Three photos side by side.

Anchors Away

Lakers return to international internships, study abroad

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A field of flowers in the foreground and sky and the top of a castle in the background

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is pictured through a garden of poppies and black-eyed Susans.

DUBLIN — After months of lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic, Grand Valley’s study abroad and international internship programs are coming back to life. 

Students, once anxious about having their classes and international trips canceled, were enthusiastic and overjoyed at the opportunity to travel abroad once again.

“It’s been great to finally be able to travel,” said senior Alayna Peterson, a social work major who spent nine weeks living and working in Dublin. “Seeing that this opportunity was something that I could do after COVID restrictions eased, it just seemed perfect.”

Peterson was one of dozens of Grand Valley students taking classes and gaining professional experience through the Padnos International Center this summer.

In Ireland, she was one of a handful of Lakers taking part in internships or studying abroad. 

Peterson’s internship placed her at the Poppintree Community Sports Centre with The Aisling (Irish for “Dream”) Project, a nonprofit organization that helps and mentors children ages 7-12 in Ballymun, a socioeconomic disadvantaged section of Dublin about 30 minutes north from the city center. 

Peterson and the project’s two other interns (one from Italy, the other from Ireland) helped children with homework, played games, served meals and coordinated other planned activities. 

Peterson said her classes at Grand Valley gave her the proper footing in preparing her for the internship.  

“It's been great to finally be able to travel”

Alayna Peterson, a social work major who spent nine weeks living and working in Dublin

“It was amazing, making connections with the students who come in, and having them open up to see the things that they go through,” said Peterson. 

“This experience really showed me how much I love working with people who are in need. It’s definitely showing me what a social work job will look like.”

When she first arrived at Poppintree, Peterson said the children wanted to know more about her and American culture than worry about homework. 

Some assumed she was from Los Angeles and knew plenty of celebrities. Peterson had to pull out a map and show them where Michigan is and its relationship to Ireland.

“The kids bombarded me with questions about America,” she said. “They wanted to know if I’ve ever been to Target or Walmart, what Chick-fil-A tasted like. They had a million questions and assumptions, some of which were true, and some of them I was like, ‘What? No!’

“It was funny, hearing all of their questions. And, they made fun of my accent a lot.”

A student wearing glasses holds their hands up with the Laker for a Lifetime symbol.

Sam Antenucci spent his internship in the heart of Dublin with the accounting firm Devaney & Durkin.

Anchors away

In Dublin’s city center, psychology senior Erin Mangan interned at the Gillan Lab at Trinity College, uncovering the complexities of the brain. 

Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity College sits in the heart of Dublin, enveloped by the city’s busy streets. Tourists flock to the cobblestoned campus in the summer to see the Old Library’s Long Room and home to a piece of Ireland’s historical and cultural identity, the Book of Kells.

Mangan was the lone American amongst an international cohort of interns in the Gillan Lab, studying the brain’s neurodiversity. Working alongside European and Asian colleagues was one of the reasons she was thrilled to find an international internship, Mangan said.

“It’s very interesting to see their perspectives on issues, and that itself has been very eye-opening, especially in the psychology field,” she said. “I wanted to open myself up to new experiences and perspectives.”

Living abroad was one of those new experiences for Mangan and her roommate, senior Isabel Wychuyse. The two shared accommodations at a student living center, Heyday Carmen’s Hall, which is situated in The Liberties, one of Dublin’s oldest and most culturally vibrant neighborhoods. 

Wychuyse interned at a clinic in Bray, a suburb southeast of Dublin, helping adults with complex needs and developing occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.

“For me, the internship really opened my eyes to being independent, the cultural experiences and learning how to live in a different country,” Wychuyse said. 

“It teaches you to be adaptable. Doing an internship hands-on, you get to work in a cross-cultural experience. It helps with networking and building your professional development.”

There was one hurdle in getting her from Allendale to Dublin. A first-generation college student, Wychuyse lacked the resources to study and intern overseas. 

Through the help of the Padnos International Center and the Center for Undergraduate Scholar Engagement, Wychuyse identified which internships would help her academic and professional growth and applied for scholarships to help with the financial cost.

She was one of three GVSU students this year to receive the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Just 3,000 U.S. college students are selected each year for a Gilman Scholarship.

On their own

Senior Sam Antenucci spent his internship in the heart of Dublin with the accounting firm Devaney & Durkin. 

In the mid-1990s, the Irish economy became a model for the European Union’s economic prowess, booming to life and earning the moniker, “Celtic Tiger.” While the economy may have slowed since then, accounting firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG are thriving here, generating more than $1.4 billion in revenue in 2020. 

Antenucci said if he was going to do an accounting internship abroad, there’s no better place to live and work. There were just a few things he needed to adjust to.

“You have to get used to the traffic coming from the other way, and the Irish driving on the left,” said Antenucci. “And public transit, too. I hopped on the wrong bus a few times.”

On the island’s west coast, Kelley Sommers experienced an academic rebirth in the city of Galway. Sommers spent the summer at the University of Galway in its Irish Studies program.

Her time during the COVID quarantine and lockdown invigorated her love for literature and writing, prompting her to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in English literature and language. 

The Galway trip is her second time studying abroad while at Grand Valley. While completing her bachelor’s degree in marketing, she spent a semester abroad at the University of Brighton in England.

“Coming back to school as an adult gives me a different perspective in navigating, and I’m exploring more,” said Sommers. “One of the biggest culture shocks is how diverse everything is here. You learn to think quickly on your feet and that diversity is really important to whatever you go into.”

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