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Students Step Outside of 'Cultural Comfort Zone' at Diversity and Counseling Institute in Ireland

It's been a couple of months now since 26 students and counselors from around the nation returned from Old Dominion University's Diversity and Counseling Summer Institute in Ireland, but it's clear that the experience has made a lasting impact.

Led by ODU Counseling Program faculty members Garrett McAuliffe and Ted Remley (pictured here in Belfast with Syreeta Shaw-Stateman and Ulrisi Green, ODU doctoral students in counseling), the Aug. 10-20 institute was based at the historic Trinity College campus in Dublin. A mix of graduate students from ODU and from universities in Ohio, Arizona, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Illinois learned about the cultural aspects of the counseling profession in Ireland from local mental health professionals and faculty, as well as their trip leaders. Students preceded the trip with readings and discussion board participation on culture and counseling.

The learning experience was complemented by the students' immersion into Irish culture and, as a bonus, the group visited such historic sites as the Books of Kells, Trim Castle, the Falls Road and the Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast, the Passage Graves at Loughrea, the Hill of Tara, the Valley of Glendalough and St. Kevin's Monastery.

"The course was designed to challenge participants to step outside of their cultural comfort zone, to 'de-center' in a sense from their assumptions," said McAuliffe, University Professor of Counseling. "The experience of ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland was particularly striking, drawing comparisons to American cultural issues."

The institute will be held again in 2010 from Aug. 9-19. All students of counseling and human services from ODU and around the country, as well as practicing counselors and counselor educators, are welcome. More information can be found at http://education.odu.edu/pcl/counselor/Ireland/index.shtml.

Since their return home, McAuliffe and Remley have been analyzing data on the trip's impact.

"The experience had both intellectual and emotional power for the learners," McAuliffe said.

The following excerpted comments from the students' written reflections on the trip confirm that assessment.

"It was very emotional for me to go to the Monastic City. Knowing that many people suffered over thousands of years trying to keep that site sacred and protecting it proves their loyalty to Ireland, and again, made me want to become more loyal and appreciative of my own country."

- Terra Howell, master's student

"I found Belfast to be most fascinating. The murals painted on the houses, the Peace Wall, the haunting gates that close at night to separate the Catholics from the Protestants. Seeing the pride that each side had for their flags and homes was amazing. I could feel the tension in the air while standing in the grass located in the middle of the Protestant neighborhood. I could not stop taking pictures of the murals of guns and those who have passed defending their side."

- Jennifer Carlson, master's student

"Overall, the Ireland Institute was a one-of-a-kind course, and I feel unbelievably fortunate to have experienced it with the group of people that I did. The mix of the doctoral students, master's students and the wide age range of the participants made this trip even more rewarding."

- Kristin Morgan, master's student

"To summarize my experience, I truly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to others. It went well with, and was complementary of, our Social and Cultural Issues in Counseling course. I especially gained a sense of the social and cultural issues of Ireland from our tour of Belfast and Northern Ireland. I would have liked to have spent more time there as well, learning more about their schools and social conflicts. It seems that Ireland and its people are full of contradictions and contrast."

- Jeffrey Hart, master's student

"I think that through this experience I gained an appreciation for my culture. I never really thought about my culture before this class and this trip, but learning about the Irish culture made me think more about mine."

- Brantley Willet, master's student

"Overall this trip was everything that I could have asked for. It was a great mix of studying and learning, sightseeing and just being immersed into a culture. I think one of the great ways to really experience a different culture is to get out there and just hang out with the people. I ate things I have never eaten before, listened to new music and met so many wonderful people. My trip to Ireland will always have a special place in my heart and I am taking away more memories than I could have asked for."

- Rebecca Lee, undergraduate student

"Northern Ireland felt oppressive. It felt angry and anxious. I found myself questioning why anyone would want to live there - and then I thought that that is probably not a very multiculturally competent thought and I had to work through that in terms of thinking about culture, family of origin, beliefs and other necessary components. The walls and fences used to separate everything felt aggressive and the murals were violent. I know that has to have something to do with the mindset and aspect of individuals that live there. It's like the lady at the Center for Integrated Education said, 'How can people move on when everything you see around you is about the war and the hatred between the people?' That statement resonated with me."

- Rebekah Byrd, doctoral student

"I was aware that there were not many people of color in Ireland. However, as the days passed, I noticed more and more people of color, specifically African. I spoke to a couple from Nigeria in a clothing store and discovered that skin color does not appear to be a basis for maltreatment."

- Syreeta Shaw-Stateman, doctoral student

"The Ireland immersion/study abroad experience gave full meaning to the multicultural counseling course to which it was attached. It created insights and allowed for professional and personal growth. It opened the door of understanding to see that the experience was not all about Ireland and its culture but a window to see the possibilities form multiple cultures and people."

- Amy Upton, doctoral student


This article was posted on: October 6, 2009

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