Gannon University Hosts Exchange Student from Ireland

Mai_Burke_HaysPosted: May 15, 2014

 

More than 150 years ago, Thomas Patrick Gannon came from County Roscommon in Ireland, not far from County Limerick, to settle in northwestern Pennsylvania and start a family that would include Archbishop John Mark Gannon.

A scant 50 miles from County Roscommon, the town of Limerick sent another sort of pioneer to northwestern Pennsylvania. Her name is Mai Burke Hayes, the first student from Limerick's Mary Immaculate College to attend Gannon University as part of a recent cooperative agreement between the two Catholic institutions of higher learning.

Mary "I," as Hayes calls it, is the oldest institution of higher education in Limerick, and is recognized as a leader in teacher education in Ireland. "It's very much the same as Gannon," she said, "a small, tight-knit community.

Arriving on campus during the coldest month of a winter that challenged even lifelong Erieites, the junior education major learned that things are a bit different on this side of the ocean. "I won't miss the snow," she said in a charmingly tangy brogue. "At first I thought it was so pretty, but now . . ."

Hayes also had to adjust to the way that teachers are trained in America. "At Mary 'I,' it's your responsibility to go to lectures, to do the work. It's independent study, and we do everything together, the same 64 people in every class we take. Academically of course, Gannon is very strong, with a lot of homework. I'm at my desk for hours, whereas at 'Mary I,' we'd get weeks to do assignments."

Still, she said, "I see the upside to smaller classes and getting to know different people, and Gannon is much more interactive than 'Mary I' that's lecture-based."

Just the same, when the opportunity to spend a semester at Gannon arose, Hays leapt at the chance with the tenacity of an athlete who excelled at camogie, the rugged female equivalent of Irish hurling. The adjustments necessary to become accustomed to a different culture weren't always easy, but Hayes has been able to find echoes of home. "I'm on placement at St. Peter Cathedral School, which is close to my experience," she said. Though she misses her family, Hayes has friends to ease the transition. "That's been very easy. Everyone has been so lovely."

And there is shopping, something she will miss when she returns to Limerick at the semester's end. "The price of clothes and makeup is next to nothing here," she noted. "I can't help myself, especially when you hit the sales."

About her experience in Erie, Hayes said, "It is hard to be away and missing things. I had no idea what to expect, It was a lot of work, and a lot of adjustment, but the opportunity to travel to places I've never been, like Florida or New York, is so valuable."