BY blair thompson’18, psychology, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE
Working at Island Key’s Co-operative Childcare in the Docklands
As a psychology major, I’m part of Champlain College’s EHS division. Dublin’s EHS course for this semester of junior year entailed getting a placement as a volunteer in a workplace that relates to our soon-to-be bachelors degree. I started working every Wednesday at the Island Key’s co-operative childcare program. This program is part of a government organization for subsidized housing, for people and families of low income. Many of the people living there are actually immigrants from places like Lithuania and Poland, although many are still local Irish who have lived in the Docklands their whole life. The Docklands used to be a working class neighborhood where many manual laborers were employed working on the docks, hence the name of the district.
There was a period of industrialization that started replacing workers with machines which could get the job done faster. These workers became unemployed, thus turning the Docklands into a rather rough neighborhood, full of unemployed people who could no longer afford homes, and the school dropout rates rapidly increased. Any time I mentioned to an Irish person that I worked in the Docklands, I got the same uneasy reaction. I remember specifically one taxi driver telling me how it’s getting better now (due to these government organizations like affordable housing and childcare), but a few years back if you were an outsider walking down the street, “you’d find yourself naked before you even knew what happened”. The taxi driver was inferring by this that the people who lived there had a reputation for being really tough, and would steal literally everything from you, even your shoes….although the naked part was definitely an exaggeration.
I grew so much from working at my placement for the whole four months of my semester in Dublin. Let’s just start with the fact that it was an hour walk to work from the apartments, and an hour and a half walk from school. I had no choice but to take the dreaded and slightly feared public bus. I don’t know if anyone can relate, but back home in Connecticut any time I took the public bus it would end up turning into a fiasco. Whether it was going to different stops than I expected, resulting in me getting very very lost…in the rain. Or maybe anyone, male or female, can relate to some pretty creepy bus riders that try to start weird conversations and follow you off the bus. Let’s also not forget the grandpa-aged men asking for your phone number. So I was really stressed about how the heck I was going to make it to work every week. I many times would walk (note to future volunteers: never forget your umbrella), which
I actually really enjoyed because passing familiar faces and coffee shops after a while of the same routine became quite endearing and sweet. It was kind of a homey feeling, when I would pass business men and women living completely different lives, but still sharing a slice of our lives in common. After a while of recognizing one another, we would give each other a friendly nod, which is just one of those “it’s the little things” moments that makes me happy. Also as a side note, adopting some of the Irish ways while abroad can totally make one gain some weight, so that little time of exercise really pays off. Exercising also produces happy hormones, like dopamine, which is a nice way to de-stress.
So, after the first few work days I got in the routine of getting to work without getting lost. I even became confident enough to take the bus when I felt like it, which turned out to be a completely positive experience. Shockingly enough the bus routes turned out to really not be that complicated after all. If you can look at the bus route diagram while simultaneously finding those stops on your google maps, you’re good to go.
Now that half the battle of getting there was checked off the to-do list, It was time to finally start work. I was put in the classroom with the toddlers, where they can always use an extra hand. One minute you see them, the next they’re in corner…covering themselves with paint or something similarly inconvenient. About half of the toddlers first language was not english, even though they were just developing speech. This was interesting from a psychological perspective to observe how they found ways to work around the language barriers in order to communicate what they wanted or understand what we were saying to them. One really cute little boy in my classroom was from Romania and I watched him learn two languages at once. After being with the toddlers for a bit, I decided I wanted to try working with the older kids. I’ve worked as a pre-school teacher for younger ages before in previous jobs back in America, so wanted to try something new and get out of my comfort zone a little bit.
I started working from 1:30 in the afternoon, to 5:30, and i’m totally guilty of waking up right before then on those days. The kids were ages 6 to 9 and some parts of being a teacher in that classroom were actually more difficult than being with the toddlers. The kids and I spoke the same language, English…but it didn’t really feel that way at all. The Irish accent is so strong that sometimes I couldn’t even understand what they were saying, let alone the slang made things impossible. Slowly but surely I got used to the different words and phrases they used, and could finally understand them. They definitely thought I was an idiot from time to time when I couldn’t understand things they thought were so simple. I remember helping them with their homework and one little girl asking me how to spell something. I told her the American spelling but she was used to the British way, and she realized it was “wrong”. She definitely didn’t ask me for help on her homework for a while after that. Eventually she came around, but she had me prove my intelligence first! (P.s. A tip for any education majors coming over: they call a period “.” a full stop).
These kids were harder than I expected to win over. By the end of my stay I did end up doing that, through teaching them fun little art tricks for painting and drawing, while also playing sports with them. There were a lot of really special bonding times I’m going to miss so much when I fly home. I will continue to be reminded of each and every one of them when I come across something that I know they would’ve loved. Working with all of these special little Irish kids was a delight, and I’m so grateful for them bringing some sunshine and smiles to my Wednesdays.
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