CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Ciara Kilian
Meet Ciara, a CAPA Dublin alumna from spring 2016 who loved her study abroad experience so much that she hung around to work in the city through the summer and has plans to return again for grad school and to live more permanently. Below, she shares the reason she immediately chose Ireland when the option became available, tells us about her internship with Pavee Point that taught her about Irish culture and influenced her career goals and talks about the hidden garden not far from Griffith College that she returned to time and again with friends.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
CIARA KILIAN: My name is Ciara Kilian and I’m a senior at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts but hail originally from Stamford, Connecticut. I’m a double major in Political Science and Cultural Studies & Communication (I know, it’s a mouthful!). This past spring of 2016 I studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland through the CAPA program at Griffith College. I love to travel, spend time with my friends, and pester my younger brother by sending him ridiculous pictures of dogs I find on the internet.
CW: Why did you choose the CAPA program and why Dublin specifically?
CK: My university is actually partnered with CAPA, so a ton of students from Clark attend their programs. I have a few friends who are CAPA alumni so after hearing about their experiences I knew I wanted to do it too! My heart was set on going to London for a while until my study abroad advisor told me that there was a new option to go to Dublin, and I immediately had a change of heart. My mom is from Ireland so having a chance to live, learn, and work in the place she grew up was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t let pass by!
CW: Talk about academics abroad: Which classes did you take in Dublin? Which was your favorite and why? How were you able to connect your experience of the city itself and your academics?
CK: While in Dublin, I took four classes: "History of the Media", "Intro to Law and Legal Studies", "Irish History and Culture", and the "Learning through Internships (LTI)" module that all CAPA Internship students take. My favorite was "Irish History and Culture". It gave us a crash course in Irish history while also providing the opportunity to see new parts of Dublin that I wouldn’t have known to seek out otherwise. Each week we would have a lecture followed by a field trip to a museum or monument relevant to the content being covered that day. Personally, I really enjoyed going to the Dublinia (Dublin’s Viking museum). I had no idea Ireland had a Viking population at one point and it was fascinating to learn about it. The museum was really informative, so if you’re ever looking for a little history lesson while in town I highly recommend it! The Jeanie Johnston ship was another standout trip that taught us a lot about the famine.
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad. What is Pavee Point?
CK: Pavee Point is a non-governmental organization based on the north side of Dublin that works with the Irish Traveller Community. Irish Travellers are one of the most marginalized ethnic minority groups in Ireland who have a rich history rooted in nomadism filled with music and many other traditions. Although nomadism is no longer a key component of Traveller lifestyle, many other aspects of the culture are still maintained to this day.
In a nutshell, the purpose of Pavee Point is to attain universal human rights for Irish Travellers and Roma, another ethnic minority which originated in India and has since moved across Europe over many years. The organization consists of Travellers, Roma, and members of the general settled population who combine efforts to address the needs of Travellers and Roma who experience mass discrimination in Irish society each and every day. There are several teams at Pavee Point—each with a main focus including Violence Against Women, Drugs and Alcohol, Primary Health Care, Men’s Health Care, and Roma. I was a member of the Primary Health Care Project.
CW: What were some of your responsibilities and accomplishments at Pavee Point? Explain a day (or week) in the life of a CAPA intern.
CK: The beauty of working at a place like Pavee Point is that you’re never doing the same thing twice. It’s a very fast-paced environment where everyone is accomplishing incredible things all of the time. There were constantly colleagues of mine traveling to different conferences for the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union (and I was always secretly hoping they would invite me along but sadly that never happened!). I loved that I was surrounded by people who were so passionate about their work and completing things at such a high caliber. It was very interactive and I met some of the best people I’ve ever known (both settled Irish people as well as Travellers) with whom I developed great relationships. They took me under their wing and made me feel welcome in a way that I never anticipated.
As a member of the Primary Health Care Project, I would attend team meetings and help plan different initiatives that the group was doing. Our main purpose was to communicate with Travellers to highlight difficulties they were experiencing in their daily lives and, from there, help to make health services more accessible as well as promote good health practices. For example, one of my main projects was to create a maternity information packet that explained in simple terms what services expectant mothers in Ireland are entitled to under the country’s Maternity and Infant Care Scheme. It took time, research, and a lot of editing, but eventually I had a substantial piece of work that I know is going to be used by many for years to come.
The LTI class played an especially important role in my internship because I was essentially being exposed to two new cultures rather than just one. Not only did I need to adjust to the Irish workplace and adapt to its differences from American work culture, but I also was completely unaware of anything regarding Traveller culture. In fact, I remember being absolutely petrified my first day at Pavee out of fear of saying the wrong thing or being unintentionally offensive! LTI was an amazing resource for me in that regard because our class sessions taught me how to interact with people of other cultures in a way that was both respectful and informative. I learned all about intercultural competence and became able to adapt to a new environment more quickly—a skill for which I am now extremely grateful.
CW: As a dual Political Science and Cultural Studies & Communication major, what would you recommend as must-see or do experiences for other students in Dublin who have similar professional interests?
CK: As someone who is studying culture and how people from different countries interact with one another, I find it valuable to completely immerse yourself in a new culture when you have the chance. Dublin is amazing because it is truly a cultural center and has a ton going on all of the time despite the fact that it is smaller than many other cities in Europe. It is so easy to find experiences that teach you while also being fun! One standout experience in particular was the Chester Beatty Library which, believe it or not, is less like a library and more like a museum. When I went there was an exhibit on the different religions of the world complete with important objects from each, including ancient manuscripts and statues. There was also a separate exhibit about the Qu’ran which explained everything about how one was made, from the calligraphy to the binding of the book.
CW: You've actually decided to stay in Dublin through the summer - fantastic! What have you been up to since your spring program finished?
CK: I’ve been working! One of my mom’s friends works for Griffith College and was kind enough to help me find a reception job here so that’s been keeping me busy (thanks Jim!). Aside from that, I’ve been soaking up my last few months in Ireland before I have to return home. Another Clark CAPA student, Tess Reichart (who I can now say has become one of my best friends), is staying the summer as well and we are living together on the north side in a house with five other girls. It’s been great getting to know Dublin in a new way because we are no longer living on the college’s campus.
In regards to traveling, I have plans to go to Galway for four days in a few weeks and I’m really excited because it will be my first time exploring that area of the country. My family is also coming to visit in August so I’ll be headed all over the place with them as we visit my aunts, uncles, and cousins.
CW: What do you see yourself doing when you graduate? Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations? If so, how so?
CK: Studying abroad turned my entire world upside down in the most amazing way possible. It didn’t take long at all for me to fall in love with Dublin and decide that I want to move back after I graduate next May. My plan right now is to return here to complete my Master’s degree and (hopefully) get a job working at an organization like Pavee Point afterwards. However, even if grad school doesn’t happen right away, I am still planning to come back and work!
If you had asked me before I left what I hoped to get out of my semester abroad, I would’ve said something along the lines of “to have the best four months of my life with new friends and see as much of the world as possible”. Looking back now, I got that and so much more. Not only have I been lucky enough to live in one of the greatest cities in the world, but I made friends I know I will have forever and got to work as an intern at my dream job all at once.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Dublin" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
CK: There are so many! The one that immediately comes to mind is Iveagh Gardens, a public park nestled away in the middle of town. Tess and I found it one day a few months ago before we went grocery shopping and were absolutely amazed by it. There is a beautiful fountain with tons of green area for picnicking, lounging, and playing sports. If you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t even notice it walking by because there’s a gateway blocking everything. However, it quickly became one of my favorite hideaways on a sunny day—especially because it was so close to Griffith!
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
CK: Studying abroad has allowed me to become independent in a way that college never did. I think the biggest reason for this is because I truly am entirely on my own. While I can call my mom and talk to her about things going on in my life or problems I may be having (which I still do all the time!), it’s different because almost all of the most important people in my life are 3,000 miles away and five hours behind. I am completely responsible for myself and, even though there may be nights when I really don’t want to cook dinner or do laundry, I have developed so much as a person because of it.
Before studying abroad, I will be the first to admit that I was quite reliant on others. I was extremely hesitant to venture out on my own to see new places or try new things unless one of my friends were with me. Once I got to Ireland though I realized that your study abroad experience is what you make it to be and I made the decision that I wasn’t going to miss out on doing something just because other people might not want to or had other things they wanted to do more. Now I’m happy to just hop on the bus and see where I end up. I feel much more comfortable exploring my surroundings because I’ve realized the importance of taking initiative—which is something applicable to life as a whole. I am responsible for my own future and making things happen. Without taking a leap with CAPA, I never would have gotten the chance to learn that.