If I have painted a positive picture of Ireland and Dublin to you so far it is because my experience has been really quite nice. But this has been no utopia however, and because I am still grounded in reality there are some negative things that I’ve had to persevere through, namely Trinity College Dublin’s archaic class registration system and having to deal with registering with the Immigration Bureau. The latter is less important, and also not very interesting, so I shall spare the details of that misadventure and focus instead on the unique trials of registering for classes with Trinity. I will make up for some of my unkind words by talking about how my classes are going, to end on a positive note.
Trinity was established, according to Wikipedia (and the college’s website for those who disapprove of the almighty Wiki), in 1592, giving the college about a four-hundred year history. Four-hundred years is a wealth of time for an institution to build up a towering heap of bureaucratic regulations and red tape that has survived quite healthily to this day. Most, if not all, U.S. colleges and universities, and most of the rest of the world as far as I understand, have you registering for classes well in advance of their starting date. In addition, you probably do it online, correct? Not so at Trinity, no. Resisting modern technological advancements in educational system infrastructure, Trinity has you as a visiting student meeting with a ‘Visiting Student” advisor for whatever school or subject you are pursuing to “register” for classes.
I was accepted to study in the English and Psychology schools, and I had very different experiences for both. For Psychology, I was told to go meet with the advisor on a certain day and I’d get signed up for classes then. Sounded simple enough, so I went. And it was that simple, actually. If we had any questions, the gentleman who was the advisor was more than ready to help out, and encouraged all the visiting students, all Juniors/third-years, to take courses at the level we think we should be at, so basically all year-three courses. With a signature from him, a photocopy of our schedule, and we were out of there. Done and done.
English was a touch more of a struggle to understand what to do and how to get it done. To explain: the English Department was lax in its posting of the course timetables, i.e. when the courses you would be taking would take place each week, but wanted you to meet with the Visiting Student advisor before these were posted. So you were being asked to choose classes when you didn’t know when they would be. As someone who is used to meticulously scrutinizing my schedule to make sure I get all my classes, this wasn’t something I could easily adjust to, especially because I needed to take certain courses for my major back home. Plus, I had my Psychology courses to account for as well and make sure those and the English courses didn’t conflict, to add to my stresses. The other little bit of it was that they would only let us take courses from the first two years, and if we wanted to take a Sophister option (years three and four) we had to fight for it. By “fight” I mean you just had to ask and if the one you wanted to take had available spots you could take it, but they made it out to be a much bigger deal than it actually was. I ended up meeting with the advisor on about three separate occasions, and waiting in line with everyone else for an hour each visit, just to make sure I was “signed up” for the classes I wanted and needed to be in. It would turn out that besides the one Sophister course, I didn’t need to register for any of them. At some point I do believe I had an aneurism because of all of this.
My advice? In the immortal words of the great Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic.” That’s it, that’s all you need to do, don’t panic. Everything ended up working out great for me. Most classes had open caps so I didn’t need to worry about not getting a spot, in both English and Psychology, and there were hardly any time conflicts so I ended up getting all of the classes I wanted to get.
So what are the courses like here? Well, for the most part they are enormous lectures once a week, and my English courses also have “tutorial” sections once a week as well. For me, someone who goes to a small liberal-arts college and a “big” class is one with over thirty students, “enormous” to me is over a hundred students, but for lectures I guess the size doesn’t really make a difference one way or another. If you have spent any time researching studying in Europe you’ve probably read or heard a million billion times how it is “different,” “harder,” and the schools expect you to “do more on your own” and so on and so on. Well, basically, that’s more or less true. You only spend a small amount of your time during the week sitting in on lectures, though tutorials help bolster it for me, while the rest of the time is yours to do with it what you will.
While I do have to prepare things to talk about and discuss for my tutorials, I have no “busywork” for my classes except for the assigned readings. Granted, my four English courses combined give me a hefty reading load for the semester, I counted approximately seventeen books that I should be finished with by the end of the term, but I don’t have to waste my time doing worksheets or other things like that, which is absolutely wonderful. Also, because lecturers only have a couple of courses they lecture on per week, they spend an impressive amount of time preparing for these lectures of theirs, and so almost every single one is top-notch quality. The lectures for me have ranged from the serious (debating sexism in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew), to the quirky (the overabundant sex in the Victorian era, including a man who claimed to have slept with over one-thousand women and wrote a detailed account of his exploits), and to the utmost hilarity (mockingly comparing the similarities between Wuthering Heights and Twilight).
Though the whole registration system was a tad on the side of FUBAR, it got easier once I stopped caring and just let it work itself out, and so if you go in ready to take your time and not panic, it’ll be a much more relaxed process. And if it wasn’t apparent, I really do love my classes, which were one of the big reasons I came to TCD. I get to take a wide-range of topics, and the lecturers really do know their stuff without coming across as stuffy, over-learned windbags. Can’t really complain too much with that being the case.