Saturday 18 November 2017

‘How I turned Salamanca green when others said no’

Erasmus+ and Me: Ben Finnegan

The Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain, illuminated green for St Patrick’s Day, all thanks to Ben Finnegan
The Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain, illuminated green for St Patrick’s Day, all thanks to Ben Finnegan
Ben Finnegan.

When Ben Finnegan went to Salamanca for his Erasmus year, learning about Spanish culture would have been part of the plan, but he also flipped things around and made sure to immerse the famous university city in Irish heritage.

Turning iconic buildings around the world green for St Patrick's Day had become a fashion and Ben took it upon himself to ensure that the local main square, the Plaza Mayor, joined the international experience.

But, Ben, who had gone on Erasmus as part of a BA International Business and Spanish degree in Maynooth University, was met with a resounding "no" everywhere, including from Irish politicians who told him it was a "great idea, but maybe next year".

He persisted. Then, four days before St Patrick's Day, Ben received a call from the office of the Mayor of Salamanca, Snr Alfonso Fernandez Mañueco, who had seen a message Ben had sent to an old blog page of his, and he thought it was a fantastic idea.

And so Salamanca's town hall turned Irish for the day and every St Patrick's Day since.

The congratulations rolled in from everywhere for the enterprising student, including President Michael D Higgins and then-Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar, who publicly thanked Ben in the Dáil. Ben says a couple of weeks after the event, he welcomed the Irish Ambassador to Spain to Salamanca "and had the pleasure of introducing him to the Mayor!"

Ben credits his Salamanca experience with giving him the confidence to run for student union president in Maynooth University. After two years in that role, and a year in marketing, it is perhaps unsurprising that he is now working in the International Office at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. His role involves facilitating exchange agreements, establishing institutional linkages and coordinating externally funded international projects and programmes.

"I absolutely love it and believe that this is the career path that I want to take long-term. I firmly believe that I would not be in my current position had I not decided to do an Erasmus study year abroad."

Ben says apart from the "fantastic academic developments I made by studying in a different language I would never have had the confidence or skills to get to where I am right now without spending the year in Salamanca. It truly was one of the best and most significant decisions of my life to date!

He says the experience gave him the confidence "to never give up on an idea or project that you believe in, no matter how many obstacles that might be presented."

Irish Independent

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