Today was my first full day in Donegal, Ireland, and so far, I’m in awe! This is my first time traveling to a new country, so it felt like a long journey to me. As we flew over the Ireland coastline and I gazed out the airplane window, a sense of disbelief overcame me. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a new continent!” The bus ride from Dublin to Donegal was intriguing to watch because there were so many new things to see. My eyes were feasting on this new environment: the road patterns, the architecture, the people and way of life, the sheep, the mountains, and all the green! The journey was long, but finally we got to the community center where we would spend our week teaching the community. Mary, who runs the community center, gave us a warm welcome and invited us to make ourselves at home. She gave us a rundown of the week, and then we finally made our way to our host families. The families welcomed us into their homes with an extravagant feast. Even then, I had a feeling that this was going to be an amazing and life-changing week.
In the morning, we embarked on our first adventure to Glenveagh National Park and castle. The ride to the park was breathtaking. There was a light dusting of snow covering the ground, and the mountains were magnificent in the morning sun! We enjoyed a long walk to the castle, where we were able to explore its grounds and tour the building. A small group of us decided to hike to a viewpoint, and we were able to look down onto the castle and across the lake to the mountains. As soon as we reached the top, it began to hail. On our way back to the castle, we found a beautiful flowering tree in the garden, and it began to hail again! One of the girls in the group joked that since it was hailing, that meant that we were “Having a hail of a good time!”
Today we had the opportunity to present our teaching topics to the elderly in the adult day care center. My teaching topic, vascular screening, was a busy station. My partners and I took brachial and ankle blood pressures and compared the two to give the individual a ratio that predicted risk for vascular disease. I also had the opportunity to observe and help with the balance and fall risk topic. We taught the members how to properly fall, gave them tips on how to remain calm if a fall did occur, and we conducted balance assessments. Working with the physical therapy professor, I was able to learn some simple balance exercises recommended to individuals that need balance improvement. Interacting with the elderly of Donegal was rewarding because the people we worked with seemed to learn a lot and their health and were just happy to see our smiling faces.
After a busy morning of working with the geriatric community, we returned to the community center where Mary had a delicious meal comparable to an American Thanksgiving feast waiting for us. We then finished a bus tour of Donegal we began yesterday, and visited a beautiful community art gallery and library. We drove to the Wild Atlantic Highway, and the sights were quite amazing! We got off the bus to take some photos at a viewpoint, and the wind was stronger than I had ever felt! I have never seen ocean waves that tall, as they crashed on the cliffs in the distance, I could tell that their height towered over the houses by the shore. As I took in this unfamiliar perspective of the same ocean I see at home in Virginia, I was reminded of how very small we are in this world.
Our study abroad journey concludes today. Through a day of airport troubles, flight delay confusion, and luggage hassles, we finally made it back home to Virginia. Saying goodbye to the Donegal community, Ireland, our professors, learn international guides, and classmates was bittersweet. Our interprofessional ODU community bonded so much over such a short period of time, and we promised to reunite again soon.
This study abroad program was arguably one of the best experiences I have had in my academic career thus far. Taking a course that incorporated service learning, health science, interprofessional development, and cultural experiences was the recipe for the perfect study abroad class I could take. I had the opportunity to experience a new culture, serve a community in need, create bonds with an interprofessional community of students from my college, and practice skills I will use in my future career as a physical therapist. Apart from the academic side of things, it was just fun to explore a castle, tour the Irish countryside and mountains, dance in pubs, and visit Dublin over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The program was so successful because of the passion I saw from everyone involved, including the professors and staff, students, and the Donegal community members. This experience was everything and more that I hoped for, and I will gladly encourage students who are on the fence about studying abroad to take advantage of any opportunities that they have. Even a week-long experience like this has been so impactful to me. In a few years from now, I may not remember all the details of what we did each day, but I will remember the importance of working with an interprofessional team, experiencing a new culture, and serving the welcoming community in Donegal.
-Abigail Rossiter: Old Dominion University