The University of Iowa

Students find their writing stride in Dublin

January 22nd, 2015

Study Abroad Fair Jan 29 to feature array of short-term programs for UI students

By Lauren Katalinich | This story originally appeared in Iowa Now

Irish Writing Program

Students on a weekend away during the summer 2014 Irish Writing Program

“The Dublin program was a kind of catalyst in my life; it confirmed for me not only that I had the basic abilities required, but that it made sense to think of writing as—dare I say it?—a vocation. The autumn after the program, I changed my major to English and decided to throw myself into writing… It is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life.” –John Sherer, 2007 participant in the Irish Writing Program

Martin Roper says its emails like this and similarly passionate student evaluations that are among the most fulfilling part of his work as academic director of the University of Iowa's Irish Writing Program.

And they are not uncommon.

Students on this six-week summer program have the extraordinary opportunity not only to study the history and culture of Ireland through its literature, but also to begin the discovery of their own identities as writers. It’s an experience with transformative results for many.

Roper, a native of Dublin who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY, first began the Irish Writing Program in 1997 while an MFA student in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. After benefiting so much himself from his time as an Irish student abroad at Iowa, he said he wanted to create a truly great study abroad program in creative writing for UI students in Dublin.

19 years later, the Irish Writing Program is still succeeding in its founding goal of uniting the prestigious writing tradition of Iowa with the most exceptional literature and drama professors of Ireland and beyond.

2014 participant Lauren Kessler exploring the Irish countryside

Days are packed full of seminars on Irish literature, visits to historic literary sites, writing workshops, and talks by prestigious guest poets and novelists while evenings are spent attending theatres or writing independently. It’s a lot for six short weeks but the result is an intense and highly immersive experience.

 “These young writers are struggling together in a foreign country,” says Roper. “They are churning out raw work at great speed and being both courageous and kind with each other.  It’s a unique experience.”

The program is open to all students, not just English majors, he stresses. What students do need is a good work ethic and a dedicated passion for writing.

“We work non-stop. We are always reading and writing and talking ‘books’…My secret (out now) was to always to treat undergraduate students as if they were graduates. They have always done the job.”

Roper insists on having all Irish writers and academics for the program’s courses to ensure students are absorbing as much as they can of the Irish sensibility- including the notorious Dublin wit. A weekend away in Galway and to the haunting Cliffs of Moher give students a taste of another side of the country between studies.

“Learning self-discipline is key for the student writer, and one of my goals is to drill that fact into the students,” Roper explains.

As a result, students on the program are going through a dually-transformative experience that includes both the challenges of navigating oneself through a new culture abroad and learning a little about the dedication, effort, and independence it takes to make it as a writer.

“Our program is often the first time student have had the time to think seriously about their writing life,” Roper explains, “Invariably, they ask the big question: Will I dedicate my life to writing?  My job is to help them answer that question honestly.”

spring SA fair

The Irish Writing Program is just one of many programs that will be represented at this year’s spring Study Abroad Fair on Thursday, Jan. 29, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the University Capitol Centre, second floor. The spring fair is an ideal opportunity to chat one-on-one with Study Abroad advisors, returned study abroad students, and faculty program directors as well as to collect information on available scholarships and financial aid options.

Want a closer look at that Irish Writing Program? Last year’s participants tried their hand at a new medium to make this video documenting their favorite aspects of an unforgettable summer in Dublin.

Learn more about study abroad at