Alumni Abroad

A Celtic Pilgrimage

By 2012 - Scotland, All Things Travel, Alumni Abroad No Comments

We’re on our way to Scotland (April 29th, 2012)! The countdown is on and if you’re interested then you can find the full itinerary and more information online here.  This is a really great opportunity to experience study abroad SSU style, whether you’re a student or not!

Now to answer some of your frequently asked questions…

What is the exact cost and what does that include?
The total price is $3699.00 and includes round trip airfare from Saint John, NB, accommodations (double occupancy), transportation around Scotland (luxury motor coach), breakfasts and dinners (lunches not included), guides and admission to all sites mentioned on itinerary.

Can I make payments or is it all due at once?
Yes you can! While the final amount is due by Feb. 17th, 2012, you can set up a payment schedule with Freedom Tours. Bi-weekly payments can make it easier.

Is this an SSU trip or Freedom Tours?
SSU has contracted Freedom Tours to take care of most of the logistics, but SSU’s Dean of Arts (Gregg Finley, PhD) is the trip leader. Payments are made to Freedom Tours who are working closely with SSU to be sure the execution of this trip is just how we want it.  We use a similar process for our Greece & Turkey trip as well as our Israel trip.

How does this “for credit” thing work?
If you are interested in doing this as a 3-credit hour course, then you will receive a syllabus with preliminary readings and assignments. This will all be under Gregg Finley’s instruction and there is no extra charge.  To take the trip for academic credit, please send an email to [email protected], or visit our facebook page and share your interest.

What about travel insurance?
This is not included in the price but HIGHLY recommended. It can be arranged by Freedom Tours for anyone interested at the time of booking.

When and how can I reserve a spot?
Call 1-800-61-2324 to pay your $300 deposit to reserve your place as soon as possible. Space is limited!



We’re Going to Scotland! Wanna Come?

By 2012 - Scotland, All Things Travel, Alumni Abroad, Europe No Comments

Springtime in Scotland: A Celtic Pilgrimage

SSU is proud to announce our upcoming study trip to Scotland! Students, alumni, and friends are invited to participate in this 9-day trip throughout the lowlands and highlands of the Scotland.

Mark your calendars and book your time off and embark on this journey with our fearless leader and Celtic saint, Gregg Finley!  Here are some preliminary details, but stay tuned for a detailed itinerary and instructions on saving your spot!

WHEN–April 29th-May6th, 2012
WHERE–All over Scotland, from Glasgow to Iona, Skye, Inverness, Edinburgh and more!
WHAT--Historical sites like Culloden, and Holy Isles  like Iona & Skye and yes even a few Scotch Whiskey distilleries.
HOW–Travel by luxury motor coach and sleep in tourist class hotels (no camping on this trip!)
COST–The price will vary slightly depending on the final number of people, but expect it to be around $3500 per person. This will include everything except your lunches.
CAN I GET UNIVERSITY CREDIT?– Yes, this trip is a 3-credit hour course with readings and assignments for anyone who would like to take it for undergraduate credit.

“The tourist goes to see and collect (memories and mementos); the pilgrim goes to be changed.”    Daniel Taylor, In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands


Family Band/The Geese

By Alumni Abroad No Comments

For those of you unfamiliar with them, a handful of talented musicians formed “The Family Band” last year (although their Facebook status suggests they have now changed their name to “The Geese”) that played extensively in the local community and produced a CD named Small Boat (album cover below).  While they’re not abroad as this blog category suggests, they’re all the way across the country, so I thought I’d give them a shout here.  Most of them have now moved to the west coast, and they were recently featured on Streaming Cafe.  You will need to create a free account, but you can view their performance via a link at the bottom of the home page once you sign in.

P.S.-Nice performance shirts Zach and Joel

Small Boat album cover

Small Boat album cover

how to wash dishes

By All Things Travel, Alumni Abroad No Comments

Ashley Burtch is a recent graduate of SSU and is currently serving at a l’Arche community in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  The following is a reflection on her experience of living in community there. Also, if you haven’t done so, make sure to check out the video of the core members that Ashley lives with.

Well, that’s it.  Vacation is over.  It was so incredibly good.  Far beyond what I could have hoped for in a vacation.  So I take a deep breath and I close my eyes to sleep tonight unsure of what tomorrow brings, which is, I suppose, true about any day.  I end vacation tired and satisfied.

We’ve had a dishwasher while here in Saint John (and have enjoyed making full use of it, despite some pangs of guilt).  Candice found the following passage in Miracle of  Mindfullness by Thich Nhat Hanh. It seems so appropriate in light of the pending return to a life with more daily responsibilities than I am used to carrying.  It reminds me that I must learn, again and again, to live present in each moment. It would be so easy to look back at vacation and wish for these days again, because they have been so enjoyable.  For that matter, it would be so easy to look back at my time at SSU, or at home with family, or my childhood and long to be there again.  At the same time, it is so easy to worry about coming changes, the future, my “life plan”, where the heck I’m going and on what road.  But all of that distracts me from the opportunity that is here and now.  The opportunity to learn, grow, develop, enjoy, breathe, digest.

This is a long quote, but well worth reading.  Especially if you, like me, have a lot of dishes to wash.

Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of Retreat when all the monks returned to the monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking and wash the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks. There was no soap. We had only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls was a chore, especially during the winter when the water was freezing cold. Then you had to heat up a big pot of water before you could do any scrubbing. Nowadays one stands in a kitchen equipped with liquid soap, special scrubpads, and even running hot water which makes it all the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing the dishes now. Anyone can wash them in a hurry, then sit down and enjoy a cup of tea afterwards. I can see a machine for washing clothes, although I wash my own things out by hand, but a dishwashing machine is going just a little too far!

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

In the United States, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we’ve finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?” I answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way—to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the “responsibility” to him for an entire week.

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future —and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

With love and peace,


Tangible Moments in Time…

By Alumni Abroad No Comments
Cahir Castle (County Tipperary)

Cahir Castle (County Tipperary)

The view from St. Canice's tower (Kilkenny)

The view from St. Canice's tower (Kilkenny)

The Seven Towers of Kells, monastic ruins (county Kilkenny)

The Seven Towers of Kells, monastic ruins (county Kilkenny)

Where do I begin? I have done and seen so much the past three weeks it is hard to decide what to share.  After Dublin I arrived in Kilkenny which has acted as a home base for me during my time in Ireland, staying in a quaint cottage with friends of friends who have taken in a poor Canadian traveller with open arms! Kilkenny is the county of medieval walls, castles, cathedrals…and beer (the home of Smithwicks, Bulmers and of course Kilkenny)!  Ancient ruins are common place, with eleventh century monastic ruins, castles, and cathedrals sitting confidently among nineteenth century famine workhouses and mills. Throw in some SUVs, highways, and shopping malls and it’s truly a confusion of eras!

But staying with locals, I have learned, is the primary way to ensure an authentic Irish experience. My hosts have taken me all over Kilkenny and beyond to experience all the wonders of the area–from exploring castles to exploring caves!  Some of my favorite spots have been those off the beaten track and not yet valued by Tourism himself.  For example, the town of Kells is home to a very large monastic ruin known as “The Seven Towers of Kells,”  nestled along the county’s  rolling hills beside the south bank of the King’s river.  This thirteenth century monastic community was the centre of a Norman town and is currently passed over by tourists.  In fact, we may have passed only four or fiver other people as we walked freely around the ruins! In a country where at times tourists threatened to outnumber locals, this is astonishing indeed! It was a serene experience as there is something inexpressibly profound about grazing your hand along the same stones in the way that someone might have done 800 years before you!  It is perhaps one of the only thing that has the ability to make time tangible.

Other highlights of my time in Kilkenny include the Cahir Castle (1142), which unlike the Kilkenny castle has not been “restored”  but left in its ruined form for tourist to explore its watch towers,  intricate stairwells and courtyards; the Dunmore Caves (a hiding place from viking invasions); and St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny city (where I accidentally dropped my camera down the 9th century tower!).  I have also had the privilege of seeing what has become my favorite church; a church which is so tiny it would be full with just fifty people!  What I found so remarkable about the church is that it is hidden very well down below the country road among naturally beautiful,  lush greenery. In fact it is so well hidden that Cromwell himself missed it when he ravaged the area! And so it has remained preserved unlike so many other Catholic churches in this area that were seized by his army–a small humble church with a victorious secret indeed!  Now I have had the privilege of being a part of the same church’s history that escaped Ireland’s greatest villain….Yes, another tangible moment in time.

But perhaps my most valuable moments have come from conversations with locals about history, politics, and of course, the economy–a favorite topic of conversation in Ireland these days.  After the infamous “Celtic Tiger” (a period of economic boom in Ireland), the recession is hitting the country hard, creating extreme distrust with government and banks here in the Republic.   It is not hard to see similarities in Ireland’s economy and culture (pre Celtic Tiger) to that of the Maritime provinces, and I am growing ever-more convinced that there is much we could glean from Ireland’s success…and her mistakes. I fear that things here will get much worse before they get better…but then again I am no economist.

There is so much more to tell but for now that is enough!  Thinking of all my friends and family as I continue in my pilgrimage and wishing you could be here to experience this as well…

With love,


Jonathan Swift and Thin Places

By Alumni Abroad 2 Comments

Today I fell in love. After a week in Dublin,  I have finally found an affection–for Jonathan Swift. I always knew I liked him based on a few satires that I had read, but I never knew exactly how remarkable he was. If he hadn’t been dead for nearly 300 years I would consider marriage.  Let me explain…

With a new perspective I decided to tackle Dublin on my own today and revel in the fact that I could do exactly what I wanted–no one to drag me down! I had things I wanted to see and do and it felt like a great privilege to be able to do them at exactly my own pace.  So after an Americano (I’m not sure I can ever go back to drip coffee), I headed out to walk what ended up feeling like a million miles around the city.  My first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had low expectations after I had already attend a choral evensong service at Dublin’s most famous cathedral, Christ Church. As it turns out this may have been my favorite stop. I’m not entirely sure why, as it was like going into any other Cathedral in Western Europe (epitaphs, busts, commemorations…and don’t forget the gift shop). It even took me a good 15 minutes before I realized that it wasn’t even a Catholic Cathedral at all, but rather the Church of Ireland (Anglican)–just like the famous Christ Church Cathedral.

When I entered I felt immediately at peace and remembered God and my deep reverence for Him—something I have not done in too long. I made my way to the little chapel at the front where I lit a candle and took a moment to just be. It felt good. Dublin is a busy city and I have been just that since I arrived.   My moment in St. Patrick’s may have been what SSU’s Dean of Arts, Dr. Gregg Finley, would call a “thin place”–a physical location where the heavens meet earth and foster genuine personal connection between man and God.  It was a brief moment, but enough to remind me why I am here.

I continued about the Cathedral until I came to the display on my dear Jonathan Swift, who was Dean there during the early 18th Century.  There I read about his life as, what I would call, an activist. He used his political and literary gifts to battle injustice in Ireland—from building a proper hospital for the mentally ill (who were often put on display before the public) and raising money for destitute elderly women, to single handedly preventing the English government from infecting Ireland with a debased currency which would have ruined the already fragile economy.  I know I want to read more about this man, more of his works, and hopefully squeeze him into my thesis somehow.  I think my point of infatuation came when I read a quote of his saying: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” (Thoughts on Various Subjects).  I am afraid not much has changed since.  In reflection i wonder if we have simple exchanged one conflict for another: Protestant vs Catholic; Muslim vs Christian; secular vs. sacred. Sadly, we have not learned from our past in this regard.

My moment at St. Patrick’s was short, but divine and has given me a lot to think about, especially in this country where religious conflict is so tightly wound into the fabric of its history and culture.

After my visit to St. Patrick’s I did carry on through the courtyards of Dublin Castle to onto the Chester Beatty Library.  This library houses some of the oldest written works existing today including their oldest piece, dated about 2700 BC, which, hilariously, is a very erotic love poem that is so explicit, the translation is not released to the general public– including the librarians themselves! But among the library’s collections they have some of the oldest known pieces of the gospels on papyrus, dated about 250 A.D.  It was a worthwhile visit, learning all sorts of things not only about Western manuscripts but also Middle Eastern and Eastern religions, as well as many secular books (Marie Antoinette’s personal collection).

When I first arrived in Dublin i was given advice from a taxi driver on the best sites to see in the city. I took this advice very seriously and after the library I moved on to what I was told was by far the best tourist attraction in Dublin—the Kilmainham Gaol. I was not disappointed. Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest prisons in Europe, playing a significant role in Irish political history. The tour was amazing and gives a great overview of the 1916 Rising and other rebellions leading up to Ireland’s independence from Britain.  The tour guide did an excellent job of adding a human component with the story of political prisoner Joseph Plummett, who married his sweat heart in the jail’s chapel just a day before he was executed for being a rebel leader. I’ll admit i choked back a tear or two as the guide told of how Grace Plummett waited all night only to hear the final execution shots ring out to tell her that her husband was dead. It is said the execution of these leaders was the key component in declaring Ireland a free state.  The tour also gave a great overview of the philosophy of criminal reform that was prevalent during the Victorian era in Western Europe, of which Kilmainham Gaol was a leader.

Although I am finished with Dublin for now, i will return in a few weeks to do more research and visit a few places that I missed (including the Guinness Storehouse). And in case you are worried, this is just a reflection on one of my days here. I have already viewed the Book of Kells (first stop!), Trinity College’s Old Library (a huge library of books only dated before 1850), the National Art Gallery (Jack Yeats and Henry Clark steal the show), and Christ Church Cathedral. However, for now, I am happy to leave the bustle of a very touristy city for some 5 star camping and personal guided tours around county Kilkenny.

With Love…


By Alumni Abroad One Comment

I can’t remember what it is like to travel without the aim of academic pursuit. Two undergraduate trips at SSU that took me to Western Europe and South Africa set a certain standard of travel that has me absorbed in learning about the history, culture, and social climate of every country I visit.  Perhaps less of tourist, but also less of a vacationer!  Now, a few years after my undergraduate degree, I am working on a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies–this academic venture has taken me across the Atlantic once again to a country in which I am a very obvious stranger: Ireland.

It has been one week of a four week trip–one day I am tourist, the next a student, and another, a representative for St. Stephen’s University and our extensive travel study programs.

Although my accomplishments my first few days merely involved staying awake after an extremely long red eye through London, I did have the opportunity to get acquainted with Trinity College in the heart of Dublin. Trinity College is the starting point of my research on Irish Catholic Immigration to Atlantic Canada. In learning the basic of TC library use, however,  my suspicions were confirmed–most of the primary sources I need are scattered around Ireland at local history site (archives, libraries, museums, etc.).  I didn’t imagine there were any sources Trinity College didn’t have as it contains over 4 millions books–copyright laws automatically give them a copy of every book published in England. I have more respect for a degree in Library Studies now more than ever…I can’t imagine having to catalog and organize all those collections!  In fact, only about 20% of Trinity’s sources are on the shelves for public access–the  rest are stockpiled or electronic.

I suppose some people are wondering (and the rare few maybe even interested) what I am actually studying here in Ireland.  Well, this is all research for my classes at St. Stephen’s University and eventual Masters thesis.  Specifically, while I am here, I am focusing on a research paper called “Cultural Transfer and the Irish Immigration Narrative in New Brunswick.”  Of course  I am looking at Irish settlement in all the Maritimes, but often New Brunswick (Saint John and St. Andrews) was an entry point for Irish immigrants.

Here is a short excerpt from my project proposal which i am using as an outline which may give you an idea of exactly what i am doing way over here across the Atlantic:

The Irish Diaspora is a compelling field of study in both Canada and Ireland. With the help of the Ireland Canada University Foundation, I plan to explore in depth the historical phenomenon of cultural transfer and the Irish immigration narrative in New Brunswick and Maritime Canada. Through the study of the Irish exodus and the eventual settlement of Irish Catholics in New Brunswick (1765-1850), Atlantic Canada as a whole will gain a clearer understanding of the Irish contribution to Canadian identity.  This work will provide a detailed case study of early Irish settlement communities in the province of New Brunswick (particularly the Miramichi and Saint John regions) to determine what cultural traits and traditions were both left behind in the “Old World” and which were kept in particular “New World” settlements.  To achieve this research objective, a thorough analysis of the cultural transfer of early Irish communities is essential. I plan to uncover the ideals of these early immigrants, how their expectations were met (or not met), how the economic and social status of the Catholic immigrants in particular affected their migration and settlement choices, which folk traditions were kept and which were lost, and finally how fully appreciating the Irish Diaspora in the Maritime Provinces will help preserve Irish culture and enhance Canada’s Irish identity.

The Irish Catholic settlement communities in New Brunswick remained unassimilated longer than other regions of immigration in the region.  They still retain a vibrant Irish identity.  As such, these communities can be used as a case study for both Irish and Canadian scholars alike.  However, to be credible, this research initiative must have access to significant sources contained in the archives and libraries of Dublin; sources such as emigration and ship records, censuses, newspapers, and periodicals, as well as immigration and folk literature and related first-hand accounts. The Irish people in New Brunswick have much to offer both Canada and Ireland, but cultural transfer and the Irish immigration narrative needs deliberate attention and investment. As one scholar of Irish Diaspora Studies put it, “If Irish Diaspora Studies – and, indeed, Irish Studies – is to be anything more than a ragbag of predilections then we must make good scholarship our first aim.” (Patrick O’Sullivan, University of Bradford, 1997).

I plan to post regular updates about my experiences here in Dublin and beyond, so keep checking to learn more about my FASCINATING research topic, as well as some other cool pieces of information about life in Ireland.  I am also using this time of study and reflection as a bit of personal pilgrimage so please keep me in prayer as I  journey throughout the Emerald Isle.

With Love,


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