "Our hope is that it can help residents with things such as family support services, assistance with medical appointments, and buying school supplies."
To ensure the charity not only grows but also goes directly to the services most needed by Tullycross, Lourdes is housing the fund with an Irish-based organization known as Connemara West.
"We are so thrilled that our students decided to forgo a closing celebration in order to create something more meaningful. It really goes to show what amazing students we have," reflects Professor Keller. "I can't wait to see how the Ireland Program and its charity grow and prosper in the years to come!"