Visitation Voices: Georgetown Visitation's All School Blog

Pure Joy: Reflections on Visitation's Irish Exchange Program

Posted: March 22, 2017

This week, a group of Visitation students traveled to Ireland during Spring Break for Visitation's 13th Annual Irish Exchange Program. They are traveling with a group of Irish students, referred to as their Irish sisters, who visited Visitation in October. Sue Foreman, Academic Dean, has been traveling to Ireland with Visitation students since the beginning! Below, she reflects on her Irish adventures.

Sue Formen in the back row with students on her first Irish Exchange trip.
Sue Formen, back left, with students on her first Irish Exchange trip in 2004.

As I prepare to depart for Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day with 14 sophomores in tow, their parents ask me, “Don’t you get tired of this?” The answer is always an unequivocal “No!” because although this will be my thirteenth trip with Visitation sophomores, it will be my first trip with these students.

To enter the prehistoric burial chamber at Newgrange, to view the Book of Kells at Trinity College, to see the newborn lambs on the green hillsides through their excited eyes never gets old.

I love Ireland; and to watch 16 year olds come to love it too is pure joy.

Mary Caffrey, the recently retired principal of Sacred Heart School in Drogheda, a medieval town just north of Dublin is my “Irish sister,” When we started the exchange program in 2004, we hoped to promote international friendship with our students living in each other’s homes for two weeks. Our first students are now in their late 20’s, and most of them tell me that they still are in touch with their “Irish sisters.” Many girls and families over the past 13 years have crossed the Atlantic, some as many as four times each, to keep the friendships flourishing. These relationships surely exceeded our modest expectations, and the program has endured longer than we could have imagined.

With just a week in October in Washington for the Sacred Heart girls and a week in Drogheda in March for the Visitation girls, I continue to marvel at the ways in which girls become more independent, open-minded, and adventurous because they are immersed in another culture without their parents along for guidance. While forming close friendships with their Irish sisters, the Visitation girls in the exchange usually also develop very close friendships within the Visitation group. These often extend well beyond sophomore year. Parents often tell me at graduation what a life-changing and growth-producing experience this was for their daughter and how it helped find her niche at Georgetown Visitation.

The Irish countryside
The Irish countryside

Many students who participate in the Irish exchange are Irish Americans, and both the academic preparation we do together and the travel experience connect them to their culture. A number go on to study in Ireland during their college years. Virtually all of them develop a love of the country with a strong desire to return.

Last year I received an unexpected thank you note from a student whom I have not seen since her graduation in 2010. She wrote: “I was lucky enough to travel with you in 2007. Thank you for being brave enough to take 20 girls to Ireland.” She credits this experience and the relationship we developed through it with giving her the inspiration to study abroad and the courage to earn a Master’s degree while teaching children in an under-resourced school. Priceless!

Drogheda, Ireland
Drogheda, Ireland

So, I am flying over the Atlantic on St. Patrick’s evening, anxiously awaiting the first airplane glimpse of the many shades of green that is Ireland. I am excited about the week to come: enjoying a turf fire with my Irish family, baking a rhubarb dessert with my Irish sister, walking along the Irish Sea and thinking about my grandmother and the hardscrabble life that she left to immigrate to America all alone at age 16, and then watching yet again a new group of 16 year olds throw themselves into an unforgettable experience. Slan!

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