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Retreating to Wonderland: A Writing Quest

in Ireland“Coming down the mountainside, we’re being accompanied by beautiful Galway ponies. The sea is below us; we are above a rainbow. A student behind me says, ‘This can't be real life.’ Hearing a student say that meant the world to me.”

Martha Gehringer is more than a professor. She's a magician. When she speaks of the two classes she's led to Ireland, the experience sounds other-worldly. These are truly courses that infuse magic into the Transylvania curriculum.

Gehringer devised Writing for Writing's Sake as an escape. "It was designed for students who loved writing, but get stuck in an academic writing rut," she says. "What they needed was a retreat from campus."

Thus, Gehringer and her students left Transylvania behind to discover a world of inspiration. While some ventured as near as Bethany Spring near Bardstown, Ky., others found creative muses across the Atlantic.

Both Writing for Writing's Sake and Drawing on Ireland (a course that combined visual art and creative writing) found a sanctuary at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, Ireland. According to Gehringer, this rural village offers a beautiful environment conducive to artistic expression, allowing her and her students to "not be tourists, but instead, writers and artists in residence."

The syllabus for Drawing on Ireland promised students an experience that extended beyond classroom learning—it promised something life-changing.

Gehringer can't be accused of breaking that promise. Exploring Aillwee Cave, attending Galway's Early Music Festival, visiting Lady Gregory's Estate, being honored as guests of Irish President Mary McAleese, meeting famous musicians and actors, and encountering famed storyteller Eddie Lenihan are just snippets of what Gehringer sums up as "a real Irish experience."

Atop a mountain, surrounded by land that Gehringer classified as older than old, framed by a rainbow, a sea, and galloping ponies, it is no wonder that a student couldn't believe that this Irish experience was truly real.

Gehringer describes Ballyvaughan as "a lovely community where we can wander and write." But Gehringer's classes go beyond retreating from campus. They arrive in another world, immersed in a culture and landscape that allows students to not only wander, but wonder—to not only see, but absorb. The world exists far removed from any academic rut, campus routine, or four-walled classroom. For Gehringer's students, Ballyvaughan is a place that poses a life changing question: Who says real life can't include a little magic?

in Ireland

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