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Study abroad in Ireland program inspires English major to write poetry, reflect on identity

For any English major, studying poetry in the coastal Irish countryside would be a dream come true. For Guiying (Angel) Zhong, her study abroad in Ireland experience was also a chance to write the most poetry she had written in the past two years.

“I wrote 10 poems, I think, which is insane for me as someone who has been a very intermittent writer,” said Zhong. “[The experience] really clarified my art process for me and showed me what position I’m in on my creative journey.”

Studying poetry in Ireland

Zhong travelled to Sligo, Ireland last summer for the Yeats International Summer School. It is a week-long program celebrating the life and work of renowned Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. She funded her study abroad in Ireland through the Seamus Heaney Fellowship for International Study. The fellowship is a full-ride scholarship awarded to two Pacific English majors or minors each year.

“I really appreciated being in the home and spiritual resting and birthplace of someones who’s done it — who’s done the work of really representing his identity in his art,” said Zhong.

Art and identity are strong interests for Zhong, who is double majoring in English and psychology. When she accepted the Seamus Heaney Fellowship, she knew she wanted to bring both sides of her academic background to the experience.

“I really wanted to get into the mind of Yeats,” Zhong said. “I was really trying to bring in things I learned in psychology, like understanding how Yeats’ mindset of dealing with friends who were grappling with different types of mental struggles impacted his work…I think this experience really let me do that in a very immersive way.”

Zhong was not familiar with Yeats’ poetry prior to applying for the fellowship. However, the experience helped her develop a deep appreciation for his work while studying and immersing herself in his homeland.

“I was really inspired by…this idea of reconciling your identity with your home,” said Zhong. “Understanding that there’s a gap, but there’s also a place for growth. That really struck a chord with me.” 

Exploring Irish culture

The Yeats program attracts poets and scholars from around the world annually. Attendees participated in lectures and seminar courses taught by leading Yeats scholars. They also attended cultural events like Irish dancing, plays, poetry readings and nature tours.  

“Early on in our fellowship, we did take a boat trip to the Isle of Innisfree, which is a very central motif and image and place in Yeats’ work,” said Zhong. “Just knowing that we were literally traversing the space of the poem that’s written about this place…it was a very inspiring experience.”

Zhong describes her study abroad in Ireland experience as academically, creatively and personally enriching. They encourage English majors to take the leap and apply.

“If you’re an English major who really wants to learn more about your creative process, I think this fellowship is instrumental to really honing who are as an artist and figuring out what’s important to you,” said Zhong.

Stockton accountant Ned Leiba established the Seamus Heaney Fellowship. It was a tribute to Irish poet and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Seamus Heaney, who inspired Leiba’s love of Irish poetry at UC Berkeley. Leiba started the fellowship to provide a similar, life-changing educational experience for students.

Explore more experiential learning opportunities in University of the Pacific’s Department of English.

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