A Semester Abroad: Special Education in Ireland

Lindsay Gorman is a junior at the University of Maine at Farmington studying Special Education and International and Global Studies. Lindsay is spending her Fall 2016 semester at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. Lindsay was able to answer some questions about her experience in Ireland, how it has differed so far from her experience at UMF, and what else she is looking forward to this semester.

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How has your experience at UCC differed from your experience at UMF?
-The class structure is much different than I’m used to. At UMF, the professors really encourage group discussion and collaboration. At UCC, and most European Universities, all of the classes are strictly lectures, even the education class I’m taking. The classes are much larger too, all of them have at least 100 people in it! Also, the work load is much different. For most classes, you are expected to show up to class and take notes to prepare for your final exam at the end of the semester, and that’s it. Your exam really determines your final grade.

What made you choose Ireland?

-I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland! With my last name being Gorman and my family being traced back to being from there, it’s been on my Bucket List for a while. I already knew a lot about Senator George Mitchell since I’m a Mitchell Scholar from my high school, and when I learned about the George Mitchell Peace Scholarship, I started to look more into the Senator’s work in Northern Ireland. I was really inspired with what he was able to do to create peace during the conflicts in Northern Ireland, and I wanted to learn more. And what better place to do it than Ireland itself!

What are you hoping to gain from this experience?

-With my major in Special Education and my minor in International and Global Studies, I’m really interested in learning about how other countries look at people with disabilities, such as their laws to protect them, how society perceives them, etc. I was able to learn a little bit about Tanzania’s perception of disability when I went there this past June on a travel course, but I didn’t get as much research done as I would have liked. I’m hoping that since I’m here for a whole semester, I’ll be able to really get an idea of what life is like for someone with a disability in Ireland, particularly what their education is like. I think that being culturally aware will make me a better teacher!

What differences have you found in the way special education is perceived in Ireland versus in the U.S.? Similarities?

-With the United States and Ireland both being developed nations, I’ve found a lot of similarities so far. Both seem to have had a difficult history of their treatment of people with disabilities, but both have seemed to make great progress since then. I actually learned that the reason American Sign Language and Irish Sign Language are so similar is because when Sign started to become really popular for thlindsay-1e Deaf, both Americans and Irish went to the same country to learn it, which was France. I found that really neat! That being said, there are a few differences I’ve also found. First, there seems to be a lot more non profit organizations supporting people with disabilities in Ireland. For example, one of my first days going into the city, there were some people asking for donations for Ataxia Ireland. Also, in many government run buildings, there are statues of dogs with coin slots in them, and the money goes towards Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. I’m sure there are also organizations that support people with disabilities in the States, but it just seems to be more apparent over here. Lastly, in the field of Special Education, we use person first language, meaning we put the person before their disability when speaking about them, such as “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” That doesn’t really seem to be the case in Ireland.

What have you learned so far that has been surprising to you?

-When my professor first used the term “disabled,” it definitely surprised me, since all of the Special Education professors at UMF use person first language. Also, I was looking for local schools I might be able to volunteer at by looking at their websites. I was specifically looking to see if there was any information about their Special Education department, and was surprised to see that very few of the websites had information about it. That is something I am definitely going to look into more while I’m over here.

What has been your favorite experience so far?

-This is a very touristy answer, but a few weekends ago I went on a trip to the Ring of Kerry, and I got to see a double rainbow. It’s definitely my favorite memory so far!

Thank you Lindsay for taking the time to answer these questions and tell us about your experience. For more information about Lindsay’s experience visit her blog, and check back with us in the next few weeks for more updates.
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