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A Caution to the Birds…

Time October 27th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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.


Into the Mystic…

Time September 29th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Into the Mystic… by

My body was still fighting all of the sleeping pills I took for my flight over the Atlantic when the adrenaline kicked in as the green isle appeared through the plane’s windows.  Like a cliché, Ireland was shrouded in mist along its coast, and I could make out small towns and villages nestled near the shore as we made our way towards Dublin.  My legs tapped together uncontrollably while the couple next to me talked about the preparations they needed to take care of before they got back to their house.  A few minutes later we were on the ground.

Going through security and customs was unbelievably simple and easy, with the officer at immigration displaying the overly nice Irish temperament by cracking jokes and telling me what a “brilliant time” I would be having.  Shortly after, I had my luggage, went out the front doors, and got onto a bus to take me into Dublin’s city center.  When I stepped on the bus the radio was playing Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” and I thought there couldn’t be a better way to welcome me to Ireland than that.  Once I arrived in the city center, right at Trinity College in fact, my attempt at trying to navigate through local and tourist-filled streets with two large pieces of luggage being dragged behind me was not the most engaging task, especially since I got off at the wrong stop and thus I had to walk an extra fifteen minutes past Trinity to Butler’s office on the other side of Merrion Square, but still I endured.

After a few small adventures on my part, the people at Butler’s office took me over to my flat on Whitefriar Street, which to give a perspective is just about a block from the beautiful Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.  I can’t begin to describe the joy I felt when I saw the flat I would be spending the next seven or eight months in.  Right next to a number of run down and beat up apartments, my place was quite modern in style and came complete with its own concierge and electronic security gate to the outside.  Inside it was just as marvelous, if not even more so.  It wasn’t huge by any means, but for just two people it was clearly more than enough.  Said other person in the “we” there will join the story a bit later.  Two bedrooms, two complete bathrooms, a living room with a television, two couches, wireless, a small dining table, and the most delightfully cute kitchen that has just about anything one could need or want as a college student, except for perhaps a device that magically creates pizza.

I spent the evening with two friends from high school who were in Dublin for a few days.  We caught up over dinner, bangers and mash for myself, and Guinness at the Brazen Head, which claims to be Dublin’s oldest pub.  It isn’t.  It was great fun though.  The following day I was on my own, running around trying to find grocery stores and build up supplies for the next few days, and for the year as well.  To say my flat is in a wonderful location is an understatement, by about a hundred fold.  A seven or ten minute walk from campus means I can get back and forth whenever I want without worry or real effort on my part.  Most students at Trinity College Dublin, also called the University of Dublin, live off campus, often at home, and are anywhere from a twenty minute walk to an hour-long bus ride or more.  For reference, some friends of mine that I met who are going through Arcadia live about thirty or so minutes away by foot.  I do believe I win in this instance.

In five, ten, or fifteen minutes I can get to about a half-dozen different grocery stores, music shops, restaurants of every variety, movie theaters, drama theaters, concert halls, and more pubs than you can shake a cat at.  Old pubs, new pubs, cheap pubs, expensive pubs, good pubs, bad pubs, local pubs, touristy pubs, student pubs, young pubs, old-people pubs, gay pubs, you-name-it pubs.  There are even pubs that are old, have been remodeled, cater to an older crowd on certain evenings, and on other nights cater to a young gay crowd.  It’s fabulous.  It’s also dreadfully expensive, but so it goes.  It’s basically a perfect location, and my return to Hartford, Connecticut or rural Minnesota next year is already looming in my mind in a dreadful way.

The day after that, my poor, dear flat mate finally arrived after harrowing experiences with airports for several days and being stuck in one place after another, but she did arrive and arrived alive.  Butler gave us a few brief lectures that morning on what to expect, some stuff about safety from police-man Paul (called the Garda here), and a lovely, and quite yummy, cooking session with a delightful woman named Jess.  We had two more “Butler activities” the following day, one of which was a terrific brunch with the Butler crew, and then followed by a tour of the Guinness factory.

I have heard many a-story about visiting the Guinness factory while here in Dublin and how it is “a must.”  They were spot-on.  Guinness did a fantastic job with their museum tour-thing.  For the showing and explaining the process of brewing beer, something I wouldn’t think would be all that appealing, personally, they somehow made it rather exciting and interesting.  Even if it hadn’t bee, it would have been worth it just for the end.  At the top of factory/museum/tour, which is shaped like a pint glass, you enter a 360 bar, where you not only receive a free pint of Guinness, what else, but also the most gorgeous and unforgettable view of the entire city.  To one side, you see Dublin’s port and harbor, on another side are open fields, and in another breathtaking hills with clouds hanging just over them.  We probably spent a good forty or so minutes just looking at over the city.  We found Trinity, and, after a while, our flat too.  It gave me an idea of what the city actually looked like beyond just a street-level view, and what its surroundings were.  The final touch, were quotes from various James Joyce books, printed on the windows, so that when you looked past where the quote was, you could see the actual place Joyce was referencing.  A literary dream.

Coming up soon: things to do in Dublin (so much!), Trinity’s different “Societies” (so many!), and classes (so something!).  Same bat-time, same bat-channel.