Deep Dive Dublin – An Interview with Stephen Robinson

The city of Dublin is steeped in history along every streetcorner and cobblestone block, from each plaque on every building, from every pub with two-century old woodworm holding together five-century old wooden beams. I spent Spring of 2022 engulfed in this history, utterly immersed, and I could have scarcely asked for a better experience. In no small part, that was due to Stephen Robinson, director of Champlain College’s Campus, who I had the pleasure of interviewing over email earlier last month.

Something to start with, how’s the most recent crop of students doing?

The Fall 2022 students are doing great!  It’s a small group this semester, but they’ve thrown themselves into the semester here and all of the opportunities available to them in Ireland.  We’ve got several students doing internships, and the group has really come together as a cohesive bunch.  Most have done some traveling as well, to places such as Italy, France, Switzerland, and we even had some students go to Bulgaria this past weekend.

How many are there currently?

It’s a small group of only 18 students here right now, and 22 are coming in the Spring.  We hope to get back to our usual 45-50 students a semester by Fall of 2023.

What kind of challenges do you face in keeping your student population? (e.g mental health, Covid, that sort of thing)

We were doing very well pre-Covid with student numbers….averaging about 45 per semester.  Since Covid it’s been more difficult to attract students to Dublin.  I think that Covid put a lot of people outside of their comfort zone, and it’s taken a while for students to get back on track.  Returning students are our best promotional tool, and of course with Covid we broke the steady stream of those returning students.  It’s the same across Europe.  Everyone expected a big return and pent up demand, but it hasn’t really played out that way.  But, we hope with great promotion in Burlington, a return to normalcy post-Covid, and groups of returning students spreading the word we should soon be back to our higher numbers.  We’re thankful that the college has been supportive while we rebuild.

How do you help the students feel at home/how do you deal with homesickness?

Dublin City Campus at Leeson Street

I’d like to think we build a supportive family here in Dublin.  We let the students know that they have the support of the staff, the fellow students, and of course the community; that’s all part of building a successful study abroad semester.  Students all go through some degree of homesickness and we encourage them to talk openly about it, or seek professional support if they wish.  We also hope that they find something that reminds them of home here, and that could be anything from a shop, to a friend group, to music.  But, we also encourage students to ‘check-out’ from their life at home somewhat.  You can’t immerse yourself in Ireland if you don’t mentally leave the U.S.

What kind of trips or events or activities do you typically do in a semester? And what would you consider to be the highlight of the semester?

We do two weekend trips per semester, one to the West Coast of Ireland and another to Northern Ireland.  They are certainly highlights as we get students out of the city and to places they are unlikely to get to on public transportation.  There are also several day trips, and outings associated with classes.  For example, the Northern Ireland history class is going on a day trip to Belfast later this week.  We also just sent a group of Cybersecurity students to a local conference.

What are you most proud of in the Dublin Campus?

I think I’m most proud of what we’ve built here….a small campus that really shows students a country that I love, and instills a sense of adventure in them.  They get out of their comfort zone, but there is a strong safety net here as well.  The faculty are also amazing here, and they all support students while they are here.  We’ve had well over 1,000 Champlain students spend a semester in Dublin, and that makes me very proud.  I also think that we provide professional and community immersion opportunities for students that other study abroad programs don’t do.

What would you say is the most interesting/attractive aspect of going to Dublin?

Students in Dublin progress towards their degree here, taking courses relevant to their program.  We obviously can’t reproduce all of the classes that Burlington offers, but we do surprisingly well.  But I think the most interesting aspect of coming to Dublin is the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, to immerse yourself in another culture, to mature a bit, and hopefully return to the U.S. a more global citizen.  That’s something that studying abroad does to people!

What classes are you most proud of in your program? 

There are a few courses here that I think we are most proud of.  In choosing one or two I don’t want to in any way diminish those I don’t mention as they are all great and taught by amazing faculty.  Nicole Rourke, who teaches Writing the City (COR 302/304 / WRT 335) is an amazing inspirational dynamo. (Author’s Note: I can confirm Nicole’s class is amazing) She gets students to really stretch their writing and express themselves.  It takes an amazing teacher to make such breakthroughs in student writing.  Liz Gillis’ course on Northern Irish history (COR 302/304 / HIS 415) is also amazing. (Author’s Note: I can also confirm Liz’s class is also amazing) She really brings the history behind this region to life through her teaching.

Students embarking on an adventure

What would you say are the benefits of going to Dublin?

The way Champlain has set up the program means that it really is about the same cost to come to Dublin as it is to stay in Burlington, and your financial aid travels with you.  Of course there’s the opportunity to study in Europe and do a bit of exploration, all while staying within the Champlain family.  Students also tell me that the student residence we have here in Dublin, with single bedrooms and your own bathroom, is a real selling point. There’s really no reason why a student shouldn’t come to Dublin.

Finally, what would you like to say to the people who are on the fence about going to Dublin, or going abroad in general, about why they should go if they can?

The best way to get a good idea as to how the program operates is to talk to your fellow students who have been here. They know best about the opportunities and the overall experience and will tell you like it is.  Of course also talk to your faculty members, as well as Martha in the Champlain Abroad office… she can answer all of your questions!

More Dublin
Summer Reading: THE WREN HUNT by Mary Watson
Where Study Abroad Is Taking Me
Learning Irish