Huntington, Ind.—For Huntington University junior Erin Hudson, studying in Ireland this semester is much more than a cultural experience abroad. It’s a way to connect with her family heritage. Both sides of Hudson’s family immigrated to the United States from Ireland during the devastating potato famine of the nineteenth century.
“I’ve always had the desire to travel to Ireland,” said Hudson, a psychology major from Rockville, Ind. “I guess it mainly has to do with my family ancestry.” As a guest student with Taylor University’s Irish Studies program, Hudson is studying in Greystones in County Wicklow, a tiny town south of Dublin and near the harbor. Hudson lives with other students in a YWCA Conference Center which has two houses and a classroom.
Hudson began her semester with a fun scavenger hunt through Dublin. “It was like Amazing Race,” she said. “We were divided into groups, given clues, and dropped off in Dublin. We had to take pictures of all the places that the clues told us to find. The group to arrive back first and had the most creative group pictures was the winner. It was great!”
During the semester, Hudson will be immersed in everything Irish. At the very beginning, she quickly learned about daily morning teatime and words with new meanings, like “biscuits” for cookies. “And almost every Irish person has a dog,” Hudson said. “Everywhere there is someone walking their dog, and we have to be careful where we step when walking down the sidewalk.”
Hudson will take several classes this semester. She already has studied Celtic Christianity and is now studying Irish History. During the rest of her semester, she’ll take classes in Irish Literature, Irish Drumming, Irish dancing, and Living Cross Culturally.
“For most of our classes we take field trips to the actual sites where events occurred,” she said. “For example, we just got back from a trip to Northern Ireland and visited the places where Bloody Sunday happened.”
“We visited Belfast, and it is heart wrenching to see the hatred that exists between Protestants and Catholics,” she added. “It has gotten better than years past. However, the barbed wire, the political murals, and the peace wall which divides the communities give a depressing aura to the whole town. It was hard for me to see how fallen and horrible the world can be and how cruel humans can be to each other.”
After seeing the tragic side of Irish history, Hudson found hope in the beauty of Ireland itself. “We visited the Giant’s Causeway and hiked along the cliffs, and it was just amazing how we could see God’s power, greatness, and hope through His creation,” she said. “From seeing His power, it really gave me a sense of hope that we are not limited to our fallenness. We can have the courage and reassurance that God is in control.”
In addition to visiting some of Ireland’s famous landmarks, Hudson has also enjoyed traveling to the small towns between Greystones and Dublin.
Going to little bookstores, coffee shops, and pubs to listen to traditional Irish music has been some great times!” she said. “And going to church in a different culture is really eye-opening experience. I feel that I often put God in a box and see Him only through my American eyes. It is so interesting to see how people worship from a different culture and actively worship with those people.”
Over her spring break, Hudson went to Kildare and Kilkenny and had a true Irish farm experience.
“We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast that was a farm,” she said. “The farmer asked us if we would like to help him the next morning. We agreed and seven o'clock the next morning we were feeding, watering, and giving hay to sheep. Many of the ewes had lambs, so we also disinfected lamb navels.”
Hudson also got to stay in a castle during the short trip.
“In Kilkenny, we stayed in Faulkswrath Castle which is an actual castle a man turned into a youth hostel that is way out in the country,” she said. “The rooms were in the tower. The room we had looked like one of the prison cells. It was about five feet wide and eleven feet long. There was a dining area that was created to look like a medieval banquet room complete with candles. It was a little freaky to have a huge ton of crows sitting on the tower 'cawing' throughout the night.”
Hudson will be visiting more castles and monastic ruins throughout the semester. “Just walking across the stone floors of a fallen castle and seeing the effigies of former monks was a passage back into history,” she said.
But in the midst of all her history lessons and Irish cultural experiences, Hudson finds she has also learned a lot about God.
“This trip has just opened my eyes and made see the world as a lot bigger place,” she said. “While at the same time, I have learned no matter where I am in the world God is always there. I never really thought before how scary it can be to go to a different place and culture where I did not know anyone. However, throughout this trip God has just showed me that He is right there anytime I call on Him. This trip has made me realize how much I do really need Him in my life.”
“I have learned especially how important it is to have a relationship with Christ,” she added. “In Ireland many youth today don’t go to church and don’t have an interest in the church. When we visited St. Patrick's Cathedral, the tour guide ladies were so touched by our presence. They commented again and again how the youth of today don’t come to church. It seems that faith here is based more on works than on a relationship.”
For Hudson, the decision to spend a semester in Ireland has been well worth it, culturally and spiritually.
“It really has been such a growing experience, not just through learning so much more about a different culture, but also learning more about my relationship with God,” she said.
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