RIO GRANDE — The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College takes pride in the Welsh heritage of Southeastern Ohio.
The Madog Center for Welsh Studies on campus strives to preserve this heritage and the Welsh-American connection for future generations in the community and provide students an understanding of its significance to the region. As part of this effort, the university has established the Welsh Student Exchange Program to give students the chance to study abroad at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David in Carmarthen, Wales. Director of the Madog Center, Jeannie Jindra, said Rio has been sending students to the university since 2002.
“This is a wonderful relationship between our universities. Trinity St. David has partnerships with institutions across the globe and they are always so excited to get our students,” Jindra said. “Having the opportunity to meet and experience a different culture with students from all over the world allows our students to bring that multiculturalism and globalization back to our campus to share with others.”
This year, four Rio students who applied for the program were selected for the exchange. Mara Hager, Julia Snow, Jenna Thompson and Kasey Eblin spent the majority of their fall semester studying at Trinity St. David and experiencing the culture of Wales. Students are required to enroll in modules in their major area of study at their home university. Hager, a junior English major from Rio Grande said the trip was eye opening and enjoyed her classes abroad.
“It was an amazing experience that transformed my way of viewing the world. I chose to declare theater as my major while I was in Wales and it was so interesting because the classes were so hands-on. We did a Shakespeare performance and had professionals come in for workshops,” said. “It was incredible to be a part of those workshops and network with professionals and other students that I would never have gotten to meet if I hadn’t gone to Wales. I’m very grateful the university offers this program and I think every student should take opportunity.”
Southeastern Ohio has a deep history in Welsh culture due to the large number of Welsh settlers who came to the region. Snow, business and communications major from Gallipolis, said this made Wales feel more like home to her.
“I never thought I would be as comfortable as I was in Wales. It really felt like home. It was almost like we never left and had just gone to a farther away dorm,” Snow said. “Being able to travel with the other girls and meeting new people was incredible. Wales was such a beautiful place. I highly recommend this opportunity to anyone because it’s an amazing experience and it’s a lot more affordable than just traveling on your own.”
Eblin, a junior social work major from Gallipolis, said she enjoyed her experience in Wales and has brought back new ideas from abroad to her classes at Rio.
“It was definitely life-changing to leave home for the first time and embark on this journey. It’s great to see all new things and meet new people because you find yourself,” said. “It’s very interesting to come back and share what I learned in Wales with my classes. Classmates and professors ask me how different aspects of social work in the UK, so that adds a different perspective to what we’re learning. I feel more culturally competent because of my experience, and hope to use what I learned in Wales once I enter the field.”
While in Wales, the students took several cultural trips through the program during the exchange. The students explored several towns throughout Wales during the weekend trips, as well as visiting London, England. Jenna Thompson, a sophomore art education major from Dayton, said she enjoyed these trips and was surprised by the fact there was not a culture shock for her.
“There was definitely a sense of adventure to it. Everything was so new and different. It was very exciting. We were able to see so many places, meet new people and try some really awesome food,” Thompson said. “It was interesting to compare the cultures because they really aren’t that different. Jeanne Jindra really prepared us for everything we would need to know, so that really helped us make the transition to the culture. I definitely want to go back to Wales.”
“Our programs through the Madog Center add something extra to the quality of educations students receive here at Rio. They see dragons on the street signs, the flood wall and the flags around the village,” Jindra said. “Spending time Wales gives them the opportunity to put that culture into perspective.”
Jindra said Rio is already preparing to send more students to Trinity St. David this fall.
For more information on the Madog Center for Welsh Studies, contact Jeannie Jindra at 740-245-7186.
Jessica Patterson is a communications specialist at URG.