Semester Abroad Value in Locally Specific Coursework

September 25, 2020
By Erin Feeney, CAS '20, GSE '21

Although featured less frequently on Instagram than delicious meals and weekend travels, locally specific coursework is one of the main reasons to study abroad. In fact, it is one of the main things that makes a semester abroad distinct from any other extended international trip. With some research and pre-planning, it is quite possible to enroll in courses pertaining to local history and culture at your host university while earning Penn credit, and in some cases fulfilling major or general school requirements.

Months before I traveled to Dublin, Ireland to study at Trinity College Dublin, I began researching courses offered there that are specific to Irish history and culture and that I would not find offered at Penn. I requested syllabi from Trinity professors and submitted many courses into Penn’s XCAT system for approval. Two Ireland-centric courses that I ultimately enrolled in were Irish Language and Literature, and Making and Meaning in Irish Art. Both courses earned Penn credit, and one even counted for my College Cross-Cultural Analysis requirement.

These courses were the perfect complement to all of the tours I took during my time in Ireland and my general explorations of the country. In a country devoted to maintaining and rejuvenating its unique language and extremely proud of its literature, I felt it very important to dedicate a portion of my studies to both during my time there.   

Signs in Westport with Irish text

The Irish language is a compulsory subject in government-funded schools in Ireland. While it is not spoken every day by most Irish citizens, it is still used along with English on road signs, in public transit announcements, etc. So while it is not necessary to know any Irish to live in Ireland, knowing even a small amount can enrich the experience. I personally enjoyed learning the meanings behind many popular Irish names, place names, and slang words, as well as studying classic literature originally written in the Irish language. Such works are much more nuanced when you delve into the original Irish text, as our professors helped us to do, as opposed to reading only the English translations.

Selfie in National Gallery

My Making Meaning in Irish Art course called my attention to and made me grateful for the fact that I was surrounded by so many of Ireland’s world-famous pieces of art and architecture every day during my time in Dublin, several of which are located at Trinity College Dublin. I had the unique opportunity to learn about their history and significance from distinguished national scholars. The museum building, the long room of the old library, and the Berkeley library of Trinity College Dublin, for instance, are three of the most notable pieces of architecture in Ireland, and I walked past and within them every day. It was only after learning more about them in that course, however, that I really began to take the time to appreciate them. In addition to campus architecture, so many of the works of art we studied are housed in the National Gallery of Ireland, located on the edge of Trinity’s campus. Our professors dedicated two class days to leading us on an architecture tour of campus and a guided tour of the National Gallery. This course was not only locally specific but also experiential in a way that it could never have been if offered at any other university.

The Seven Churches


Glasnevin Cemetery


I’m so grateful for the unique academic opportunities I had as a result of studying at Trinity, and I encourage every student studying abroad to pursue as many courses that are unique to their host destination as possible. Doing so undoubtedly enriches a study abroad experience both within and outside of the classroom.

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.

Princess sitting in front of a rural landscape in Italy.
Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents
by Princess Rahman, CAS '22