October 23, 2017

Students enjoy a sightseeing visit while on a study abroad trip to Ireland.

Students enjoy a sightseeing visit while on a study abroad trip to Ireland.

University of Arkansas students studying in Ireland last summer learned about the education system there but also saw the country and its people from a different perspective than if they had been tourists.

Emily Floyd, Joanna Lovern and Sumner Sparks recently recalled highlights of the trip. They are all seniors planning to be teachers who went on the faculty-led trip for education majors to Limerick and Dublin. They each taught a lesson in three schools throughout the southern part of Ireland.

“Going into the elementary schools was like stepping into the everyday life of an Irish person,” Sparks said. “When you travel as a tourist, you observe from the outside. You have to figure out the bus system and download maps when you’re at a coffee shop with wi-fi.”

Paul Calleja, Jack Kern and Janet Forbess, who teach in the kinesiology-K-12 teaching program in the College of Education and Health Professions, will take another group of students on the trip in summer of 2018. Application information is available on the Study Abroad website.

Sparks and Lovern are both majoring in elementary education, and Floyd is majoring in the teaching concentration in kinesiology. Sparks and Lovern plan to pursue the Master of Arts in Teaching degree, Sparks in STEM education and Lovern in ESL.

The three students have done teaching practicums in Northwest Arkansas and saw differences between the schools here and in Ireland. English is the primary language there but students also learn Gaelic in elementary school. The system uses different terms for teachers and grades, classroom management feels different and the schools have fewer resources, including technology, than they saw in Northwest Arkansas, the U of A students said.

“It’s perfect for preparing you to teach in a culturally diverse classroom,” Lovern said. “Students come from many countries.”

Catholic organizations run most of the schools and include religious instruction. Lovern described a teacher who provided alternative lessons for a Muslim child. The teacher did this in a respectful way, Lovern said, not just giving the child busywork.

All three said the experience made them interested in teaching overseas someday and less hesitant to try new things and visit new places. And, they recommended it to other students.

“After this trip, I am much more comfortable to travel,” Floyd said. “I can go by myself, and I don’t mind living alone.”

Sparks said they also learned they could go somewhere with people they didn’t know well and become friends. Faculty designed the trip so that they had free time and could travel in smaller groups when not everyone wanted to do the same thing.

They all enjoyed the Cliffs of Moher and hiking along the beach at a town called Howth near Dublin. Floyd said her favorite outing was to Bunratty Castle in County Clare.

“Dinner was served by people dressed in costume and there were singers and tours of the castle’s rooms,” Floyd said. “They described the food, too.”

Everywhere they went people were friendly.

“They were super willing to help us,” Sparks said.