RIO GRANDE — The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College takes pride in the Welsh heritage of Southeastern Ohio. The Madog Center for Welsh Studies on campus strives to preserve this heritage and the Welsh-American connection for future generations in the community and provide students an understanding of its significance to the region.
As part of this effort, the university established the Welsh Student Exchange Program to give students the chance to study abroad at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David in Carmarthen and Swansea, Wales. Director of the Madog Center, Jeannie Jindra, said Rio has been sending students to the university since 2002.
“This is a wonderful relationship between our universities. Trinity St. David has partnerships with institutions across the globe and they are always so excited to have our students. This year we sent one of the students to Trinity’s Swansea campus about 30 miles from Camarthen,” Jindra said. “This year was also the first time our students have gone to separate campuses, so I’m proud of their success studying abroad. Having the opportunity to meet and experience a different culture with students from all over the world allows our students to bring that multiculturalism and globalization back to our campus to share with others.”
This year, two Rio students who applied were selected for the study abroad program. Katie Oiler studied primary education at Trinity’s Camarthen campus, and Keri Lawrence studied general fine arts at the Swansea campus. Students studying abroad at Trinity are required to enroll in modules in their major area of study at their home university. Lawrence, a Fine Arts senior from Pomeroy said she enjoyed getting to see the world, as well as her major, from a new perspective.
“Studying in Swansea was a very different experience from Rio. It’s larger a city with a lot going on all the time. The art classes were very discussion-based, opposed to here where we focus on the process of making the art. This was a great opportunity for me because it gave me new ideas to apply to my own projects and share with my classes here,” Lawrence said. “I loved getting to travel, meet new people and experience new cultures. I’m glad Rio has this opportunity and the Madog Center because I think it’s important to see the world from a different view. I really encourage other students to take advantage of this opportunity.”
While in Wales, the students took several cultural trips through the program during the exchange, exploring several towns throughout Wales and England. As descendants of Welsh settlers, both Lawrence and Oiler took these trips as an opportunity to learn more about their own families’ roots. Oiler, a sophomore early education major from South Webster, said she enjoyed these trips, but had a special connection to her time in Camarthen.
“The students at Trinity really accepted us and made us feel welcome on campus. I plan to bring some of what I learned about education in Wales back to my future classroom after I graduate,” Oiler said. “When I was in high school, we did some projects with lineage, and I found out my family was from Wales, and my great-grandmother was actually from Camarthen, which motivated me to take part in this program. Studying in the same town she had lived in felt like a new way of getting to know her. That connection made Camarthen feel like a home away from home.”
Southeastern Ohio has a deep history in Welsh culture due to the large number of Welsh settlers who came to the region. Jindra said this, along with the similar landscapes of the two regions, plays a part in making the students feel more at home in Wales.
“Our programs through the Madog Center add something extra to the quality of educations students receive here at Rio. They see dragons on the street signs, the flood wall and the flags around the village,” Jindra said. “Once we receive applications and interview the potential students, we work with financial aid and the academic departments to make sure they are ready to study abroad. I think this process shows how the offices on campus work together to make sure our students have an outstanding experience studying abroad.”
Jindra said Rio is already taking applications for students who wish to study at Trinity St. David this coming fall semester. For more information on the Madog Center for Welsh Studies, contact Jeannie Jindra at 740-245-7186.
Jessica Patterson is a communications specialist for the University of Rio Grande.