Ireland: Cheers to a Wonderful Journey Across the Atlantic by Casey Branstetter, Agribusiness Management major


Posted: June 20, 2016

Ireland felt like such a magical place, yet when I looked around I felt right at home as if in Pennsylvania. If ever you have the chance to travel abroad, do it. As a student, you will grow exponentially on an adventure like this. Networking around the world and getting to know your Penn State faculty leaders outside of the classroom is a wonderful opportunity that not everyone gets.
Me enjoying the beautiful scenery while traveling the Ring of Kerry

Me enjoying the beautiful scenery while traveling the Ring of Kerry

My name is Casey Branstetter, and I would like to share my wonderful experience of traveling to Dublin, Ireland and exploring the lower portion of the country. I began my voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on an international flight that was three hours behind schedule. Upon arrival in Ireland, we met our tour guide, Martin, who we would be spending the next 8 days with.

Rather than wasting our time with a much needed nap, our group got acclimated with our surroundings in Dublin, Ireland. We took a walking tour of Dublin, where I got to walk across the famous Ha’Penny Bridge, learn about the history of Dublin, and ate our first in-country meal at an authentic Irish Pub. The next day, I spent my free time with classmates in Dublin and did some shopping. We met up later as a group to tour Croke Park, take a double-decker bus tour of Dublin’s outskirts, and enjoy an evening of storytelling and Irish entertainment in a pub. The comical and authentic Irish entertainment was a great way to end our first full day in Ireland! The next day, we packed up our belongings and traveled to Wexford, where we got a tour of the Teagasc and Crop Research Center. Teagasc is an organization that provides research, advising, and training to the Irish agriculture and food industries. Being a student in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, I was able to relate to some of the things explained about their extension program. It was interesting to compare their program to our Penn State program.

After visiting the Crop Research Center we went to a local potato farm, where we got to learn about that farm’s production practices. I enjoyed being able to see a large scale, Irish potato farm after visiting a smaller potato farm in Pennsylvania as a class a few weeks prior to this trip. After the farm tour, we visited the Dunbrody Famine Ship, which is a replica of a real famine ship. Although it was not an original, it was incredible and eye-opening to see the conditions the Irish emigrants incurred during the famine. We then spent the night in a quaint hotel in Wexford.

Early in the morning, we began our journey via bus to Killarney. Our first stop was the Cobh Heritage Center, where we learned a ton about the famine and lasting impact it had on Ireland and the rest of the world. In Cobh, I spent my free time climbing to the top of the town to see St. Coleman’s Cathedral and the scenic view of the town from above. Next, we made a worth-while stop at the Blarney Castle, where the historic Blarney Stone can be kissed. I chose not kiss the Blarney Stone, but did explore the castle and loved walking through the surrounding gardens. One of my favorite activities was a tour around the Ring of Kerry, which is a large scenic loop to drive on the eastern coast of Ireland. Around the Ring of Kerry, we stopped by the Ballycarbery Castle, the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and several scenic viewpoints of mountain ranges.

My other favorite event was visiting the famous Cliffs of Moher and The Burren National Park. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, especially on the day we visited the Cliffs. At The Burren National Park we took hike to get an up-close view of the large fields of rock formations, which were created when the last glacier moved across the land.

When we arrived to Galway we visited the National University of Ireland. This is where UNESCO’s (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) office is located in Ireland. Dr. Hoover has a good friend, Pat Dolan, who is the UNESCO chair and director. He gave us the full tour of the facility, fed us lunch, and explained some of the projects his organization has been working on to help communities socially.

On our way back to Dublin we stopped to visit Strokestown Park, which is an old landlord’s plantation and The Irish National Famine Museum. Here, we learned a lot about the lasting impacts the Famine had on Irish heritage and gained an appreciation for all who endured the hunger and suffering during those years. As our trip was coming to an end, we couldn’t leave Ireland without stopping by the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and taste testing. The rest of the day was free to explore the city and do some last minute shopping, and then we said goodbye to our tour guide during dinner at a nice restaurant. Upon leaving the restaurant, we actually ran into a Penn State Ag Science Faculty member who just happened to be in Dublin on vacation with her husband! People always say it’s a small world when you’re a member of the Agricultural Industry—you never know who you may cross paths with. Now I know we certainly do live in a small, connected world!

Looking back on this experience, I have acquired skills that will be of value in both my personal and professional life. One of the most practiced skills during my trip is being able to navigate in unfamiliar territory. We had a lot of freedom during our time in Ireland, so I had to be street smart and pay attention to my surroundings. Independence is another trait gained, starting from the time I left my house in Pennsylvania. I had to drive myself from State College to the Philadelphia Airport, where I have never been before. I now feel confident enough to travel and catch a flight on my own. My listening skills were also sharpened, as we were always paying close attention to what our tour guide had to say. Although they speak English in Ireland, their Irish accents make it challenging at times to catch every word spoken.

To a future employer, I would describe this experience as eye opening and a wonderful, hands-on learning experience. During the in-US portion of this class we had to work on an educational seminar, which we would then present on the road in Ireland and have our classmates complete a learning activity. I hope this shows potential employers that I am able to work well in a group setting and that I have gained valuable leadership skills. Additionally, I want this experience abroad to show potential employers that I am capable of being independent and stepping out of my comfort zone to learn new lessons and skills.

Although I had the time of my life exploring Ireland, it feels great to be home. I want to thank Ms. Diane Blanton once again for her generous contributions to her Global Opportunities (GO!) Award fund. It is with her generosity that students are able to travel the world during their time at Penn State. This program will have a lasting impact on my life, as well as the lives of my family and friends whom I get to share my incredible stories with. I am grateful for having the opportunity to explore new parts of the world and learn many new lessons about the history, culture, and agriculture of Ireland. I encourage all people of the world to step out of their comfort zone and travel the world when given the opportunity to do so. It may be uncomfortable at times, but the sights and other first hand-experiences will leave a mark on your heart forever and fill your life with great stories.