UK Social Work travels to Ireland and Northern Ireland for Education Abroad trip

The College of Social Work faculty and students expanded their social work experiences on a global level.

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LEXINGTON, Ky.– Experiencing education in a global context, students and professors from the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) embarked on an enlightening journey to Ireland and Northern Ireland this May. This education abroad trip, renowned for its ability to expand students’ understanding of their field through immersive cultural experiences, saw the group exploring Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland, as well as Dublin, Ireland.

During this transformative 10-day trip, participants engaged in hands-on learning, observing community activism and social work practices firsthand. These experiences are instrumental in developing a broader worldview and enhancing both academic and professional prospects.

“This kind of education abroad experience increases students’ cultural adaptability, helps foster international awareness and concern, as well as exposes them to social work practice on an international level,” Dr. Natalie Pope, associate professor and PhD Program Director at the CoSW, said.

Pope, along with assistant professor Dr. Aubrey Jones, facilitated the trip that included undergraduate students, as well as Master of Social Work (MSW) students. The CoSW group shared many different experiences while abroad, including volunteering at the East Belfast Mission, visiting the Clonard Monastery, and learning about the Bloody Sunday massacre.

Students had the opportunity to visit the peace walls in Belfast, participate in a formal tea service, and take part in a self-care for trauma healing session at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

Traveling outside of the United States for the first time, Alison Calnan, a 2024 MSW grad, said that her favorite part of the trip was meeting with Jon McCourt, a former IRA member and now peace activist in Derry, Northern Ireland.

“Walking with Jon clarified a humble perspective of working with polarized communities, as he exemplifies a story of lived trauma and transformation,” Calnan said. “Jon stated that there is more that is unified in human experiences between Catholics and Protestants, but ‘we allow those outside of us to tell us differently.’  I gained that in a sense, we humanize these forced divisions, on both sides, truly losing our humanity in stride to resolve the discomfort they cause.”

A sense of connection and understanding of different cultures was a big part of the trip, as well as being exposed to more community-level work and peace building that can be done to unite people.

“I hope this group of students feel more connected to the UK CoSW, given that most of them were online, remote students. I hope they fell in love with traveling abroad and learned about the lived experiences of people in a completely different part of the world,” Pope said.

Experiencing social work in a real-world setting, instead of in a classroom, was an impactful part of Calnan’s experience abroad.

“The overall experience was really cool. What’s great about education abroad is that it gives life to the things you’re learning, and it becomes real and tangible. Being able to interact with people in their communities was powerful,” Calnan said.  “I saw a lot of social work, whether by people in the field or not, that embraced the core values of practice and implemented them in a fashion that epitomized the true roots of social work in the United States,” Calnan said.

For over 85 years, the College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky has been a leader in education. Our mission is clear: Through rigorous research, excellence in instruction, and steadfast service, the CoSW works to improve the human condition. Always, in all ways.

As the state’s flagship university, our mission is actualized through our deeds. Our faculty are renowned academicians dedicated to fostering the development of high-quality practitioners and researchers. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world.