Cultural Immersion through Volunteerism

Dublin is a city brimming with opportunity; and upholding Champlain Abroad’s motto to explore, immerse, and engage has proven easy and rewarding. Within one month of arriving, I was making my way to class without a worry about how to get there, being asked for directions, and claiming little corners of the city as my own. There is a familiarity to this place, and the feel of locality has made itself immortal. It goes beyond the trad sessions in pubs and classroom or group excursions; it reaches into volunteerism, as well.

I haven’t volunteered steadily anywhere since high school, but Champlain Abroad makes the chance to do so more than available and the staff are wonderful in helping students find the place for them. And there are a host of places that Champlain has worked with in the past, but there is also room to research organizations in the area! From the beginning, when looking at the list of programs Champlain suggested on the post-acceptance application, I was interested in spending a couple of hours a week at Fighting Words—and it couldn’t have been a better decision on my part to sign up.
So far, I have volunteered at three Fighting Words sessions, already looking forward to the others that lie in store for me. Co-founded by Irish author Roddy Doyle and Seán Love, Fighting Words offers free creative writing tutoring and workshops to children and young adults. They often host events in the center as well as around Ireland, and have specific times set up each day for primary and secondary school students to come in and write. On Monday afternoons, high school students from literally all over the country come for two hours, and as volunteers we sit with a group and act as a set of eyes and ears that isn’t a teacher or other authority figure.

fighting words

The first time that I went, the students that I was sitting with continued to fire off questions about America. What’s the northeast like? Do you have centers with a lot of shops? Can you drive to Los Angeles from Boston? And when I told them that yes, you could, but it would take about thirty-six hours straight through, their jaws dropped.
One of them exclaimed, “I thought you were going to say eight!”
“Eight hours gets you from Boston to Washington, D.C.,” I replied with a quick laugh.
“Wow. I forgot that all of these places were in America!” A second student said, shaking her head.
It was that moment that put into perspective how much I have taken for granted the size of the United States. It seems like a contrite issue; but when you grow up in a country that takes three hours to cross entirely, then how could you have any concept of the sheer enormity of America?
I enjoy talking to the students, because it always leads to thoughtful conversations and the ability on both ends to speak with somebody new. People to exchange what seem blasé facts of life that are actually, to both parties, fascinating and natural perspectives of the world.

Lindsay Maher
Crossing the Carrick-A-Rede bridge in Northern Ireland

Equally as important is the creative aspect. As a writing major, my nose is always stuck in a book and words run through my head on a constant loop. Words are one of the world’s greatest treasures, and to see the shape that they take in individual minds is a beauty to behold. Some of the students I’ve talked with say that they don’t like reading or writing very much, yet when the pen is in their hand at the center they explore characters and plots as if it were their job. They aren’t shy about sharing their work, among themselves and with me. Every one of them takes a different approach, always surprising and exciting me as I read. And at the end of the workshop, many are willing to share aloud. To witness passion as it unfolds in others in terms of writing has become one of those instances that will linger with me when reflecting on my study abroad experience.
This past week, the principal of the school we had joined the group and told the students to give a round of applause to all of the volunteers that day. One of the students at my table said “Thank you,” in a low voice, giving me a sincere nod.
Really, I have to thank them. Four months in Dublin have been made all the more meaningful.



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