Gratitude and hospitality

 Hospitality in Northern Ireland

 The first education practicum in Northern Ireland for James Madison University students continues. In today’s guest blog, participants reflect on their experience of hospitality, which you will read, is exceedingly warm, generous and welcoming…..

Newry, Northern Ireland (photo from Wikipedia)

Newry, Northern Ireland (photo from Wikipedia)

This is the first time that the Practicum Experience in Northern Ireland trip has been attempted, so naturally everyone on the trip was very nervous about how we would be received.   What we have found is a community that has embraced our mission as teachers experiencing a different culture and education system. Every person involved in the planning and carrying out of this trip is eager to learn from our interactions just as much as we want to learn from them.   Our mentor teachers, principals, cooks, bus drivers, maids, and all those we interact with have been so excited to welcome us and help us find our way in this new country. Due to the overwhelming welcome we have received in Newry, we wanted to put into words how much we appreciate everyone’s kindness and emphasize those who have made a difference in our stay. We believe that the best way to do this is to put into words personal statements from participants on our trip about people who have made our trip so amazing. There are many more people we owe a huge thank you to who are not mentioned in the stories shared, so we would like to thank all these people who have made a big impact on our stay. Thank you!

Rachel Berry, ELED, Class of 2014 – I flew into Dublin a few days before the program started and stayed in a guesthouse a little bit away from O’Connell street. My friend and I had both packed pretty heavy and were definitely struggling getting our bags into the house. The guesthouse was run by a sweet older woman named Elish and her son Steven. They were both so welcoming as soon as we walked in and she wasted no time asking about who we were, where we came from, and what we were doing here. She was about to hand us her keys, then she took one look at our bags and said, “Oh absolutely not you are not going to carry your bags all the way up to the 5th floor.” She promptly turned around and grabbed a new set of keys, to the biggest room on the first floor. It was a large room with a bathtub, a queen sized bed, and a TV. The room we were supposed to have was about half the size and didn’t have a connected bathroom. We went to give her extra money for the change and she refused, telling us that it wasn’t a problem at all and she was happy to do it. The day I needed to leave, I was about to call a cab to go to my new accommodations and she grabbed my bags and said, “I’ll drive you over there myself.” I tried to give her some money for helping me out but she wouldn’t take it. She was just happy to see me safely to my new place. I’d never experienced such kindness from someone I’ve never met before. I didn’t exchange information with her, but I wish I had because I would love to keep up with her.

Ellie Burnett, English, Class of 2015 – On one of our first official school days, three of the other girls and I were talking amongst ourselves in the staff lounge. One teacher came over to us, and we all began a conversation about our thoughts on Newry so far. Soon enough, during lunch that same teacher came back with maps, a sight list, and numbers of local cab and bus numbers. We were shocked; she had just used up her planning period to give us information on her hometown. The Newry people are so proud of their town, and it’s evident from how their faces light up when we speak highly of good restaurants we’ve been to. They want to simply share their favorite parts of Newry. It’s truly touching how helpful and hospitable everyone has been.

Amber Blakovich, Music Ed, Class of 2016 – Normally after school, we ride the bus and get off right across from St. Colman’s College, where we are staying. One day last week, we had decided to get on another bus and go into town to shop around. As soon as we got on the bus, the bus driver, who was different from our normal bus driver, immediately started talking to us and asking us different questions about our experience here and continued telling us stories about his life throughout the whole bus ride to the center of town. Upon arriving, a phrase that we kept hearing from the bus driver and the locals alike was, “you are very welcome to Newry”. The phrase meant a lot to us because it helped us feel like we had found a home away from home, a place where we already felt included in the culture. The hospitality here has been incredible.

Julia Kron, Studio Art, Class of 2015 – Mr. Pat Cullen is the catering manager at St. Colman’s College and he has been so lovely to us as we stay in the Priest’s Corridor. Every morning he greets us with a smile and gives us a warm breakfast. He always checks up on us and makes sure that we have enough food in our kitchenette. Also, for two nights every week Pat cooks us a full meal in the canteen area. He sets the tables for us and individually serves us all. He is such a nice person to talk to and has some fascinating life stories to share. One afternoon, he set up a bread making workshop where he taught us how to make Irish Soda Bread and Wheaten bread. We really appreciated learning a skill of his culture and he was very happy to share it with us. It was a very nice afternoon to spend with him in his kitchen. Also, he is very interested in our experiences and wants to know how we are getting along each time he runs into us. He is so kind to us and makes us feel very welcome during our stay at St. Colman’s College. I know that we all really appreciate how much time he takes out of his day and evening for us. Thank you so much, Pat!

Sarah Simmons, ELED, Class of 2014– Josephine McGrath the reception woman at the front desk at St. Colman’s has been extremely hospitable. I have had at least a 20-minute conversation with her each day. She has always asked me about my day and if I needed anything. She has also been giving us suggestions on places to go to eat and buy things. The most hospitable moment was when I mention that I needed to find a Christmas ornament for my mom and she started calling up places asking all the staff for places to find ornaments. She has gone above and beyond to make sure my stay is enjoyable and I am going to miss our daily conversations.

Tim Thomas: Just as all of us have experienced, I have been the beneficiary of great hospitality during our visit here. The first Friday in Newry, we all boarded the bus to Carlingsford, a locally famous medieval village less than a dozen miles south of Newry. As soon as the bus pulled away from the station, the driver caught my eye in the mirror and motioned me to the front of the bus. Despite the rules not to talk to the driver and to remain behind the white line, the driver spoke to me all the way to Carlingsford, pointing out sights along the way and providing advice about our visit to the area. The same man was driving the route as we jumped on the bus to return to Newry. As he was speaking to other riders buying tickets while we boarded, I went to the back of the bus to sit with our group. When I looked up, though, there was the driver – he had come down the aisle to inquire how well we had enjoyed our visit. His overwhelming attention to the quality of our experience is just one illustration of the welcome we have received.

Jesse Humphries, ELED, Class of 2014– One of the best parts of our experience in Northern Ireland so far has been being able to travel to new towns. Translink employee Gerry D’Arcy has been overwhelmingly helpful and involved with our travels to insure we are able to travel safely and inexpensively. Translink provided us with vouchers that enable us to tour the Newry District for free. Without this opportunity, I would not have been able to see so many different places. All of the bus drivers and Translink staff have been so helpful and friendly. Whenever there is somewhere I want to go or something I want to do, they direct to me to the best line to get me there. I have been able to see so much more of the area because of Gerry and the whole Translink team.

Maggie Leonard, ELED, Class of 2014 – I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and hard work the housekeepers at St. Colmans, Denise and Jenny, have put into making us comfortable during our stay. After a long day in the classroom, we are always welcomed by Denise, Valerie, Margret, and Joanie in the afternoon delivering our laundry, freshly made beds, and them checking in on how our day was and what our plans are for the evening. One housekeeper even took home one of the girl’s Irish wool sweaters and properly cleaned it to ensure that it was returned in pristine condition. These amazing ladies are another addition to all the acts of kindness that have made our trip much less stressful then it could have been.

Kathryn McCallum, ELED, Class of 2014 – Jariath Burns, the principal of St. Paul’s, obtained free tickets for us to the local Gaelic Football match which was already sold out.   Mr. Burns was so welcoming and helpful as he explained all the rules and traditions to us confused Americans. He even arranged for us to meet the President of the Ulster Gaelic Athletic Association, Martin McAviney and take a photo on the pitch (the field, during half time). The game was such an amazing experience and we’re so lucky to have been treated so great. Mr. Burns really wanted us to experience this part of the Northern Irish culture which he personally loves and in which he has participated as a star player for County Armagh.

Emily Vaughters, ELED, Class of 2015 – I had the opportunity to talk with a woman named Dierdre Graham while I was working in my school. In the past, she had worked at a school where she had the opportunity to participate in a program where students from Northern Ireland were able to go to Maryland and Virginia. She actively sought me out so that she could introduce herself and make a connection with me. She also gave me her contact information and invited me up for tea any time. This one interaction made me feel immediately more comfortable at my school.

Danielle Gallagher, Mathematics, Class of 2015 – The first Sunday we were in Newry another girl on the trip and I went to mass at the Cathedral in town.   During the mass I noticed the Bishop looking at us strangely and then afterwards he grabbed my hand and asked who I was. After explaining that we were part of the study abroad group that is teaching in Newry he asked us to join him for tea. Bishop John McAreavey was so interested in everything we had to say and had some great stories of his own to tell. He even offered to drive us home after hearing that we were staying at Saint Colman’s College, which is a thirty minute walk from the cathedral. I am still impressed that he was able to pick our faces out of a huge crowd and make sure that he welcomed us at the end of mass.

Megan Makarowski, ELED, Class of 2014– The lunch ladies in my school, Bessbrook Primary have been so nice and welcoming to me. The entire school staff had been overwhelmingly positive to my visit and these ladies were the last of the staff that I met. I didn’t pack my lunch one day for school and didn’t buy anything on the way there; I wanted to buy the school lunch to see what it was like. Because so many of the children had left early due to Sports Day (like an American field day) they gave me lunch free of charge. When I returned my plate to them they engaged me in conversation, really wanting to know everything about my stay here in Ireland. They were so sweet and attentive and when I went to leave they said, “We will see you tomorrow at lunch!” They were excited for me to come back and eat with them again. It was awesome that they cared so much.

Dr. Frazier: I have had many instances of helpfulness and generosity from those who live and work in Newry from the faculty members and staff that Dr. Carrington and I met last spring at Newry High School to those who work here at St. Colman’s College who have gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable like Peter, the Ground’s Keeper, Pat, the Cook, and Denise and Jenny, the housekeepers, who have provided us with both stories and support. We have had support from Gerry at the bus station and from complete strangers who find our accents to be like those of “movie stars.” There are many others here as well. Richard Melaniphy, Associate Principal and Iestyn Brown, the Principal at Newry High School whose tireless dedication brought this program into being. They were the point persons to make the local arrangements with all of the participating schools and negotiated gratis transportation for us with Gerry D’Arcey and Greg Donovan from Translink. Perhaps one of the most supportive persons has been Cormac McKinney, principal at St. Colman’s who agreed to reconstruct the Priest’s Corridor to accommodate our group and provide us with meals, laundry support, and security as well. His support and that of Derrick Campbell, Comptroller at St. Colmans College have been instrumental in helping us to establish this program in Newry. The real stars of this program though are our students, whose good humor, persistence and willingness to take risks, are the unsung heroes of this experience. They have made this an “amazing experience” for all of us!



About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

2 Responses to Gratitude and hospitality

  1. Johna126 says:

    This website was how do you say it? Relevant!! cdecddagdaed


  2. Wish I could hit the “Like” button 1,000 times on this blog post. What a wonderful way for JMU people to experience someone else’s culture.


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