Maria Pakulis is a student at Arizona State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Galway, Ireland.
One thing that I learned early on as an international student was that sometimes opportunities that you weren’t expecting will arise, and when they do: take them! Part of the registration process as an international student at the NUI Galway involves listening to presentations by each department where they explain the classes offered to international students and how to register for them specifically. I knew I needed to go to the second presentation, so I stayed for the first one anyone, rather than finding another way to spend fifteen minutes. Because I listened to that first presentation, I ended up in what was to become my favorite class this semester, with people who would turn out to be the best friends I’d make in Ireland.
This class, offered every semester, is titled Service Learning–Literacy Project for US Visiting Students. Unfortunately, it is only offered to students from the US, but it has a major impact on the community in Galway. Led by the incredibly personable Professor Dermot Burns, we spend one class period a week learning about literacy acquisition in children as well as the very real issue in Ireland of adult illiteracy. The best part about this class, however, is the time we spend off campus. One day a week, groups of us make our way to a primary school in Shantalla, a suburb of Galway. Students at this school often have a difficult time completing their homework because they are either behind in school, don’t have the resources to do it, or have no one at home who is able to help them. To fix this problem, a homework club was set up after school three days a week so that the kids could complete their homework in a safe environment with students, such as ourselves, and other community members to help them. While this can sometimes be a daunting task, especially since some of the kids can be troublemakers, we also spend another hour every week discussing our time at homework club so that we can be sure we are helping them as best we can.
My classmates and I have spent this semester getting to know these kids and helping them grow as students, which has been incredibly rewarding. We even held a bake sale on campus to raise money so that we can throw them a party and give them new school supplies for Christmas. My class broke the fundraising record set by previous Service Learning classes by raising €322! We all put in so much work and it was wonderful to see it pay off. Had I not known about this opportunity, I wouldn’t have realized what I was missing out on, but I am so incredibly glad that I decided to stay and listen to Dr. Burns presentation because being a part of this class has been one of the best experiences I have had here in Ireland.
The world awaits…discover it.