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Northern Ireland Student Experiences U.S.A.

Student Claire McFarland poses on a bench with the Houston city skyline as a backdrop.Each year, the Study USA program offers Northern Irish undergraduates the chance to study business and management in the United States for an entire academic year. Originally developed to assist with the Peace Process, Study USA sends students to American religious universities such as the University of St. Thomas.

Claire McFarland, a Business Management major at Queen’s University Belfast, wanted the opportunity to gain an international perspective on business. When she heard the program’s alumni praise the experience, she decided to apply for the fully funded scholarship. After participating in a rigorous interview process, McFarland received the news that she was one of the 54 selected students. Thanks to sponsorship from the William J. Flynn Center for Irish Studies, she was placed in Houston.

Culture Shock

A twin, McFarland initially worried she would experience homesickness during her year abroad. However, because the Center for Irish Studies sponsored her tuition, she found that her connection to her home in Belfast would not be as strained as she had feared.

By volunteering at and attending the Center’s events, such as the Annual Irish Gala, she even had the chance to learn new things about Irish culture.

“There’s always so much to do, especially with the Irish Club,” she said. “Because I’m Irish, I really like having that as well.”

Experiencing Diversity

The rich diversity of Houston also played an important role in McFarland’s growth. Before coming to Houston, she said that she had no idea that the city was so multicultural, a characteristic well reflected in the UST student body.

“Here, I’ve met people from Taiwan, France, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, all over,” she said. “In Northern Ireland, you wouldn’t be exposed to that because most people are from there and only from there. So the diversity here has really been eye-opening for me.”

Touring America

Claire McFarland poses in front of the Hollywood sign.During her time studying abroad, McFarland experienced the country from multiple perspectives. With friends, she made trips to Big Bend National Park and Miami, Fla. Around Halloween, she met her parents in New York City, which they visited together for the first time. For Spring Break, she road tripped to California and on the way back to Houston she passed through Las Vegas, where she celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.

For McFarland, her year in America has not only given her the amazing chance to travel, but to grow.

“This year has been a great way to see and to learn about America, but also about myself,” she said. “I feel more confident about trying things that, before this experience, I might not necessarily have thought I could do. I’ve just grown so much as a person. I love it here and it’s going to be so sad when I leave.”

Want to learn more about the Irish Studies Minor?

Story by Katie Fleming