independent

Friday 24 May 2019

A global village in heart of Wexford

Madeleine Quirke and Lisa Bartsch cut the ribbon at the 20th anniversary of Slaney Language Centre
Madeleine Quirke and Lisa Bartsch cut the ribbon at the 20th anniversary of Slaney Language Centre

Simon Bourke

A cycling holiday proved the inspiration for a Wexford place of learning which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Visiting the country for the first time, German schoolteacher Lisa Bartsch and her friends cycled around Cork and Kerry, camping in farmer's fields and sampling rural Irish life.

'We were so impressed by the Irish hospitality,' Lisa says. 'People were so welcoming, inviting us into their kitchens. Sometimes we'd open our tent in the morning and there'd be milk and eggs left out for us.'

And one family in particular took the young tourists under their wing.

'We were cycling up from Wexford to Blackwater and there was a Power family who had a farm there. The mother was very sick but still they invited us into the house. We spent four days with them.'

Determined to keep in touch with her Irish friends, Lisa took a sabbatical from her job, moving to Wexford to learn English. As her year in Ireland came to an end, she decided to extend her stay and pass on her experiences to others. With the help of her friends, she created a brochure, placed a few ads in magazines and set up office in a tiny box room in St Helen's Bay Golf Resort.

'We had no school, no teachers, nothing,' Lisa recalls. 'Our first student came, Paola from Italy, and thank god she booked the one-to-one course. I collected her from the airport, brought her to St Helen's, to the host family, to and from all the activities. I did it all myself.'

From these humble beginnings the Slaney Language Learning Centre has grown into a sophisticated educational hub that caters for thousands of students every year and now operates out of spacious, state-of-the-art offices in Channing House on Upper Rowe Street.

Attracting students from the world over, Lisa says seeing people from widely varying backgrounds mix in her classrooms is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

'One week we had Muslims from Saudi Arabia at the same time as Jewish students, Palestinians, Israelis, it's incredible. All these people make friends, this is something I feel emotional about. You have people from all different religions, all over the world. They come together, go to a coffee shop and they become friends.'

The Slaney Language Centre is now recruiting host families and teachers for the summer. Contact them at 053 912 2908 for further information.

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