Study abroad to Ireland offers multi-cultural insights for COMD students

BY Cheryl Taylor

Seven students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley journeyed through a wide expanse of the Emerald Isle during a study abroad course from May 21 to June 4.

Led by Dr. Ruth Crutchfield, assistant professor of Communication Disorders, the seminar in speech-language pathology took place in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“This course focused on multi-cultural awareness and ways to increase graduate students’ understanding and ease when working with ethnically diverse populations,” Crutchfield said.

Among the students on the trip was Brownsville native Analisa Lopez. A May 2016 graduate of UTRGV, Lopez earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD) and will begin work on her master’s degree in COMD in the fall.

“As a future speech language pathologist, there may be a time where I will provide therapy services to someone from a culture different from my own,” Lopez said. “It was helpful to observe the differences in the speech and nonverbal communication skills of the locals, travelers and immigrants that we encountered throughout our stay in Ireland.”

Weslaco native Patricia Mejorado, a first-year COMD graduate student on the trip, said the students were curious about bilingualism in Ireland.

“Ireland is a bilingual country, and use of the Gaelic-Irish language is slowly fading away with new generations,” Mejorado said. “We discussed this with people we met. It was certainly something that we could identify with – something for us to consider when treating our clients.”

The group was hosted by University College Dublin (UCD), a school with a large international student population. Students attended lectures, and they journaled and completed observations during the scheduled outings.

They also toured Trinity College Dublin, where Lopez, a self-professed bookworm, found one of her favorite places on the trip – the famous Library of Trinity College Dublin.

A student representative from UCD escorted the group on a bus excursion for the weekend to Belfast, Northern Ireland, stopping along the way at the Cliffs of Moher, Carrick de Rede and Dark Hedges Cliffs. In the city, students took a “Black Cab” tour of the mural-covered Belfast Peace Walls that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, and learned about the decades-long conflict called “the Troubles.”

The highlight of Belfast for the group was Titanic Belfast, the nine-gallery museum that opened just four years ago, situated adjacent to the site of the historic ship’s construction.

“I had the opportunity to see a Titanic exhibit a couple of years ago in Las Vegas, but to see the exhibits in this museum and to be at the actual site where the Titanic was built was amazing,” Mejorado said. “Titanic Belfast put a lot of emphasis on the shipbuilders and the construction of the ship – very emotional and beautiful, all at the same time.”

Then it was back to Dublin, more classes and lectures, and a day trip south to Cork, stopping to see the medieval buildings at Rock of Cashel and a visit to Blarney Castle.

“It was a bit scary, but I had to kiss the Blarney Stone,” Mejorado said. “According to legend, whoever kisses the Blarney Stone is gifted with eloquence and persuasiveness.”

Crutchfield said the students embraced every aspect of the journey – from the readings, lectures and discussions to the interaction with everyone they met along the way.

“This trip has encouraged me to expand my horizons, and I know I will now be more comfortable and effective when working with adults and children from different cultures,” Lopez said.