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November 11, 2002

Chace guides freshman seminar across Ireland

By Eric Rangus

When President Bill Chace took his freshman seminar class to Ireland last month, he wanted to make sure they got the full, unvarnished experience. No leprechauns, no shamrocks, no Guinness (well, actually there was some Guinness)—only the real Ireland.

Nowhere was the real Ireland more apparent perhaps than on a bus tour of Belfast, which along with Dublin served as a home base for Chace, his teaching assistant and the 15 freshman in his English seminar, “Ireland, James Joyce and Other Writers.”

While Belfast possesses many beautiful areas, this capital of Northern Ireland also has been one of the most violent places in Europe over the last century. It was the conflicted areas of town—places where nationalist Catholics and British-leaning Protestants clashed—that Chace and his students toured.

“The students were told they were in a ‘Protestant area,’” Chace said. “How do you know that? Well, the curbs are marked red, white and blue, and they are flying the Union Jack everywhere. We know the Catholic area because everything is green, and on the walls are murals of people carrying Kalashnikov rifles and Uzis. They’re masked, and they are shooting people on the wall murals. No doubt about it—it was for real.”

Belfast, though, was generally seen as more enjoyable and the people more accessible than the tourist-leaning Dublin, Chace said.

The class arrived in Dublin Oct. 15 and returned to the States Oct. 19. They toured the Irish Parliament, as well as the National Library; they visited several universities and took an affecting tour of Killmainham Jail, where Irish revolutionaries were put to death in 1916; and they took in some lighter fare, such as sporting events and plays. Emory’s Center for International Programs Abroad played a major role in setting up the class activities.

Unlike Emory’s other freshman seminars, this one came with an additional price tag, and though the seminar was partly subsidized by a federal Title VI grant, the cost for enrolling was still $1,500. But, uniformly, the students said it was worth it.

“We got to see a lot of the places we were reading about, and that made for real, hands-on learning,” said Annaleah Oxman, a freshman from Hanover, N.H.

Several sites in their tour boasted literary significance. For instance, students got to tour Martello Tower, where the opening episode of Joyce’s Ulysses is set. “I loved it,” Oxman said. “It was a great experience.”

While the historical aspect of the trip was memorable, the students met with the living, too. They sat down with Irish poets Peter Fallon and Medbh (pronounced Mayve) McGuckian, who discussed their work.

“They hadn’t met anyone like that before,” Chace said of the students’ encounter with McGuckian. “Nor had I.”

Another perk was the opportunity to meet Irish students. The class met people in pubs (where else would a college student want to go?) and restaurants and stores—an ideal way to investigate a foreign culture.

“People always made eye contact,” said Mo Dougherty, a freshman from Atlanta. “People would look at you in pubs or in the street, and they weren’t afraid to look into your eyes. Then they would come and talk to you. Everyone was friendly.”

Chace asked the class to write journals chronicling their experiences. Excerpts will appear in Loose Canons, the English department newsletter.

The fact that Chace is the president of the University is something that doesn’t intimidate the students. Quite the contrary—after all, what better instructor could freshmen have during their first semester in college than the institution’s most visible figure?

“I’ve had two aims with this seminar,” said Chace, who teaches a class every year but had not previously taught a freshman seminar. “One is to introduce the students to Irish history and literature, and the other is to introduce them to Emory.”

While it’s not quite as exotic as Dublin, Chace also has taken the class to Woodruff Library to page through the Irish holdings in Special Collections. He soon will take them to the newly remodeled Cox Hall Computer Center, and he even has had them over to Lullwater House for supper.

“He is fun to be around and very easy to talk to,” Oxman said of Chace, who asks that his students refer to him as “professor.”

“We may have been intimidated the first two weeks of class,” Oxman added, “but not anymore.”