Sustainable Practices While Studying Abroad

Sustainability is something that is very important to everyone on St. Mary’s campus but, sadly, our efforts in Maryland pale in comparison to the efforts made to conserve environmental resources here in Ireland.

We have made great progress at St. Mary’s: saving water by not using trays in the dining hall, offering reusable to-go boxes, creating a gray water system, recycling, and composting, among other things.

It may not be fair to compare the efforts of a small college to the efforts of an entire country, but I think we have much to learn from Ireland.

At St. Mary’s, we try to recycle plastic bags by donating our used bags to the campus store.

In Ireland, plastic bags are practically extinct. By charging 22 cents (about $0.30) for every plastic bag, Ireland has decreased the use of plastic bags by nearly 90 percent.

Reusable canvas grocery bags are sold in most stores for about a euro or two, but it is far more common for people to bring a duffle or backpack for their shopping or groceries.

Back in the states, it would seem strange if someone pulled out a duffle bag and started stuffing all their groceries into it, but it is completely normal here.

This practice is especially helpful to me since I have no car and must walk to and from the grocery store.

Another way that the Irish have reduced plastic use is by charging for disposable forks, spoons, and knives.

I was eating a packed lunch with a friend one day on Trinity campus when my friend realized that she had forgotten to bring a fork for her pasta.

We walked into a café similar to the Green Bean on Trinity’s campus in search of a fork.  My friend grabbed a plastic fork and was about to leave the café when an attendant told her that she needed to pay for that.

It was less than a euro, but it definitely encouraged both of us not to forget to bring silverware from home.

The use of public transportation is another thing that is very important to people here in Dublin.

There is a very easy to use bus system with good deals for students and bus stops every three blocks or so.

The Luas (the Irish word for speed) is Dublin’s light rail tram system.

It looks like a futuristic train running through the street and is more convenient than a bus when traveling long distances across the city.

Dublinbikes is Dublin’s bike sharing system. Throughout Dublin, on the side of the street, are small bike depots where one can rent a bike and drop it off at another depot near their final destination.

People of all ages borrow these bikes, and with this system, there is no need to worry about locking one’s bike up or storing it otherwise.

People here also generally drive compact cars, and SUVs and other big cars are definitely frowned upon. Smart Cars are very popular here, especially since they make parallel parking in a city so much easier.

Of course, since Dublin is a city, everything is closer together and there is less of a need to own a car in the first place.

The environmental efforts made here in Dublin are very impressive.  Washington, D.C. led the nation as the first to charge for plastic bags.

Maybe other states will soon follow suit, and the United States will be able to begin to compete with Ireland in terms of sustainability and environmental friendliness.


Classes No Cake Walk at Trinity College

After three weeks of lectures here at Trinity College in Dublin, I am beginning to get a good idea of the way things really work around here.

Lecture classes at Trinity are exactly what the name makes them out to be: lectures. They are not discussion-based because there are simply too many students in the class.

There are about 11,000 undergraduate students at Trinity, so the class sizes here are nothing like what I have become accustomed to back at St. Mary’s.

My social psychology course here is held in a lecture hall that is probably three times as big as the lecture halls in Goodpaster.

Being a psychology major at St. Mary’s, I had never been exposed to big lecture classes like, for example, “Principles of Biology.”

I am aware that there are many universities in the United States that have this sort of a setup, but to me, it is all a brand new and foreign experience.

Another major difference between classes here and back at home is how the professors feel about tardiness.  Lectures here are all fifty minutes long, and yet, it is a common occurrence for students to walk in to class late.

On a Monday morning in my “Non-Realist Literature” lecture, a student arrived at lecture with only fifteen minutes left in class.

The professor paused his teaching to welcome the student to the class and pull out an extra chair for her, as there were no desks left in the room.

I looked on completely stunned.  I could not believe how relaxed the professor was.

It is also common for lectures to end late and run into when the next lecture in that classroom is supposed to start.

For my “Popular Literature” class, we commonly have to wait outside in the hallway for the lecture before us to end, and it usually cuts into about five minutes of our class time.

My “Popular Literature” professor is unfazed by this and simply makes her lecture run later to make up for it.

It seems that, generally, the Irish are far more relaxed about time and schedules than what I am used to, especially having grown up just outside Washington, D.C. (a city that runs like clockwork).

As I mentioned in my previous article, most classes here are independent study- based. There are no assessments of knowledge of the class material during the term.

This means that there are no tests in most of the classes. Some will have midterm presentations, but this is rare.

My grade for all but one of my classes is based entirely on the final exam. The final is a two-hour block of time in which I will have to write two essays based on the course material covered.

After having looked up past exam essay questions, I have found that they are normally analytical and open-ended.

The idea is that the exam tests one’s knowledge of the entire course, rather than one’s ability to memorize.  There is no such thing as multiple-choice here at Trinity.

The best thing that I can compare Trinity’s assessment system to is the high school International Baccalaureate (IB) program. IB classes are offered as an equally rigorous alternative to AP classes at some high schools.

The format of the English and history IB exams is exactly the kind of thing I will be dealing with come mid-May. I am definitely not excited about having my whole grade based on one exam… but I guess it is all just part of the Irish Trinity experience.  Wish me luck!