Ireland In Wageningen
The 12 Irish students who make up the entire class of the Community Development Programme at University College Galway, have been in Wageningen since January 5th. In 1989 an official agreement between the WAU and the University College Galway was established in order to enable Irish students to further their Community Development Studies here in Wageningen. The cooperation agreement between the two universities comes under the Erasmus study arrangement, but the contact established operates as bilateral agreement. As Caoimhe Gleeson explains, Professor Chris Curtin, our supervisor in Ireland, has also been a lecturer in Wageningen. His relationship with this University has led to the continued contact. To my knowledge, Dutch students sometimes also do field work in Connemara in the western part of Ireland. Some of them might come to Ireland to live in various communities as preparation before they head to the tropics." The courses undertaken by the group in Wageningen will coun
t towards their Masters requirements in Ireland.
The Irish students participate in several separately organized courses, although some Dutch students also sit in. Despite the fact that the Irish students and the foreign MSc programmes are not formally integrated, the Irish group believes that they have benefitted from the opportunity to have contact with students from around the world. According to Caoimhe Gleeson, It is unfortunate that the resources and expertise at our university look at community development from a fairly Irocentric perspective." Fergal Ryan adds, In Ireland everybody else is Irish, and here everybody else is foreign." The group gathered around the table laughs as they remind him not to be Irocentric but Fergal continues, Wageningen has a wide range of expertise in broader community development issues. The fact that you have greater cultural diversity than we do in Galway makes a difference."
Caoimhe Gleeson explains, When we study community development, we mean the marginalized areas of society in Ireland, especially in the rural areas. These places are suffering from unemployment and emigration problems. It's depressing. What we are working towards is trying to figure out ways to promote interaction and to rebuild a sense of community. The idea is to bring people who are in these marginalized groups together to interact and to not feel on the outside. So community development or building a feeling of interaction with other people could involve anything from organizing bingo once a week to starting a knitting cooperative. The nice thing about Wageningen is that here we can expand on ideas about community development."
For the course Information Technology and Extension Systems, the Irish divided themselves into groups for projects. One group focused upon the Ede Youth Advice Store - a drop-in-centre for young people aged twelve and above. The group looked at the computer software information package SOKI which is used by the social workers at the drop-in-centre. It provides a national data base of addresses, pamphlets and information. This information helps the social workers to answer the questions from the youngsters who visit the centre. Other groups focused upon Geographical Information Systems, while another looked at a medical information package used by a community doctor. The presentations of their project work took place the morning after the Irish celebration St.Patrick's Day party in the Hoevestein student building. Working late into the night to finish for the following morning, some people migrated between computer and party.
The 12 students will study together as a group for a total of two years. However, upon returning to Ireland in mid April, they will split up for their practical periods. Caoimhe is the first among the group to request to do a practical period in Africa. Her time in Wageningen has led her to look towards the developing world, and she hopes to go to Ghana for her practical work.
In summarizing the positive aspects of life in Wageningen, James McAnespie notes that The beer is cheap." Siobhan O'Dowd admits that the system of shared cooking on the corridors has, Been a relief". As Deirdre Toomey sees it, Just the possibility to have contact with people from such diverse cultural backgrounds has enriched us personally." Bernadine Brady goes on to say that, The international dimension is put into a wider context here, and the issues of the developing world are more obvious." Caoimhe Gleeson continues, It is not that we don't have any international students at home, but they are mostly from the United States and Europe, and they live in very expensive dormitories which you can only afford if you've come on a scholarship or something. We've got our friends and we don't live among the international students, so we tend not to have contact with them. One on the nice things about Wageningen is that you live on a co
rridor with people from various countries, and from different studies. Of course we Irish get together down at the Overkant and we see each other during the day in the classes, but living arrangements are mixed, so you get to meet more people. Otherwise, if we all lived together as the Irish Group we would not have met anybody."