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For These Freshmen, College Started With 15 Weeks in Ireland

March 3, 2014

Students on cliffs in Ireland

The 10 Drexel students who enrolled in the Freshman Frontiers program last fall still had traditional start-of-college experiences, but they weren’t quite the same as those of their classmates. The Frontiers students experienced their move-in day and campus confusion in Dublin, Ireland, where they studied for their first term of classes.  

Freshman Frontiers is the first Drexel Study Abroad option available for incoming freshmen. This year’s program allowed students to take general-education and major-specific classes at the Dublin Business School (DBS). For 15 weeks, the students lived in off-campus apartments and immersed themselves in Irish and European culture as they learned about Dublin and traveled to other Irish and international cities.

“I think that stepping out of your comfort zone a little bit and seeing how you grow as a person really helps prepare you for college,” said Ethan Bresnahan, a freshman entrepreneurship and marketing major in the LeBow College of Business. “I know that for me it was such a great time for personal growth, and I came back feeling like a much better version of myself than before I left.”

Like his Freshman Frontiers colleagues, Bresnahan applied for admission to Drexel before applying to the program. He put his name in to go to Dublin “as a spur-of-the-moment thing” because he had never been out of the country before, he said, but he knew he made the right decision even after reality caught up.

“When I did get accepted, I really couldn’t picture my college career starting any differently,” he said. “The idea had just sort of evolved into something that had to happen for me.”

Drexel picked Ireland for the freshman program because of its strong educational system and the University’s existing partnerships with the Dublin Business School and the Foundation for International Education, which is assisting with the program, said Daniela Ascarelli, assistant vice provost for international programs and director of the study abroad office.

Of course, the location didn’t hurt either: “Who wouldn’t want to spend a term on the Emerald Isle?” Ascarelli said.

While abroad, the students took required classes for freshmen as well as classes that related to their majors, because only students enrolled in specific programs in LeBow and the College of Arts and Sciences were allowed (though select students in the Center for Hospitality & Sports Management can apply for fall 2015). All students took a class called “Irish Life and Cultures” that Bresnahan said “provided a more in-depth look at Ireland’s history and shed light on things that the U.S. seems to have forgotten.”

The students also took advantage of their new surroundings by walking around Dublin after class and traveling throughout Ireland, from Galway in the west and Belfast in Northern Ireland. Bresnahan and other students also visited Marseilles, France; Malaga, Spain; and Brussels during the fall break.

Bresnahan made a montage, embedded below, of photos and videos from the students’ travels.

“Our first group of students performed very well from an academic and personal point of view,” Ascarelli said.

Now the students are finishing their freshman year on Drexel’s Philadelphia campus. Bresnahan said it was a little odd to come to campus for the first time halfway through the year, but previously visits to campus for Accepted Students Days and Orientation, as well as the built-in buddy system of other Freshman Frontiers alums, has helped with the transition.

“The first night we all went over to one of the Dublin girls’ suites in Race and hung out there, and everybody on the floor was so welcoming that it really didn’t seem that odd to be coming here for the first time winter term,” he said.

Wray White, a freshman environmental science student in the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed.

“It felt like going back to school, if that makes sense. In Ireland, we did most things on our own. We made our own meals with no meal plan and walked to class or took the train because we were a solid 25 minutes off campus; there weren't a whole lot of things we couldn't do. So getting back into the mindset of ‘There are rules and one must act like a college student rather than a fully functioning adult’ was an interesting transition but a fairly simply one, I guess,” she said.

The students may not be done with international experiences during their time at Drexel, either: Bresnahan, for one, hopes to go to Hong Kong for his third year.

For more information about the Freshman Frontiers program, visit the program’s website.