Psychology major abroad in Dublin

My name is Kevin Ngo. I am a senior industrial/organizational psychology major. My original placement with Champlain Abroad Dublin in the Community Advocacy and Inquiry class, EHS 300, was with Crosscare, a program that helps refugee seeking teens coming into Ireland without family get situated with family unifications or foster care while taking classes in math, reading/English, and general life skills. Due to some scheduling conflicts, however, after two weeks, I moved onto a new placement with the Aisling Project in Ballymun. The Aisling Project is an afterschool program for the students in the nearby school. The staff there helps the students with their homework, provides them a healthy meal, and organizes fun projects and games—sometimes with the help of student volunteers. They utilize a sort of token economy to encourage good behavior among the students, using stars and bonuses. Students who collect 150 stars over a period of seven weeks are able to go on a field trip. They can earn stars for completing homework, eating their dinner, participating in the activities, and general good behavior.

As a privileged student from the United States, I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work with two different organizations that give back to the community because I believe that the impact of this type of work is meaningful and makes a profound impact on all involved. Compounded with all the other experiences this study abroad program has provided thus far, I feel as though my two placements have given me a much greater understanding of what it means to be Irish in Ireland and a citizen of Dublin compared to what only a single placement experience would have offered (and, obviously, no placement at all).

My trip to Ballymun takes close to an hour. From my accommodation, I walk twenty minutes to the City Centre, where I catch either the 4 or 13 bus to Ballymun—about a half hour ride. The bus takes me through a few architecturally variant parts of the city, and it’s stunning to see the layers that make up Dublin. From the hustle and bustle of O’Connell Street through the Drumcondra area, a place that has the feeling of a quaint college town, all the way to Ballymun, a place that has seen tough times but is currently undergoing some rejuvenation. From the bus stop outside of the axis centre in Ballymun, it’s about a three minute walk to the Aisling Project building.

 
This isn’t the exact route I take, but the map still illustrates the distance of the trip
Ballymun is one of Dublin’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Ballymun Flats (one of seven towers pictured above) were built in the 1960s to house former inner-city residents. The area, unfortunately, lacked enough public resources (but had service of several schools, a medical centre, and a shopping center) and was also home to much crime and drug use. These social problems created a negative stereotype of the area, and the people of Ballymun have faced discrimination because of it. 
Most of the towers have since been demolished as it is now the site of Europe’s largest regeneration project. New neighborhoods (in arrangements as pictured above) have been built to replace the flats, and each one has a distinct architectural style.
 

The axis (https://www.axis-ballymun.ie/) building is an art and community resource centre where they host events like plays, concerts, and art exhibits. Inside, they offer information to a number of different resources like other services that are available in the area and even a pamphlet of the activities happening within the axis centre.

 

About twenty-five to thirty students show up every Wednesday when I go. I memorized most of their names the first week, but some new faces have shown up since then. It’s my understanding that attending the program is not mandatory, but I’m happy that so many show up every day (and every Wednesday that I’m there)! I spend time with the students from 2:30PM when they arrive until the majority of them leave at 6PM (some leave sooner for various other commitments). We begin with homework for the first half hour. I’m usually in the fourth class room (around nine years old) and have found that helping students learn how to tell time and spells words like “awkward” is a lot of fun! Afterward, dinner is served. Wednesdays are usually ham, mash[ed potatoes], and veg, but last time, they had lasagna, which appears to be a favorite of many of the students! Food is provided because it may be the only nutritious hot meal the students might otherwise receive. There are also a number of times during the day that they are given snacks, as well. Stars are assigned while the students finish up dinner and eat their ice cream dessert. Student volunteers from Dublin City University typically arrive at this point and coordinate various art-based activities for the students. So far, they’ve made Halloween pictures/paintings, carved pumpkins, and created bird feeder art by sticking birdfeed onto pictures the students drew with peanut butter. After this, the students have time to entertain themselves by playing the video game consoles, shooting pool, drawing and coloring pictures for contests, and attempting to teach Americans like me some of the Irish language! Overall, the students are energetic, hilarious, and only sometimes get into fights with each other. There is so much hope for these students, and I am so glad that I get to be a part of their lives for three and a half hours a week.

Kevin Ngo
Champlain Abroad Dublin, Fall 2013
Psychology Major
Champlain College, Class of 2015

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