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Inspiration in Ireland: A Study Abroad Experience with Alumna Alexxus Sidney

POSTED: Nov. 16, 2021

As a Pittsburgh native, coming to Kent State University was a little challenging for me. Although I would only be traveling about two hours away from home, I was moving away from all the individuals I had ever known to start over in a new state. Because of this, I knew I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity offered to me. I wanted to find my place and my purpose here at Kent. One of those opportunities presented to me happened to be a study abroad experience through the College of Education, Health and Human Services.

Photo of Alexxus on the beach in Ireland
Before going to Ireland on the Human Development and Family Studies study abroad trip in 2019, I had never been outside of the United States. My mother was always scared of flying, so it limited our traveling to just the States while I was growing up. I chose this program specifically for that reason, as well as the fact that I have Irish heritage. I always wanted to travel to other countries, especially those of which I have family ties with, but I was nervous that if I were to go away, I would be homesick. Little did I know that I wouldn’t want to leave at all once I got to Ireland. Being immersed in a new culture was truly eye-opening.

One of the things I loved most about Ireland was the time and dedication given to mental health initiatives. It was also very interesting to see the parallels between Ireland and the United States. During our trip, we traveled to a primary school where two students had recently lost their battle with mental health struggles. Because this is something that happened in my community back home, I was interested in the school’s approach to dealing with the situation. My classmates and I got to talk with the principal about outreach and meditation services implemented as prevention techniques. Trained professionals were brought in to remind students that their individual well-being is of most importance.

Group photo of Ireland students
We were also able to travel to a residential rehabilitation facility for individuals struggling with addition. Unlike many facilities, this one took a “cold-turkey” approach, meaning participants had to stop using substances immediately. Although this approach can be dangerous, the results were tremendous. Each staff member who worked at the facility was recovering from addiction, reason being that staff members wanted to show that there is another way of living. Studying abroad helped me realize that I was passionate about helping others who are struggling with mental health issues like addiction. Prior to this experience, I knew I wanted to work in a helping profession, I just wasn’t 100% sure what that would look like for me. Ireland helped change that.

If I had any advice for current students, it would be to study abroad at least once during your college career, even if it is a 10-day trip like the one I went on. My experience was life changing and I don’t say that lightly. I was exposed to many places, people and things that I may not have had the chance to see otherwise. I was even able to step out of my comfort zone and make my own singing debut in an Irish pub. Not only was I able to go on this trip with one of my best friends, but I also was given the opportunity to make a deeper connection with Dr. Maureen Blankemeyer, the faculty member in charge of our group. Studying abroad can truly enhance your Kent State experience.

Written by 2020 Human Development and Family Studies graduate Alexxus Sidney.

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