Study Abroad in Ireland Inspires Students to Reach Beyond the Bottom Line
“It was not a decision I made lightly and was one of the best experiences of my life.”
This comment from Kent State Geauga and Regional Academic Center business major Katie Hofstetter is a reflection on her first experience traveling outside of the country and her first time taking a college course outside of the classroom. It expresses the shared impact on students who participated in a study abroad experience in Ireland facilitated by Kent State Geauga Assistant Professor in Economics Dr. Ludmila Leontieva.
International Economic Experience: Ireland as a Hub for Transnational Business (ECON 42187/ECON 52187) is a two-week intersession course that Dr. Leontieva leads every other year. In May 2019, both undergraduate and graduate-level business/economics students from Kent and regional campuses took this educational trip to Ireland. Most of the 13 participants from Kent, Ashtabula, and Geauga campuses were eligible for a $2,500 scholarship offered to business students, which covers a majority of the $2,920 cost.
This course is designed for students to understand the impact that international trade agreements, offshore financial structures (including tax havens), infrastructural development, entrepreneurship, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) have made in Ireland. These factors have made this small country a dynamic player in both the European Union and throughout the global economy. While in Ireland, students meet with the leaders of socially responsible businesses and government organizations, integrating the real-life principles they learned in class. Students gain a greater awareness about Ireland’s culture and people while acquiring a hands-on set of skills and contacts that could bolster their careers going forward.
Hofstetter was cautious about traveling to Ireland at first, but “After reading the course outline, speaking with my professor and reading comments from past study abroad experiences, I decided to go outside my comfort zone and sign up for the course,” she recalls.
Dr. Leontieva is impressed by Ireland’s economy, which is a healthy representation of its people, history, and culture. “This country does things right!” she says. “The Irish people are true visionaries who don’t sit back and feel sorry for themselves when their major employer leaves town. They care about their community, solve problems with their entrepreneurial spirit, yet are eager to spend time and share their ‘empathy economy model’ with us. And for students, this is their a-ha moment. I want my students to see what’s possible!”
Ireland maintains a global economic outreach that favors investment, cultural exchange, tourism, and proactive efforts. Already, 700 American companies operate in Ireland due to its low taxes and average wages, advanced telecommunication and transport infrastructures, and government incentives and supports, especially for small businesses. If and when Brexit becomes a reality, Ireland will be the only English-speaking country other than Malta remaining in the European Union. This will make Ireland an ideal hub from which American businesses can reach the remainder of Europe while operating within an English-speaking environment, Dr. Leontieva says.
Ireland’s connection to the U.S. has been strong throughout history. “With about 45 million people of Irish ancestry living in the United States, one could easily say that a high percentage of Ireland's 4.7 million people have familial ties to the U.S.,” Dr. Leontieva says. “Because of this, both Ireland and the United States share a global perspective and national values. In recent decades, Ireland has moved from being one of Western Europe's poorest of countries to being one of its most prosperous, relative to its population size.”
Dr. Leontieva says that she loves taking students who are unsure if their futures and unaccustomed to travel outside of Ohio or the U.S. on these educational adventures. “The most exciting outcome of this course is that the students always develop different perceptions about themselves and the world around them.”
The experience changed Hofstetter’s outlook in many ways. “While a lot could be learned through businesses in the United States, I found a new aspect and respect for businesses overseas. Knowing that there are places that care about start-up companies to provide them places to work at extremely low rates, companies that will invest in your business to get you into their country to give you a better opportunity at succeeding, and businesses that will offer you workspace free of charge, gave me some sense of humanity in this experience, as well.”
A college education is so much more than the sum of classes attended, textbooks read, essays written, and exams taken. Interactive, real-world experiences transform education from the theoretical realm into a life-changing passion, especially when it involves international travel.
As Kent State graduate student Nicholas Adams puts it, “This trip can and will produce many newfound openminded, ambitious young business professionals that will make waves across the United States, whether locally or nationally.”