Monday 20 May 2019

'I went in my 50s and Irish coffees broke the language ice'

Erasmus+ and me: Mary Burton-Quinn

Mary Burton-Quinn (left) enjoyng a fiesta in Alicante
Mary Burton-Quinn (left) enjoyng a fiesta in Alicante

Mary Burton-Quinn was in her 50s when she went on her Erasmus year.

Having reared her three daughters, the Clonakilty woman had enrolled in University College Cork (UCC), in 2010, as a mature student.

"I little realised the journey it would take me on. What started off as a three-year BA ended up as a four-year BA International degree as I decided to take up the opportunity to do an Erasmus year abroad."

Mary headed to Alicante, Spain "armed with only a few words of spoken Spanish and a very large dictionary".

It was a fast learning curve. "There were five more young students from UCC and, together, we faced both the challenge and the hilarity of going to daily lectures where we understood not a word. But it got easier and 'Google translate' became our best friend."

The turning point for Mary came on St Patrick's Day when she decided to introduce some Irish culture to the city. She made Irish coffees for some Cuban friends in a hostel where she used the internet for study.

"The staff spoke little or no English and I was very reticent about using the little Spanish I had learnt. Many Irish coffees later I realised I had lost my inhibitions and had begun to converse in Spanish, and all those hours of learning vocabulary, grammar and translations finally started to pay off.

"After that, there was no going back and I used every opportunity to use my bad Spanish."

Two years later, and after graduating, Mary began working in the International Office in Cork IT, dealing with both incoming and outgoing Erasmus students.

"I have come full circle, from being an Erasmus student to managing Erasmus+ students, and I am forever grateful to the Erasmus programme for helping me to make this possible," she says.

Irish Independent

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