Georgia Southern University rising senior Edie Grice is a psychology major who is a self-proclaimed mental health nerd, loves art and helping others. And she also loves to travel.
She recently was able to pull all those things together during a trip to Ireland with a group of students and faculty from GSU, the first group to go there to study from the local campus. The group traveled to Wexford, the location of GSU’s international learning center, which is the result of a long-time partnership between Wexford and Savannah, and Georgia Southern’s Center for Irish Research and Teaching.
Georgia Southern University-Wexford is a global hub for learning housed in a historic building, which features classrooms and student apartments. GSU was the first public university in the United States to open an outreach learning facility in Ireland.
Grice became involved with the group because she was in the right place at the right time. The group, from the university’s College of Education, needed one more person for the trip, and Grice does research work for a professor in the COE, who invited her to go. It didn’t take much convincing for her to decide she wanted to make the trip. The group left for Ireland on May 31, and returned on June 16.
While there, the group did a lot of sightseeing and had “jam-packed” days, Grice said. But there was also a lot of work involved, as it was like taking online classes. Grice took two special education elective classes.
The group was invited to go into the primary schools and they had fun teaching the students how to play baseball.
“They caught on really quick and they were really fun,” she said.
Grice says the student population at the schools was incredibly diverse, and included Irish kids as well as Indian, Asian and even a lot of Ukrainian refugees. But one child in particular stood out for her. Grice met a little girl who has autism who said she didn’t get to participate in physical education classes much because she has special classes that accommodate her autism.
“I told her I had also taken special classes and that was something we had in common and it was awesome. We have special abilities. That’s what makes us different, because we have things that we can do better than other people because of the way our brains work,” Grice said, adding that in that moment, she and the child bonded.
“That moment made the whole trip worth it to me,” she said.
Grice says she was impressed with the amount of mental health education that is present in the schools. She was able to look in on a kindergarten class, where they were teaching the kids to do mindfulness breathing when they felt anxious or stressed.
“They teach them that the emotions you have are just, you’re human, you’re angry, you’re sad; these are things we all experience,” she said. “They’re given these small tools, like go take a walk, take deep breaths, do different things that are accessible to everyone for how to handle the emotions you’re feeling right now. I love that. I think they’re teaching them to be such incredible humans. They’re equipping them with things that over here, you would have to pay $700 for several sessions of therapy before you would ever learn those techniques.”
Grice said she learned that the schools work extra hard in Ireland to be sure that they provide a safe environment for all the children.
“They want the schools to be like second homes,” she said. “They have this room that’s actually called the nurture room. It’s set up like a home; it has a living room, it has couches, it has a kitchen, it has a candle going and the radio down low, and there are two teachers that have mental health experience who are in that room all day.”
The idea, Grice adds, is that if a child comes to school and isn’t doing well, he can be taken to that room and the teachers will do whatever is necessary to be sure he’s OK. The idea, she said, is to help the child in that moment; instead of sending him on to class with minimal help. Grice asked them why this is a priority for them.
“They were like, the thing is, they’re in elementary school. If they miss one spelling test, that is not going to impact their future the same way as if a loved one passed away last night. How we react in these moments will change their life forever, and we want to be intentional that we do that correctly. I was just, like, blown away,” Grice said. She brought home the curriculum and says she would love to share it with her teacher friends.
Grice is planning to continue her education after graduating in May next year, with the goal of becoming a licensed counselor. She plans to incorporate her love for art by using art therapy in her practice. She had long dreamed of having the opportunity to have an art piece placed internationally, but says she didn’t dream it would happen on this trip to Ireland.
After having talked with her professor about doing a mural at the Wexford campus, she says they had no clue how to make it happen. But her professor told her to go ahead and design one.
“I had paint brushes in my suitcase, but we had no real plans. But we were like, we’re going to paint this mural,” she said.
A chance meeting between her professor and local resident Eithne Agar, founder of the Wexford Arts Centre, led to the opportunity Grice had been waiting for. Not only did she get the opportunity she wanted, but Agar agreed to provide the supplies and former Wexford mayor Leonard Kelly provided sponsorship.
“I never expected to have Ireland’s support like this,” Grice said. “Everyone was so kind, especially Eithne, who didn’t even want people to know she helped me. She said, ‘It’s not about me, I just want this dream to happen for you.’”
Grice wanted to paint a mural on a wall at the campus, but since they are renting the building, this wasn’t possible. But a vinyl canvas was provided, which can be hung and moved when needed. Grice worked on her design for a couple of days, and ultimately decided to paint a set of wings, which people can stand in front of for pictures. The top of the mural reads: “Georgia Southern Eagles Soar to Ireland.”
Grice got everyone on the trip to sign the canvas, and she hopes it will become a kind of guest book, so that everyone who goes there in the future will be able to sign it as well.
“I really love that concept, and it does make me an international artist, to have a piece over there now, which is a beautiful dream come true,” she said. “It was cool to see how not only Georgia Southern supported me, but also the people there did, which is more than I could ever ask for.”