Luck of the Irish (study abroad student) - The Echo News
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Luck of the Irish (study abroad student)

Adventures from a FISPer no credit hour can fulfill

By Kenzi Nevins | Contributor


Kenzi Nevins enjoys the Irish coastline. (Provided by Kenzi Nevins)

“You did what?”

“Freshman year?”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard one of those phrases, I could’ve paid off my school loans by now.

Which, actually, would be quite nice.

The point is, I spent the first semester of my freshman year on a heart-stopping, breath-stealing, vertigo-inducing adventure called the Freshman Irish Studies Program (FISP) and whirled back home with sea salt in my hair and heather in my boots.

And this semester, I’m back in Ireland for round two.

Despite how life-changing my first experience was, I’ve often felt a lack of understanding from people at home about exactly why Ireland changed me.

That explanation is the point of this story.

The FISPers, as we call ourselves, found more than just rainy skies or hills dotted with sheep in the land of myth and legend. The foundations of our lives shifted. Now, as a junior returning to the program as an Overseas Mentor, I’m watching my foundation shift once again.

Taylor offers two Irish Studies Programs, one in the fall for freshmen, and one in the spring for upperclassmen (ISP). Both, but especially the FISP program, are unique among North American universities. Indiana Wesleyan University requires students wishing to spend a semester abroad to accumulate 30 credit hours. Students at Asbury University must complete two semesters before traveling. Fortunately, at Taylor, there’s no credit hour requirement for adventure.

But where the ISPers and FISPers see a whirlwind adventure that could be written on the pages of a fairy tale, our peers both in and beyond Taylor often see a group of impetuous students sailing off across the Atlantic. Trust me, I’ve gotten my share of weird looks and exclamations of “as a freshman?!”

They’re not totally wrong. My FISP experience wasn’t all fairy tales and leprechaun-chasing (surprisingly enough, I actually never caught a single leprechaun). It changed the way I look at the world. From the first moment we stepped off the airplane in Dublin, we plunged into a culture that was similar to what we’d known in many ways but also drastically different. The experience was often tiring, uncomfortable and even scary. This second semester in Ireland has brought different challenges.

But the experience is worth it. Let me skip to that part.

Freshmen come to a study abroad experience with fewer assumptions than upperclassmen would, both about the semester itself and about Taylor. They’re forced into friendships with people they may never have met otherwise—one big group of awkward high school grads stuck together for three months.

The lessons we learned during our semester in Ireland are deeper than the ocean we crossed. The skill of cultural understanding is woven into the fabric of our curriculum, and that makes as much of a difference when we return to Taylor as it does when we’re across the world. No matter how hard we try, it’s easy to feel isolated at a tiny Christian college in the American Midwest. It’s hard to imagine that the world stretches beyond the borders of our cornfields.

The Freshman Irish Studies Program shatters the barriers, stereotypes and presuppositions we may have grown up with. Because of the unique structure of the program, it allows students to truly integrate into the Irish culture over a period of three months and then return to Taylor with the ability to recognize and adapt to cultural differences around them.

For me, the transition to life at Taylor was easier because of my FISP experience. I arrived on campus with a group of friends who were closer than siblings. Life in the flatlands could have been quite a culture shock for this Kentucky girl, but equipped with the lessons I learned in Ireland, I was able to successfully navigate the change and assimilate myself into campus life. Taylor became just another culture to cross.

I think we FISPers see ourselves as proof that real life can be better than fiction. At least I do. Once naïve teenagers adrift in the churning waters of high school, after the program we became college students with expanded views of the world and a thirst for adventure that will never be quenched.

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