Traveling: Confidence With a Side of Nutella

One of the greatest opportunities studying abroad in Europe has given me is the ability to travel the world.  Traveling across the Atlantic to Europe is ridiculously expensive, but once already in Europe, getting around is simple.

Just last week, during Trinity’s week long break, I traveled to Paris, Brussels, Bruges, and Amsterdam for far less than I would have had I been traveling from the States.  Ryanair is a budget airline that allows me to get from Dublin to almost anywhere for less than thirty euro, and even to London for under ten (they do have strict carry-on restrictions and charges for checked bags, but it is definitely worth the sacrifice).

Trains in Europe are also very easy to use.  After flying to Paris, we rode the high-speed Thalys train to our destinations.  It is fast (obviously), convenient, and fairly priced.

Traveling abroad with friends instead of parents is a very liberating experience.  Before studying abroad, I had never planned a trip without my parents, and rarely even helped my parents when they were planning our family vacations.

For last week’s trip, I traveled with two other American girls also studying abroad at Trinity this semester.  We planned our flights, trains, and hostel reservations without the help of any parents and also managed to navigate non-English speaking countries without assistance.  This is something that I never thought I would be able to do.

Before this trip, I had never been to a non-English speaking country before, but now I am confident in my ability to survive in a city no matter the language or location.  Hand me a city and metro map, and I am good to go.  A brochure of tourist attractions is always helpful, too.

Traveling to four foreign cities in a week can be nerve-wracking, exhausting, and even terrifying at times, but in the end, it is all worth it.  I independently managed to navigate the Paris metro and its winding streets, with only a semester of French under my belt.

I managed to keep a cool head when we were stranded in Paris for a night with nowhere to sleep after realizing that we had arrived in the city too late to catch the airport shuttle.

I even successfully ordered a delicious plate of Belgian waffles doused in Nutella and whipped cream with a little bit of broken French and a lot of pointing.  I was nervous before leaving for this trip, but now I feel confident that I can travel anywhere.

While traveling, there is never time to take a break and relax one’s mind.  Break time is planning time, and if the planning is done, then that means it must be time to get that measly six hours of sleep before waking up at the crack of dawn the next day to beat all the tourist lines.

I always thought that spending a semester abroad would make me feel more confident and independent.  After my trip, I know this to be fact.  I would definitely recommend spending a semester abroad, especially if it means traveling, to anyone who wants a confidence boost.  I used to be worried about living on my own after college, but now I know that I will be able to handle any obstacle put in my way.


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!

Studying in Dublin, Ireland

The moment I walked through the main gates of Trinity College during a summer vacation to Ireland, I knew I had found the place where I wanted to spend my semester abroad.

I gazed around, open-mouthed, at the stone architecture and the tall columns of the white buildings that surrounded me. Students hurried across the cobble-stoned square, talking excitedly to each other in their Irish accents, and I desperately wanted to be one of them. Now I am one of them as a visiting student at Trinity College, Dublin.

I have been here for two weeks and I can already comfortably call Dublin my new home. It no longer seems weird that they drive on the left side of the road, and I almost always look in the correct direction when I’m trying to cross the street (people here completely disregard crossing signals).

Mailboxes here are green, not blue, and paper money comes in all different sizes and colors (or “colours,” as they spell it here).

Being at Trinity is absolutely nothing like being at St. Mary’s. I live in an apartment building located about a 25-minute walk from campus.

There is no such thing as a meal plan, and the dining hall is more like a café.

Trinity is situated directly in the city center of Dublin and is one of its main tourist attractions. A few blocks from campus is Grafton Street, the nicest place to shop in the city.

Not only is the atmosphere here different, but also the academic system is completely the opposite of St. Mary’s. Most classes only meet once a week for fifty minutes and there are no specific homework assignments.

Students are expected to study and read about the topics of their lectures on their own time as they see fit. Grades for the semester are usually based entirely on an essay due at the end of term and then a final exam after lectures are over. Everything here is an independent study type of experience.

Living in Ireland gives me opportunities that I have never had before and probably will never have again. The rest of Europe feels so close to me now. I have already began talking to the new friends I have made here about taking weekend trips to places like Rome, Madrid, and Paris.

A plane ticket from Dublin to London can be as low as €10 (about $13.60)! Traveling within Ireland is simple as well: an Irish Rail station right next to campus can take me anywhere in Ireland with as little hassle as the D.C. metro system.

It is definitely sad being away from St. Mary’s for a semester, and I cannot wait until I get back next semester full of stories to share with all my friends. But, for now, I am excited about sharing my experiences and stories about Ireland with you and telling you all about what study abroad in Europe is like.

This semester promises to be full of new experiences, plenty of mistakes, a little bit of culture shock, and, most of all, a ton of fun.