Reflecting on my experiences in Ireland, I have come up with a few takeaway lessons that I learned throughout the course of the semester, but would have liked to know ahead of time.
Stay Awake, Meet Your City
The first day that I met with IFSA-Butler staff and my peers studying at UCC, everyone was barely awake after at least 6 hours on a plane over the Atlantic. After our advisers showed us our accommodations and let us drop our bags in our rooms, our group set off on the walk to one of the local shopping centers to pick up any necessary items. Then, after dinner with everyone in our program, we were finally allowed to go back to our rooms to catch up on sleep. However, we were expected to attend orientation the next morning at 8:45 am. While at the time I was fuming about how exhausted I was from traveling, in retrospect I think that this helped me to rapidly adjust to the time difference as well as to help me get to know my new city almost immediately upon arrival.
Pay Attention to Academic Differences
On that rather chilly Cork morning, we jumped right into understanding the academic differences between universities in Ireland and the United States. I had been prepared to take notes, but in the face of my exhaustion, I decided to just listen – this was a mistake. My first lecture was History of Crime and the Media in Ireland and after meeting another American study abroad student, we decided it was indeed the right classroom; however, we were stunned when 10:10 rolled around and our lecturer had not yet shown up. As our lecturer breezed
in at 10:15, she mentioned that she would be starting class at 10:10 and ending at 11:50 rather than a 10-12 class. Additionally, there is a difference in grading, which I hadn’t taken notes on and had promptly forgotten, so when the first of my reviewed assignments started to come back to me I panicked, believing that I had done horribly when I got a 62 on an assignment. However, the ‘highest’ grade given in the social sciences is in the 70’s, which is the equivalent of an American ‘B’.
Use Your Experiences with IFSA to Understand Your City
I boarded the bus taking us to Belfast knowing only what little I had learned about “the Troubles” in one of my history classes at UCC, meaning that I was not fully aware of the current impact of this recent history and the ongoing hostility between British Protestants and Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland. On our second morning in Belfast, we got to experience one of Belfast’s notorious Black Taxi tours, during which time we visited sites that played significant roles in the hostile relations between the two major religious and political groups. At each site, we would either hear from one of the Catholic or Protestant drivers about how that particular place had significance to one or both of the groups. Being able to see these places in person helped put into perspective the extent of “the Troubles” and their ongoing impact.
I felt myself constantly making comparisons between Cork and Belfast, which helped me better understand the people I have interacted with in Cork through gaining perspective on the history of the whole Island of Ireland and gaining the Northern Ireland perspective of the Republic of Ireland.
Apply Your Experiences to Your Studies
Through learning about the smaller town of Kilkenny, I was able to experience a different side of the Republic of Ireland. While there, I learned that Kilkenny Castle was occupied by the butlers to the King of England who were loyal to the Crown, and that many older buildings in Kilkenny are haunted. In my folklore class, we learned that according to traditional belief in Ireland, buildings might be haunted if there was no one to keen over the deceased and help their soul cross to the Otherworld.
In addition, we all got to learn how to play hurling (camogie), which I had been studying in my History of Sports and Politics in Modern Ireland course! Although I do not think I will ever pick up a hurley or a sliotar again, being able to play a scrimmage helped me to make sense of the importance of hurling in Irish history.
Reflect and Prepare
The Ready for Take-off workshop helps you to reflect on your study abroad experience, so that you can eloquently talk about your time abroad in professional settings. DO NOT MISS THIS!
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this workshop due to a conflict with my classes. However, I was able to let my advisor, Ruth, know ahead of time that I wanted to attend this workshop, but could not make the first hour that it would be run. After I got out of my class, I rushed over to attend the final hour of the workshop only to meet my peers on the way out, who sadly looked at me and told me that the workshop had ended early and I had missed the entire thing. Fortunately, Ruth was still there and one of my friends had grabbed me a copy of the handout, which Ruth offered to stay and go over with me. I cannot say enough how helpful this handout and workshop is; it offers you a lens through which you can frame your study abroad experience in a professional setting after all of your experiences during your stay abroad.
While I wish I had known these guiding lessons going into my experience, I am glad I was able to pick them up along the way. It was truly the adventure of a lifetime!
Kiely Goss was a Psychology Major and Elementary Education Certificate Candidate at Connecticut College and studied abroad with IFSA at University College Cork, in Ireland during the Spring 2018 semester. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.