Belle bound for Belfast

After numerous voice training lessons and theatrical performances, Makenzie Simpson will open a new curtain on stage in Northern Ireland.

Simpson, a 2008 Fred T. Foard graduate and current performing arts major at Lees-McRae College, was accepted to study abroad this fall at Belfast Metropolitan University in Northern Ireland.

"(Ireland) is always a place I wanted to go," said Simpson, 19. "This is something that will stay with me for a long time."

Simpson first took a step on a theatrical stage at age 8 and started voice lessons around age 15. Her road to performing arts in college led her to the Northern Ireland program. However, Simpson had just a week to complete her application, which included references from professors and six copies of every document.

Simpson found out about the program the last week of January, and the deadline to apply was Feb. 3.

"The (spring) semester didn't start until the first week of February," Simpson said, adding there was a change in administrative staff in the performing arts department at Lees-McRae. The new employee sent out an e-mail to students about the program at the end of January and urged anyone who was interested to request additional information.

Because of last-minute information, Simpson was able to get an extension from the study abroad board to submit her information about four days late.

To go along with Irish tradition, Simpson received her acceptance letter on St. Patrick's Day.

"It's going to be life-changing," Simpson said.

Simpson's first day at Belfast Metropolitan University is Sept. 6. The semester ends Dec. 10; however, Simpson plans to travel while she's overseas until the first of January.

"I've never flown before," Simpson said, laughing, "but I'm going to fly to another country."

While attending the Northern Ireland university, she will study drama, acting and directing. She said her schedule appears to be full most days starting with morning classes on into the afternoon.

"I'll be studying what I love — drama," she said.

As a student at Belfast Metropolitan, Simpson had a choice to stay with a family in a house, a college hall or a dorm room. She chose to stay at Stranmillis Hall, which is part of campus, but about 20 minutes away from the university.

In addition to her Irish education, Simpson made contact with a church in Scotland, who requested she sing at their church before leaving for the U.S.

Recently, Simpson held a benefit concert with her accompanist Cathy Banner at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Hickory. Simpson said it was really a time to perform for her friends and family who have supported her in her performing arts journey.

Simpson's talents include dialects in Irish, Southern and Northern, as well as languages in German, French, Italian and Spanish. She has performed on stage at the Hickory Community Theatre, The Green Room Community Theatre, Creative Arts Shoestring Theater and at Lees-McRae College.

In order to make her study abroad experience possible, Simpson needs community support. To make a donation to Simpson's study abroad trip, you may reach her mother, Liza Simpson, at (828) 244-1149 or