GoAbroad Interview

Melanie McDowell - Founder & Managing Director

Melanie McDowell - Founder & Managing Director

After spending her summers in Ireland, Melanie studied abroad in Dublin during her university studies. She fell in love with the country, and particularly with her husband, an Irishman herself. From there she began developing Stint Ireland into what it is today, an organization focused on the simple aim of providing high-quality, exclusively Irish experiences.

Stint Ireland is a young company in a field dominated by veterans. What makes Stint Ireland stand apart from other study abroad and international internship providers?

I think being young means we are growing and developing all the time in response to our interns' feedback. With our focus 100 percent on Ireland too, we can really build our internship network, getting to know our partner organisations personally, and keeping up to date with the latest restaurant opening or festival happening in Dublin.

Stint Ireland program participants in Ireland

A group of Stint Ireland program participants in Ireland.

You are no stranger to international education and experiential travel. How does your professional experience in the field help you in managing your own company successfully?

Treating everyone as an individual, and having strong lines of communication I think are key. It takes a huge leap of faith to hop on a plane to another continent, so our interns have to have absolute faith that we understand their questions and concerns and are here to help. Nothing prepares you for managing a company though, it is definitely a learning curve, but a hugely exciting one. 

Dublin is very much part of your personal, academic, and professional life. What makes Dublin the perfect study and internship abroad destination?

Dublin is my adopted city with memories down every lane. I think it is very easy to feel at home here, it is a small, creative, and friendly city, but still full of buzz. I think Dublin is somewhere you can feel instantly comfortable and relaxed without losing a sense of adventure and excitement.

Cultural immersion seems to be high on Stint Ireland's must-haves for programs. What is the one cultural activity that visiting students or interns should not miss?

For me, the west coast of Ireland is the most magical part, it is also the hardest to get to so we would always try and incorporate a trip west where our interns can hang with the locals and take in the beautifully dramatic scenery. Sometimes it is the simplest, unplanned things that are the most culturally rich, an ad hoc karaoke session in a thatched coastal pub in Sligo comes to mind.

What is the first thing Stint Ireland participants should know before arriving in Dublin?

To relax! Let go, enjoy, take things as they come. Dublin is extremely laid back for a capital city and it can sometimes take time to ease into going with the flow.

What is a typical day like for Stint Ireland participants?

There is no real typical day as our participants are all doing such different things. To take some of our current group as examples, Joe is out on site engineering the public transport tram system, Sarah is working with a costume designer for an upcoming theatre production, Jordan is working towards the launch of the city centre Irish Whiskey Museum, and Kirsten is working in a graphic design firm!  I guess their days are similar in that they wake up together in the Stint house, walk to their internships, and then all get together in the evenings at the house or one of our evening socials.

As the saying goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” How do you spice up Stint Ireland programs beyond what participants are expecting?

We like to mix up our weekly events with dinners (we are massive foodies), adventurous trips to the harder corners of Ireland to reach, hiking in the Wicklow mountains, or day trips to the coast. We try to offer our interns experiences that they wouldn't necessarily find on their own, or through other tour providers.

Safety is of paramount concern for students and professionals on abroad programs. How do you ensure the safety of your participants?

We work with a wonderful insurance provider StuCard which provides excellent medical and travel insurance for all of our interns. All our interns are issued with an emergency contact card and local smart phone on arrival, and housing our participants together and seeing them regularly also adds to their safety and wellbeing in Dublin.

What is the most rewarding aspect of participating in Stint Ireland’s programs and of the Irish Experience as a whole?

Living and working in another country is a completely different experience to visiting as a tourist. I think it is this ability to almost become a “local” that is the most rewarding, appreciating not only the wow moments of being in a foreign city, but also the everyday normalities of living and working in Dublin.

As Stint Ireland continues to grow, what can we expect from Melanie McDowell and Stint Ireland in the next few years?

We are excited to be expanding our U.S. university partnerships, and we have amazing connections with a hospital here in Dublin so we are hoping to attract more pre-med students to work on some pretty ground-breaking clinical research projects. We also have new Postgraduate study and work in Ireland programs lined up for the new year which will give graduates the chance for more long-term stays in Ireland.

In the long term, we have plans to expand to Cork, Galway, and Belfast, as well as to provide rural Irish experiences. If we achieve all that, you can expect to find me enjoying a well earned rest in my favourite part of the planet, West Cork!