Studying abroad is an experiential learning trip where the classroom is brought to life. At Franklin and Marshall I am a gender studies minor where I have had the opportunity to study gender relations throughout history and cultures, examine gender portrayal through popular media and literature, and question what these observations mean in our society and the world as a whole. It has been intriguing to examine human relations from this perspective, but even more enriching to question my experiences in life outside of the classroom.
Fall semester of 2008 I studied in Galway, Ireland. There I continued my gender study courses and was surprised to learn that life abroad was full of new gender relations and cultural constructions. Historically, Ireland is a country where men and women have had distinctly defined gender roles, often influenced by the strict Catholic Church and the main agricultural way of life. Although womens primary role was the domestic, she often managed the family income and demanded respect from her household. Today Ireland presents a very different picture, but hints of the past can still be found.
At the National University of Ireland, Galway, I took several gender study courses including Women in Irish Society; Gender, Work and Family in Ireland from 1850-1922; and Human Sexuality. Not only did I academically examine gender relations within Irelands past and present, but also learned about current gender issues related to sexuality through an Irish perspective. My favorite assignment during my studies was a paper comparing the dating practices of women in Ireland and America. Through interviews and observation I noticed many differences. In Ireland the social scene is based primarily around the drinking pub where groups gather and interact. As a result, dating has become a group activity set usually in the pub as opposed to the American style of single-couple dating in movies and restaurants. In addition, the Irish people are reserved, revealing little about themselves to others. This has become embedded in the culture and has an impact on how women approach relationships. American women are very public and open about dating practices whereas Irish women are very private. In America it is very common to see couples holding hands or showing other public signs of affection; rarely do Irish women share intimate details.
Studying abroad was an amazing experience that has greatly contributed to my gender studies in a unique and interactive way. I was immersed in another culture that forced me to examine and question my own. F&M offers many opportunities for students to study abroad, and I encourage others to take advantage of this unique and valuable learning experience.