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May the Roads Rise Up to Meet You: The Ireland Semester

By: Olivia Ryckman | Published: May 07, 2024 | Categories: Crossroads
May the Roads Rise Up to Meet You: The Ireland Semester

Missouri Southern is known for its themed semesters, beginning with the China themed semester in 1997. This experience gives students the opportunity to bridge gaps and interact with people from different cultures, becoming global students as MSSU encourages. Immersing ourselves in different ways of life sets us on a fulfilling, lifelong journey, and it begins here on campus.

During the semester, Ireland-themed events exposed students and the community to facets of Irish culture such as music, food, literature, business, history, and art.
Through these events, students could interact with professionals in these fields, finding connections between Ireland and the United States.

The MSSU Spiva Art Gallery hosted the Finding Inspiration: Dublin Photographs & Paintings Exhibit from Sep. 5 through Oct. 11. Photographs by Alen MacWeeney capture life in Dublin, Ireland in 1963. During the 2020 lockdowns, MacWeeney’s partner, artist Peysa Altman, posted the photographs to a Facebook page, receiving hundreds of comments reminiscing over the images. Many of these memories would be incorporated into Altman’s artworks, which are featured alongside MacWeeney’s photographs in the exhibits.

On Sep. 8, MacWeeney and Altman also discussed the importance of capturing moments, remembering people and events through art, and how sharing these pieces is vital to maintaining connection with culture and history. The project brought people together on Facebook and at MSSU. Students like Zoe Angelpoulos, sophomore biology major, were inspired by the discussion.

“As a culture, we focus so much on ourselves,” said Angelpoulos. “We should be focusing on taking pictures of the things around us. We don’t consider the idea that things are temporary.”

Discussions aren’t the only themed events on campus. Just a Taste, a venue in Webb City, hosted a sold-out Irish whiskey tasting on Sep. 14. Attendees savored a selection of Irish whiskey and were enchanted by World-renown Irish fiddler and singer Eimear Arkins, who was joined by Irish harpist Eileen Gannon and tin whistler Nicolas Brown.

The musicians also performed at Corley Auditorium, captivating the audience with Celtic music. During the performance, they described Irish music history and the significance of keeping music alive in both Ireland and in the U.S.

“I studied abroad in St. Louis for the Irish music scene in the area,” said Arkins. “It’s amazing to see that there’s people wanting to learn Irish music and keep it alive over here. If it weren’t for music, I wouldn’t have found my way here.”

Themed semesters often come with international trips to the represented country. This year, students in the Honors program and the art department studied abroad in Ireland over the summer. This was some students’ first international trip, like junior elementary education major Abby McCaffery, and others’ second or third time out of the country, like junior computer science major Andrew Cashion.

“When I heard about this trip to Ireland, I knew in my heart I was meant to go,” said McCaffery. “MSSU made it happen.”

Cashion and McCaffery traveled with the art department from May 22 to June 3, visiting in and around Belfast and Dublin. Students visited historical sites like Newgrange passage tomb and Kilkenny Castle. The centuries of stories and history seeping into the streets were too clear to miss.

Students saw a spring celebration in the city square as well as Napoleon’s Nose, a rocky hill that supposedly inspired Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver’s Travels.” They also traveled the Antrim coast, seeing the cliffs of the Rathlin Island, where traces of Scotland’s shores can be seen in the distance.

The group ended their time in Belfast with a trip to Giant’s Causeway, the legendary cliffs of hexagonal columns made of black basalt. Giant’s Causeway appears in ancient myth and on television shows like “Game of Thrones.”

“The view was striking,” said Cashion. “It was exceptionally cool that Scotland has the same structures directly across from the Causeway, giving some credence to the legends of Scottish and Irish giants fighting upon both shores.”

The group then traveled to Dublin, the capital of Ireland. Visits were made to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Library of Trinity College, and Oscar Wilde Museum. Students also saw biblical manuscripts like the letters of Paul and the Book of Kells.

When they returned to the U.S., students created and displayed their Ireland-inspired artwork at the MSSU Far and Away: Reflections on Art & Conflict exhibit, proving that themed semesters influence students, exposing them to new experiences and creative ventures.

“It encouraged me to continue pursuing my goal of becoming a teacher,” said McCaffery. “I want to impact others and show them that their dreams can come true, too.”

Themed semesters extend beyond the classroom. They show students what is possible and help them reach their full potential. Themed semesters can be a road to the world, and MSSU sets students on that path.