As mindful travelers on Semester at Sea, students are always looking for alternative experiences to commercial tourism in every port, such as service-learning or engaging with professors on a field lab. The program's approach is to use each port as a teaching moment while being respectful to the communities that allow us to enter their borders. However, students in Professor Tracy Ehler's Anthropology of Tourism class are learning that this is not the case for all travelers.
Sara Hughes, a senior at Frostburg State University, understands that "Being a mindful traveler means that you care about the culture and you care about why you're there, and you don't try to take a lot away from it besides what you can remember."
- Students in Tracy Ehler's Anthropology of Tourism class stand inside the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul while listening to storyteller, Philip Byrne.
"Anthropologists have become critical of the tourism industry over the past 20 years...Tourists very blindly blunder into communities in search of the exotic or authentic and have no idea of the impact they are having on local people," Ehlers commented.
During a recent visit to Glendalough, a 6th century monastic settlement in County Wicklow, Ireland, Ehlers introduced her class to storytelling and listening to stories as a way of enhancing certain destinations. By listening to stories, students take an observational approach to their surroundings and can appreciate a country without leaving a footprint on the local communities.
"I wanted these students to have an alternative experience...I wanted to create some kind of day where they had a different experience from what an ordinary trip would have," Ehlers said.
Traditionally, Irish storytelling took place in a rambling house around a small fire. A rambling house would typically be a farmer's house in a rural county or a common meeting area where people from all over would share a talent, by singing, dancing, storytelling, etc. Although few rambling houses remain in use today, the Irish still gather together to tell stories that have been passed on for centuries.
"Storytelling is an art and Irish tradition, and storytellers are connected to history and culture in a way that comes from their hearts. They tell stories that have entertainment value, but they also have a social and moral message attached to them," Ehlers said.
While taking in the natural beauty of Glendalough and walking through the carved glacial valley, students had the opportunity to listen to a number of Irish stories from Philip Byrne, an Irish storyteller from Bray, County Wicklow.
"In Ireland it was very special to have a storyteller tell why certain things exist instead of just taking pictures and not knowing why we were there, and to have stories that were based on those places really connected you," Hughes concluded.
Listen to one of these classic Irish stories below, as told by Philip Byrne, and experience Ireland for yourself.