Living Backwards; or, How to Prepare for Studying in Ireland
I wanted to write a post to let anyone thinking about studying abroad in Ireland know about some issues that exist that make life a bit confusing or interesting, depending on how you look at it…
Here’s a “table of contents” of sorts, so you can skip to what you’re really interested in if you don’t feel like reading (each topic is one paragraph):
-Crossing the Street/Taxis
It feels like everything here is backwards. Not exactly true, but they DO drive on the wrong side of the road, so you have to look right before crossing the street instead of left. It took me about a month to really get this down – it’s harder than you think. For the first month or so, I basically just waited until the cross signal (“the green man” vs. “the red man” rather than light-up hands) so I didn’t die. People in Dublin do not wait for the green man – they cross the street at any possible moment. Get ready for it. Also, be prepared to not pay any attention to how the cab driver is driving – buses and people on bikes and pedestrians seem of pop out of nowhere constantly, which makes me a bit nervous, at least…but definitely pay attention to where you’re going! If you sound American, some drivers will go random, circular back routes…no fun and way too expensive. Taxis in general are rather expensive (thanks to the Euro…ahh!), so always try to find another way to get around…walk or take:
The bus. Dublin Bus is a pretty decent service – it has routes all over the place, and has a good website (dublinbus.ie) that can help you plan trips and find out when the next bus is coming. However, like anything else, it is not perfect – there have been four or five occasions on which the bus was due to arrive and never did, even though the website said it should be arriving at the time I was standing at the stop. Apparently this is a fairly regular occurrence, so just be aware of that. I would recommend getting a student bus pass – it’s 82 euro for a 30-day pass. The thirty days do NOT have to be consecutive, though, which means you don’t have to worry about going places if you’re not in the mood “just” to make the most of your bus pass. You need a valid student travel card to have a student bus pass, also – it’s usually 12 euro, but if you open a bank account at AIB (which has a branch ON campus) they give you a voucher that lets you pay only 3 euro for the travel card. It’s totally worth it – the bus is usually 1.85 euro one way, so the bus pass comes out to being much cheaper.
Here I should mention the (potential) necessity of obtaining an Irish bank account for a few things. First, a few stores don’t accept American credit cards – but nearly all accept “Laser Cards” (which are debit cards). You will get a laser card with your AIB bank account (I can’t guarantee you will get them from any other banks…) which allows you to shop without carrying cash (something I’m not a huge fan of; I’d much rather have a card). Now you may be thinking, “Claire, I’m not going to be shopping that much – I don’t need a laser card.” To this I say – yes you will! Whether you are buying clothing or movie tickets or groceries, there will be purchases in your future, and a laser card will make them much easier. In terms of groceries: on-campus housing at UCD does not include any type of meal plan, so all food must either be made or bought at restaurants (EXPENSIVE!). For those of us lazy college students who don’t want to physically go to the store, Tesco (one of the main grocery stores here) will deliver food to your apartment for a low fee (4 euro, usually). However – they don’t accept American credit cards. At all. If you don’t want to worry about carrying groceries on the bus or taking a cab, getting it delivered is a great option for which you NEED a laser card!
Also, UCD is a very interesting school. I can’t speak for all schools in Ireland, but here at UCD a vast majority of students return home nearly every weekend. This makes the weekend an interesting time – either make friends with other internationals or plan to NOT stick around…ever. This also means that Monday through Thursday are party days – to the extreme. At the IFSA orientation, one of the staff told us to be careful trying to drink the same as Irish people – the legal drinking age is 18, meaning they got fake IDs when they were 15 or 16, whereas Americans get fakes at 18 to pretend to be 21, meaning they can drink much more than us; this seems to be a fact. Parties rage around us Monday through Thursday; this may not be news to some of you, but, coming from Hopkins, it’s taken me a while to understand the concept of partying on a weekday because the weekends can be super boring – it’s interesting how that happens.
Another kind of weird-ish thing about UCD is that the gym is not included in tuition. I figure this is due to the fact that Irish students have “free fees,” meaning that they are currently paying 2,000 euro a year for college (rather unlike Hopkins’ fee of $55,000, approximately). This fee does not cover the gym, so no one gets to use it for free…however, this will be changing once the new Student Centre is opened (they will also be getting an Olympic-sized pool). Hopefully if you come, the new Student Centre will be open; if not, I would suggest joining a club sport of some kind. It’s 10 euro to join a club and 2-3 euro for each fitness drop-in class – you do the math…
Technology is mostly computers, in this post. UCD has a number of SUAS (“stand up and surf”) stations with computers for free usage by students; however, you will notice some differences with the keyboards of these keyboards. The enter button is skinny and tall rather than fat and long, the @ symbol is not above the 2; there are a number of other differences. It’s just a funny example of the little differences between the US and Ireland – things you would never think about. Ever. Also, I have a few experiences which point me to the understanding that people here don’t really care that much about emails – they simply aren’t bothered by them. This is not necessarily true for everyone, but I have seen this in more than one person, so I thought it was worth mentioning.
Now on to that all-important topic: phones. If you’re like most typical American college students (I include myself in this category), you probably have a smartphone and you probably love it. (Side note: Microsoft Word just wanted me to capitalize smartphone. Not happening – I don’t love it that much.) The whole “what do I do with my phone?!” question is difficult to answer, but I can tell you my experience and that of my friends. I brought my Blackberry with me, unlocked it, got an Irish SIM card & plan, and am loving it. Absolutely. It’s one less thing I had to learn how to use/do, and I’m such a baby about not having a full keyboard. The pay-as-you-go phones that most of my IFSA buddies got cost 30 euro (about 42 dollars), which is a lot to pay for something you will not be using after a single four-month period…and they kinda stink. Sarah’s phone has a touch screen that is very temperamental – plus it’s not even T9 capable (you have to tap three times for the letter O, etc.). It’s much cheaper to bring your own phone and just get an Irish SIM card – they actually gave me the SIM card for free with my 30 euro top-up (the 30 euro fee for the pay-as-you-go phone does not include any money for calls or texts!).
Scheduling is the last issue I want to discuss with anyone contemplating coming to UCD/Ireland in general. Try your hardest to get Fridays off – seriously! It’s so much better to be able to go somewhere on a Friday morning or even Thursday evening and come back on Sunday than having to wait until late Friday afternoon to head out. My vet class is on Friday from 10-1 so I’m actually missing out on a bunch of traveling opportunities – so not cool. Also, plan to be uncertain about your final exam schedule for what feels like FOREVER – we still have yet to hear anything. According to a 2nd year Irish student I know, the timetable may not be up until the end of November – and the finals period runs from December 14 to 21! It’s vastly different from scheduling at home, where we find out our finals schedule on the first day of classes…this makes planning for travel during “revision week” or after finals but before you have to fly home rather difficult. I’m basically just making plans and praying that they work out, at this point – just something to note.
Ok, I hope this has been informative and useful. Ireland is a beautiful place and I’m having a ball at UCD, but this should give you some stuff to think about when you contemplate studying abroad – do you really want to go to a country that uses the euro?!