Joyce Marie Taylor
College student Mary Thomas (Hart) of Mayo had the opportunity to study abroad for four months in Ireland recently and she eagerly shared some of her most exciting moments in a pictorial travelogue.
Thomas is a junior at Berry College, a comprehensive liberal arts university with Christian values located in northwest Georgia near the city of Rome. Thomas said there are currently 2,000 students enrolled there and about 45 percent of those students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad.
“When she was looking for colleges, she knew she wanted to study abroad, so that was one question she was asking,” her mother Jana Hart explained.
“Last semester I studied abroad in Ireland with a program called American Institute of Foreign Study and I was in a group of 26 students from all over the country,” said Hart. “People from Florida, Texas, California, all the way up to New York.”
The first day of her adventure was when all these students met up in London, England and she made certain to get photos of herself in front of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Bridge while touring the city for two days.
Next stop Ireland!
“We were all on the plane and we were super giddy and excited,” she said.
Out the windows of the plane she said they could see the green grass, the rolling hills and the stone walls, typical of the area. Once they landed it was off to the city of Limerick. Although tired and sleepy and suffering from jet lag, Thomas said, the scenery breathed new life into all of them.
The University of Limerick, where she spent five days a week in class, was built in the 70s and Thomas said most of the architecture there is very modern. She was housed in a campus apartment with seven other students, two Americans, four Irish students and one student from China.
“It was a lot of diversity,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of people.”
Unlike here in the States, in Ireland, Thomas said parents pay for their children to go to elementary and high school and then college is free to attend, paid for by the government.
Because of Thomas’ southern accent and the Irish accent of the students from Ireland, even though they all spoke English, Thomas said it was difficult at first for them to understand each other.
Thomas said she was impressed with the farmer’s markets in town and the fact everything was so fresh, including the fish and dairy products.
“Instead of going to grocery stores, most people do their shopping at a farmer’s market, if they don’t farm themselves,” she said.
A lot of the trips to the different places in the country were included in the tuition. In her free time on the weekends is when she got to go out and explore other notable places. When she made it over to the western part of the country she said she was finally able to see the real Ireland with the castles, the cliffs overhanging the Atlantic Ocean, and all the typical stonework that is used in place of metal or wooden fences.
One of the highlights of her tour through the country was when she got to kiss the blarney stone at the Blarney Castle in the town of Cork, which was built in 1446. The blarney stone, she said, is four stories up and it hangs out over the ground below. Thomas said kissing the blarney stone will bring you good luck, but legend has it that if you are able to kiss the blarney stone it will bring you the gift of gab or great eloquence or skill at flattery. In a country where colorful tales tend to grow as naturally as the green, green grass, kissing the blarney stone could mean any number of things.
Thomas was able to take a weekend trip over to Edinburgh, Scotland and she said she saw more castles and visited a wildlife park where she was introduced to many different free roaming animals, including kangaroos, zebras, giraffes and Meerkats, her new, favorite animal.
During exam week, Thomas made it over to Italy and was able to spend four days there being a tourist. She was thoroughly impressed with Rome, the “Eternal City”.
“On Sundays and Wednesdays the Pope comes out and blesses the crowd at the Vatican,” she said. “It is so cool to say he blessed me.”
The famous Colosseum was worthy of an all day visit, Thomas said, even though she hadn’t planned on spending all day there.
“It was mind-blowing how huge it is and just the history,” she said. “I’ve never been so in awe.”
Studying abroad, she said, was a fantastic experience. When asked if she had plans to continue studying abroad, Thomas said she would like to return to Italy, rent a car and just drive around and take in all the sights and the history.
For now, it is back to Rome, Ga. to continue her education at Berry College.