Building Community While Abroad: Dublin Students & the Liberties

A special connection has developed between Champlain College students studying at our Dublin campus and local community members in the Liberties.

By Liz Gillis // Student Life Manager // Champlain College Dublin

This proud working class and densely populated city centre community has in recent years seen much redevelopment and gentrification that has not always benefited the local community. Much of the new development in the area has been either student housing or hotels, housing a transient population. When Champlain College moved its students into Highlight Student Accommodation in August 2018, we were determined that our students would become a part of the community, and not be outsiders.

Students studying abroad in Dublin during the Fall 2022 semester on a Shopkeepers Tour in The Liberties.

Local historian James Madigan started running tours to “Meet the Shopkeepers” on Meath Street, the local main shopping street with butchers, fruit and vegetable merchants, bakers, and other locally owned and operated establishments. Champlain College Dublin soon arranged for James and myself to take our newly-arrived students on a tour, encouraging them to shop locally and support the nearby community while in Dublin. To rave reviews, we’ve repeated this tour every semester since 2018. The locals now know who our students are, chatting with them and telling them about the area, and the students have really become part of the community. The Irish Times even wrote an article and produced a video about the early stages of our community immersion.

Little did I know that when I met that first group back in August 2018 as their tour guide, I would now be teaching at Champlain College Dublin and become Student Life Manager. I have seen the relationship between the College and the local community grow and get stronger over the years.

Hear from students about what it’s like to study abroad at Champlain College’s Dublin campus.

“As someone who never lived in a city before living in Dublin, the Liberties was a perfect beginner’s experience,” said Melina Troccolo ’23, who studied abroad and lived in the Liberties during the Spring 2022 semester. “We were not in an extra crowded area but still had quite a few stores around us. Meath Street was full of very friendly local vendors who were very welcoming to us. It was lots of fun to explore the area and try out all the cafes.”

During the summer when I go down to Meath Street, the shopkeepers always ask me when the next group is arriving. That is how strong the ties are between our small group of students and the local community.

To be in the Liberties is to be with the heart of the people.

Michael Baker ’24

Michael Baker ’24, who spent two semesters in Dublin, said: “The Liberties isn’t just a spot of historic landmarks and events. The real history is in the people who live there. The town’s colorful personalities can be seen in the beautiful shops and markets, and also through community and its group strength. They are people who express, everyday, where their roots started. To be in the Liberties is to be with the heart of the people.”

Kathleen O’Connor, a local street trader whose family goes back over six generations in the Liberties, brought a group of students to County Wexford to pick strawberries. “I find the students to be very respectful and full of manners,” said O’Connor. “They are a credit to their parents and a credit to their country.”

As a local, I am very proud of the Liberties. My family connection to the area goes back at least five generations. It is a vibrant place. It does have its problems, as every area does. What makes it so special are the people. If you are willing to become part of the community, they will welcome you with open arms. That is exactly what has happened between Champlain College Dublin students and the locals.

The students are seen as locals, even though they only live here for four months. The people want to know how they are getting on with their studies, and what adventures they are experiencing here in Ireland. And many keep in touch long after they have left.

“Some of our past American students have stayed good friends with us,” said Catherine O’Connor, who works with her mother Kathleen and brother David on Thomas Street. “They still text, they send you a Christmas card with a family photograph. Personally, I enjoy having them here. It’s a different face, a different voice.”

The Champlain students may arrive to the Liberties as strangers, but they certainly leave as locals.

Want to learn more about study abroad opportunities at our Champlain Dublin campus? Click here.

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