Study Abroad Program Brings Irish Teacher Candidate to Saint Leo

January 30, 2017

Every day Lucy McManus awakes in a lakeside apartment suite at University Campus excited to be studying in America for a year, and thrilled to be in balmy Florida.

The 21-year-old is taking a gap year from her course of study at Saint Mary’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, through the Study USA program—a cultural outreach and economic development effort of the United Kingdom.

The program’s purpose is to help prepare Northern Ireland’s promising college students for a future in a global economy. Students from all academic areas compete for opportunities to study business and management courses at a church-affiliated institution in the United States. The program’s founders envisioned this international learning experience as a sound investment in their country’s economy and workforce. Students accepted into Study USA list their preferred American schools, and the program directors determine the placement through a college-matching interview process.

“Straightaway, I knew Saint Leo was the number one school for me,” McManus said. She had looked at the website and spoken with a previous Study USA student who had spent a happy, productive academic year at Saint Leo. McManus found there was keen competition for a Saint Leo placement among classmates who preferred a school that offers personal attention and a Florida campus, and she felt fortunate to get her choice. The warm weather wasn’t the only appeal for her as she reviewed more background information.

She was drawn to the Catholic environment, the emphasis on values, and the good relationships evident between students and faculty. In her experience, all those promises have proven true.

For academics, she has chosen courses in leadership, public speaking, communications topics, public relations, and even ecotourism. While those courses are not part of her elementary education curriculum, McManus finds they are making her a more well-rounded person. “With subjects like communication, you can apply them to everything.”

She has excelled in her courses, and is grateful to the teaching faculty. “The professors want you to do well, they want you to succeed, and if you put the work in, you will do well.” She has never been afraid to ask a question, or for help in adapting to the differences between Irish and American colleges. (The Irish system favors a cumulative test of subject matter at the end of a course; at Saint Leo and some other American institutions, students are tested at important increments during the semester.)

Happily, as she is a music minor at home in Ireland, McManus has been able to join the student choir. That activity carries academic credit and requires participation in campus performances, such as the always-popular Christmas concert. “I really enjoy it. It has been a great chance to meet people and gain valuable musical experience.”

She has also taken part in the many campus activities available during the week and on weekends. All that is a new experience, too. In Belfast, McManus and roommates live in a house near their small campus, not on it. And on weekends, she returns home to her family 90 minutes away.

By contrast, at Saint Leo, she meets students from all over in classes and in the Dining Hall, at the student-run newspaper, through volunteering opportunities, and at University Ministry events. And she has taken advantage of affordable weekend excursions from campus, with transportation provided for a kayaking trip and to other places such as Clearwater Beach. “I love spending days at the beach.” During Thanksgiving break, she and a companion rented a car and toured the state, particularly coastal cities, Orlando, and the Florida Keys.

McManus considers her timing in America fortunate. She was able to follow the tumultuous American presidential campaign and election during the fall semester, and from the vantage point of a significant state with a politically divided population. At University Campus alone, there were election events such as guest speakers from the major political campaigns, mock debates featuring students, a straw poll, and political watch parties.

“It is unique to be in America at such a pivotal time,” she said. “I really enjoyed the excitement on campus. It was brilliant to be a part of it. I think the whole world is watching America.”