UA Student Study Abroad in Ireland, the Country of his Descent

Desktop News | February 2023

For 16 days in the summer, Benjamin Hand, a final-year student doing a bachelor’s and accelerated master’s program in geography, joined 11 students on a faculty-led study abroad trip to Ireland. His travel statement is a testament to the positive results ICUE has achieved since its founding.

Despite being of Irish descent, Hand had not been to Ireland or anywhere outside the US, until this trip. The study abroad program gave him the chance to reckon with his familial, cultural and national heritage.

“The trip to Ireland broadened my perspective,” Hand said. “We got to go to some parts of Ireland where my family is from and, for me who has a personal connection to the place, that was important.”

The study-abroad program was designed by Mary Wallace Pitts, an instructor from the geography department. “She was one of the best faculty members that I could have gone on a study-abroad program with,” Hand commented. “I have taken so many of her classes and I know her well. Also, it was nice to have somebody with experience in the country there with us”. He also lauded her for being flexible yet meticulous with the program.

Due to Pitts’ comprehensive itinerary, Hand and his peers visited several historical places in Ireland including Dublin, the Aran Islands, Galway, Clifden, County Wicklow, County Wexford, an Irish ecovillage and a Barack Obama-themed service station, while in Doolin in County Clare, Hand even learned to ride a horse for the first time.

Based on his experiences, Hand wrote a comparative analytic report on historical architectural landmarks in Ireland and USA. Hand said, “I have a different perspective of the US now because I have something to compare it to. The scenery and physical landscape in Ireland are very different from the United States.”

From an academic standpoint, Hand stated that the tour made him realize that Geography is an interdisciplinary field that has relevance to any career path he chooses. “The strong background that I have in the university has given me the tools that I need to succeed wherever I end up going,” he said. “I feel more confident and ready to travel abroad to other places because I know now that traveling abroad isn’t scary, it’s a nice experience, and it is something that I can handle.”

But, according to him, his first stop after graduation would be Washington, DC where he hopes to get a job in the public sector that can afford him the opportunity to “move around a lot” both professionally and spatially.

Due to the impact the trip in Ireland had on him, Hand implored students to make school more meaningful by becoming part of extracurricular activities. He said, “you are not going to get the most out of your experience at The University of Alabama unless you explore everything that the University has to offer.”