Girl meets Ireland: Gorny to spend semester in Belfast

Release Date: 1/10/2013

This semester, the Ozarks campus community will have the opportunity to follow Kelly Gorny, a junior from Clarksville, Ark., as she spends five months studying teacher education at Stranmillis University College in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Kelly Gorny

Kelly Gorny, a junior from Clarksville, Ark., will spend the next five months studying teacher education at Stranmillis University College in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Gorny will be keeping a blog called "Girl Meets Ireland," which will allow people on this side of the Atlantic to share in her life-changing experience, the culmination of years of dreaming and planning.

"I have wanted to study abroad in Ireland for a long time, probably since junior high," Gorny said. "When I came to Ozarks, I applied for study abroad almost immediately. I applied as a freshman, even though freshman are rarely chosen to study abroad simply for lack of experience. I applied anyway just to go through the process."

This time around, Gorny was even better prepared and certain to finally realize her dream. Her trip abroad was made possible by a grant from the Academic Enrichment Fund, a university award that was established to help qualified Ozarks students fund enriching educational opportunities. Students have a wide range of projects, internships and experiences that they can use the funding for, but the proposals must explain how those experiences will broaden and enhance the student's Ozarks education.

For Gorny, this was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

"I can't thank Dr. David Strain and the Academic Enrichment Fund committee enough for giving me this opportunity. I'm extremely grateful," Gorny said.

Preparing for her semester abroad was thrilling, though at times also daunting for Gorny. She couldn't say enough about how much help she received.

"I've had an army of faculty and staff members assisting me from the very beginning. I could not have done any of this alone," Gorny said.

"In the education department, Dr. (Glenda) Ezell, my advisor, has been just as excited as I am and has worked really hard to make sure I could go." She said.  "Dr. (Shelli) Henehan helped me apply for the Academic Enrichment Fund. Dr. (Joel) Hagaman and Dr. (Michael) McManus both worked with my schedule to make sure I could fit in a semester abroad."

"Dr. (Bill) Eakin is in charge of study abroad, and he has been my go-to contact for applying and getting into that program. Eric Leon, in the International Studies office, helped me with my whole visa process. We would literally spend four or more hours at a time filling out all of that paperwork. There were so many people that gave up their time just to help me take advantage of this opportunity, and I am extremely grateful. I want to make sure I can give something back to the university. My blog is one way."

Gorny's blog will include links and pictures, as well as the opportunity for followers to ask questions about her experiences.

"The blog is a way for everyone to keep up with what I'm learning about education, about myself personally, and about the culture," she said. "People will be able to ask me questions about the Irish school system and my experiences in the schools, but also my experience living in an unfamiliar country for five months."

As an education major, Gorny had a little more to consider than the average international student. Arkansas' teacher education requirements are quite strict, and Gorny had to work extra hard to make sure a semester abroad wouldn't derail her plans to graduate on time.

"I'm the first education major from Ozarks to study abroad in [Northern] Ireland, and Arkansas is very strict about earning a teaching license," Gorny explained.

"They have set schedules of which courses to take when. Because of that, the process of making sure that everything matches up has been tedious. I re-arranged pretty much my entire schedule to be able to accommodate a semester abroad. I had to take classes out of order and take some during the summer. Hopefully, I'm opening doors for more education majors to study abroad," she said.

As part of her program, Gorny will spend six weeks teaching in the local primary schools in Belfast.

"I can't wait to work with the kids in the local schools and see how different it is from everything I've seen here.  I've spent so much time in schools here for my major that I've seen a lot, and I'm ready to compare and contrast with Irish schools," Gorny said.

Since she will be leaving in a matter of days, Gorny confesses to a certain amount of anxiety.

"The nerves are just now starting to kick in," she admits. "I'm most nervous about being so far away for so long, and being completely on my own. I'll be the only American student in my program. Knowing that there are very few people who will understand exactly where I'm coming from is kind of nerve-wracking, but I'm sure that I'll meet lots of new people and it'll be great."

Gorny is looking forward to exploring Ireland for the first time. She plans to visit the Giant's Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. She also hopes to sneak in a visit to Scotland and England while she's abroad.

Gorny will leave Sunday, Jan. 20, and return in June. To follow Gorny's blog over the next few months, visit http://girlmeetsireland2013.blogspot.com.