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Our Year In Review: A ‘Unique’ (UNIC) Reflection by UCC’s Student Representatives

10 Oct 2022
Vice-President for Research and Innovation Prof John Cryan, UNIC Student Board members Jack Lehane and Alicia Joy O'Sullivan, and Engaged Research Officer Dr John Barimo at the UNIC for Engaged Research Symposium in Oulu, Finland.

What can, could and should the future of education look like? While we don't yet have all the answers, UNIC has offered us a new way to answer these questions. As our time as UCC’s student representatives on the UNIC Student Board draws to a close, we are afforded some time to pause and reflect on what this has meant for us — both as UCC students and global citizens.

By Alicia O’Sullivan and Jack Lehane

In an increasingly complex world, what it means to be a global citizen remains an important and evolving question. Through shared interaction, peer-to-peer learning and cultural exchange, our place on the Student Board has allowed us an opportunity to improve student representation and opportunities for this. Whether it be through new intercultural experiences, skills, languages or friendships, we were afforded an opportunity to co-create experiences for fellow students that they can carry with them long into the future (while ensuring to share a ‘cúpla focal Gaeilge’ along the way!) From hosting our colleagues in Cork to travelling to Liège and Oulu, we've made friends at each interval, while our mutual exposure to new forms of co-creation has shown us new ways for answering social questions that — when locally rooted — may actually serve us best.

In addition, our participation has taught us a lot about UCC and its place in Europe, the importance of multidimensional student engagement, and the superdiversity needed for true educational mobility. From displaced communities’ lived experiences in Liège in Belgium, to grassroots insights into social and infrastructural challenges and opportunities of Oulu in Finland, our participation in UNIC’s CityLabs has offered us a chance to learn from a unique diversity of people and experiences from an inclusive and educational perspective. Almost more importantly, we realise that we likely would not have learned from these real understandings of others’ lived experiences elsewhere. As a new frontier in cross-border education, UNIC has taught us the value of intercultural dialogue across space and time, and a unique appreciation of it.

Moreover, by taking part in a uniquely wide diversity of student delegation across degree types, backgrounds and disciplines, UNIC has enabled a feeling of inclusion for us within the UCC community at a level that we did not get to experience before, or since. Our year in review has offered us first-hand experience of the potential of engaged research, education mobility and interdisciplinary practice — as well as highlighting how vital it is that students and local communities have a place at the proverbial table to participate in this growing global conversation. Never before in history have universities had such potential for shared learning and intercultural dialogue as today. And it is the igniting of this passion through this first-hand experience that has reframed our next chapters in a way that we could not have done without. In short, we’ve learned ‘out loud’ that understanding is the precursor to any educational engagement. And our participation in UNIC as a new horizon for education has offered us both.

The evolving space of UNIC, and UCC’s participation in it, has opened up a door to new opportunities that we never anticipated when we first registered for our respective programmes of study. We've always retained a belief that education opens up all the proverbial doors to life, and to say participating in UNIC is inspiring for this would be an understatement. It is a catalyst to bridge the gap between academia and the real world. And that is a beautiful thing.

UNIC European University