West Windsor, N.J. – One week wasn’t enough. Mercer County Community College (MCCC) students felt as much after spending a week in Ireland as part of the college’s study abroad program. The group reconvened at the college on June 3 to reflect on what they learned.
With an itinerary featuring historical outings, cliff-side hikes and fish and chips, the study tour was an intensive dive into the culture of Ireland as a platform for studying global healthcare issues. Accompanying the students were Elizabeth Mizerek, Director of Nursing, and MCCC Professors Lisa Dunn (Nursing) Linda Falkow (Biology), and Sandra Kerr (Radiography), as well as community members from Mercer County.The trip was organized by the college’s Center for Global Opportunities (GO!) under the coordination of Professor Andrea Lynch.
The group arrived in Dublin on May 22. Each day of the excursion was broken into three parts. Mornings were usually reserved for lectures, while the afternoons featured hands-on learning at historically and culturally significant sites, like Angela’s College, Derry City and The Irish Immigration Museum (EPIC) Museum. Evenings gave tour-goers the chance to unwind, save for one session spent with healthcare professionals working in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The trip was especially fruitful for the students in the Health Sciences at Mercer. Erin Sobkowiak, a Nursing student, noted that the gender disparity in the Irish health system was eye-opening.
“The Irish healthcare system is effectively separated by sex,” Sobkowiak said. “We didn’t meet any female surgeons. Even the hospital wings were separated by gender.”
Sarah Allen, a fellow Nursing student, added that the staffing of nurses appeared inadequate. "By my count there was about one nurse for every 30 patients,” Allen said. “Irish students have to step into the nursing role, even though they’re not yet certified.”
Beyond healthcare, the Mercer study abroad group also ventured into discussions about local folklore.
“I loved learning about giants, witches and fairies,” said Nursing student Marissa Falsetti, adding that Irish lore is more influential, compared to American viewpoints on Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. “The Irish really believe that their folklore has had a hand in shaping their country.”
The EPIC museum was another site that was universally praised by the group. Rachel Fredrick, who recently graduated from Mercer’s Nursing program with her mother, Victoria, saw the international impact of Irish emigrants.
“The Museum really highlighted just how connected humans are,” said Fredrick, who also took part in last year’s tour to Costa Rica. “Ireland leans towards ethnic homogeneity, but the impact they’ve had on the world is undeniable.”
Still recovering from jetlag, the members from the study tour made clear that they plan to incorporate lifestyle changes after visiting Ireland. Items high on the list included making more of an effort to travel and eating fewer processed foods. “The food was so natural in Ireland and had very little sugar. I’m inspired to change my diet,” Brianna Davison, a nursing student said.
But more than anything, the health science faculty encouraged the students to continue striving for excellence, even when social structures make things more difficult.
“You’re getting the knowledge and experience to exercise your political freedoms,” Dunn said. Don’t settle, push yourself, and demand excellence.”
“There is an important distinction with Mercer’s study abroad program: this isn’t edu-tourism,” said Lynch. She continued, “These trips aren’t vacations. We want students to walk away with the ability to incorporate elements of the cultural and societal study into their own lives.”
For more information about Mercer’s study abroad program please visit http://www.mccc.edu/studyabroad.