I sat down this week with Stephen McMahon and a few other Champlain students in the café of Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. This is how many of Stephen’s classes for Writing in the City go; we explore a site in Dublin, Stephen asks us to take a few minutes to write a response, and then he extends an invitation for coffee and a chat to any students who wish to stick around. There is so much to learn from conversations with Stephen, and as it turns out, he still finds there is much to learn from us.
Stephen’s journey to teaching at Champlain College Dublin began with a pocket dial from a former lecturer. In the conversation that ensued, Stephen’s professor from his master’s program at Queen’s University Belfast suggested that he pursue teaching- and he did just that.
Stephen has been teaching exclusively study abroad students since 2011. In addition to the three courses he teaches at Champlain Dublin, he works with American students in the IES Abroad Dublin program, and Danish students studying abroad from Niels Brock University. The Champlain program, according to Stephen, is wildly different from others he has known.
“In other American programs,” explains Stephen, “I have students from all different universities. One will be from California, one from New York and another from Texas, which is like having a student from France, Spain and Germany.” But in Champlain’s program, students already know their classmates.
“Champlain students come here with a shared sense of where they’re coming from. In that way, we’re able to hit the ground running.” Stephen doesn’t have to spend as much time building a community in a Champlain classroom, as that sense of togetherness is, for the most part, already there. When it comes to his teaching philosophy, Stephen is able to use this momentum to his advantage. “I want to use Dublin as a classroom, so we don’t just learn about it from slides on the board. We actually go there, and it’s not just me the professor at the head of the class and you the students; it’s us. We do and see things together.”
To Stephen, the learning that takes places in his class is mutual. “I love bringing students somewhere when you’ve never been there before, and watching you guys explore and make sense of it,” he says. “I’m Irish, and I’m surrounded by Americans in Ireland, and you all have a million questions for me. Sometimes I don’t have an answer. I get to renew my understanding of this country every day. Whenever I leave a class, something has shifted for me ever so slightly, and I know that I know nothing.” For Stephen, the cross-cultural experience that comes from teaching international students is one of the most fulfilling parts of his job.
Stephen has a master’s degree in Creative Writing, and teaches Writing in the City (WRT 335), Technical Writing (WRT 231) and also Human Rights and Responsibilities (COR 320) when this course is on offer at Champlain College Dublin. He encourages his students to make sense of their experiences through the written word. “Writing is powerful,” he says. “I think you can write your way to understanding. I want students to write about the past, write about what happens here, but ultimately I want you guys to start writing about the future.”
To Stephen—and this is something I agree with wholeheartedly—at the end of our time here, we won’t just “go back home.”
“This is where you can really get into semantics,” he says. “At the end of this, you can’t ‘go back.’ You came here to change; you came here to exist differently.” Stephen encourages us to continue finding ways to live differently, even when we return to the states in a few weeks.
“If you stop, you’re dead,” he says. “You’re anchored to a moment in time.”
Champlain Abroad Dublin, Spring 2015
Champlain College Communications major
Class of 2016