The Little Things from Ireland: Traffic Signals, Candy, Euros and Accents

With only a little under three more weeks left of my semester abroad here in Ireland, I am beginning to think about all the things I am going to miss when I finally head back stateside. Some of the things that I will miss the most about Ireland are the quirky qualities about Dublin that make it so different from home. While my family was here visiting last week, my brother asked me what I would bring back from Ireland if I had the chance, and that got me thinking…

First of all, I will miss the sound that the pedestrian walk signals make on the streets of Dublin. When the signal changes from “Don’t Walk” to “Walk,” there is an excellent sound to go with it. It is difficult to describe, but it sounds something like a laser sound effect crossed with the sound of light sabers clashing, or just like something straight out of a 1980s video game. If you doubt me, just search “Dublin traffic light sound” on YouTube and tons of results come up. The sound is there to alert blind people when they can cross, and there are also poles on either side of the road with buttons that vibrate to alert those who are blind and deaf. I never look at the signal anymore, I just wait for the sound. This new habit will probably cause problems for me when I get back home where there are no more sound effects. I will probably end up standing on Maryland street corners forever and never knowing when to cross.

Secondly, I will miss the abundance of Cadbury chocolate. I have had a good time trying all of Europe’s unfamiliar candy bars over the course of this semester. Cadbury Caramello and Crunchie bars are two of my favorites, and they are definitely hard to come by in the States which is a real shame. My love for Hershey’s chocolate products will probably be renewed after having been away from them for a whole semester, but I will absolutely miss seeing Cadbury on convenience store shelves everywhere.

Thirdly, I will miss using Euro currency. With Euros, all the notes are different sizes and colors and the coins are very easily identifiable. There are both one and two Euro coins, so most purchases of products for less than 10 Euros are usually paid for entirely in change. The lowest denomination of paper money in Euros is the five Euro note. As an American used to using one and five dollar bills for small purchases, it was strange getting used to making larger purchases in change. However, after four months, I have come to prefer using change instead of paper money.

Among other things, I will miss being able to hear Irish accents every day, along with all the other accents that I have the privilege of hearing every day all over this city. And, I will miss the mild weather that they have here year round once I have to start dealing with the horrible humidity that comes with summer in Maryland. I definitely feel like I am ready to go home, since there are many things that I have missed about being back in the States, but a part of me will undoubtedly be sad to leave this wonderful country.


Vacation and Travel: Ireland to Venice

One thing that I have learned while traveling around during my semester in Ireland is that there is a big difference between traveling around with friends versus traveling around with parents. I am sitting in a five-star hotel room in Venice, Italy right now while writing this article, with my mom lounging on the bed next to mine. If I were in Venice with my friends, we would probably have decided to stay at the cheapest hostel in the city, and I definitely would be without a laptop and Internet access.

When I went on a four-city, weeklong trip with a group of friends in March, we had to spend days researching our trip. We had to compare flight and hostel prices, research where we were going, learn how to use public transportation, look up directions to and from train stations to our hostels, and generally worry about running out of money. For this trip to Italy, my dad booked the whole trip and my mom did all the research. All I have to do is follow along, take tons of pictures, and just have a great time.

While my last trip with my friends was hectic and stressful, this trip has been very relaxing and much easier. I barely managed to get five hours of sleep a night last time, while here I am getting at least eight. While traveling with my friends, we were “super tourists” (a term coined by my friend Emma). With my mom, we do whatever we feel like doing. We spend a lot of time wandering around taking in the sights instead of feeling obligated to see every attraction listed in one of Rick Steve’s travel books.

Traveling with friends was a ton of fun, and it was an experience that I definitely never want to forget. I would not trade it for the world. However, traveling with family is a much more meaningful and rewarding experience. After having been away from home for almost four months, it has been a really special experience to get to show my mom around Dublin and then tour Italy with her as well. It is one thing to come home to family, but another thing completely to have them take a transatlantic flight just to come visit. I would be lying if I said that this semester abroad has been free of feelings of homesickness, so it’s nice having my mom here–like having a piece of home here with me in Europe.

Having to plan out an entire trip without the help of an adult and navigating huge cities without my dad was definitely an educational experience. But, when traveling like that, there is never time to take a break. It sure is fun, but also exhausting. That kind of a trip feels like an adventure, while this trip feels more like a vacation. And a vacation was definitely what I needed right now, after just finishing up my lectures at Trinity and turning in my term papers. I know I will be wishing I were back here relaxing in my hotel room in Italy when it comes time to sit my final exams in May. Definitely not looking forward to that…


Irish Language: Small But Significant

One of the most interesting aspects of Ireland is its pride in its first official language, Irish Gaelic. Although many people from outside the country refer to is as Gaelic, it is more commonly referred to as “Irish.”  As a study abroad student here in Dublin, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about this language, its history, and its importance to the Irish people.

Before the British colonized Ireland, Irish was its only language. Now, Irish is spoken as a first language by only a minority of the people in the Republic of Ireland, and is considered only a minority language in Northern Ireland. Even so, all public primary school students in the Republic of Ireland are required to study Irish, and all teachers must pass an exam to prove that they are proficient in the language. Signs on the highway and in the city are all written in both Irish and English, and oftentimes, the Irish translation is written before the English one. Signs throughout the Trinity libraries are always posted in pairs, one written in Irish and the other written in English.

Having spoken to some Irish students studying here at Trinity, I have discovered that the integration of Irish into home and social life differs across families. I met one student at Trinity who never studied Irish in primary school because she is dyslexic and took extra reading classes instead. Her family does not speak any Irish at home. She feels that she is missing out on an important part of her Irish heritage.

Most people I have talked to only remember greetings in Irish while some students use Irish words as slang. A common slang greeting in Ireland is, “What’s the craic?” The phrase is equivalent to “What’s up?” with craic pronounced like “crack.” To say something is “good craic” is to call it a “good time.” The word is also sometimes used in English, as in the phrase, “What’s crackin’?”

Orthographically, Irish mostly uses the English alphabet. However, some of the letters have different sounds, so it is difficult to pronounce an Irish word simply from reading it. As far as I can tell, almost all counties and cities in Ireland have both Irish and English names, some of which sound the same but are obviously written differently. For example, the Irish name for Dublin is “Baile Átha Cliath”, which is pronounced like “blah-klee-ah” by some. There is also one city close to Dublin that only has an Irish name: “Dun Laoghaire” (which is pronounced “Dunleary”).

The Irish are very proud of their language, and nobody likes that it has steadily been falling in use. Irish is only spoken as a first language mostly  along the western coast of the country. But, with all the signs in the country being in both languages, and many attempts to integrate Irish more into urban areas, hopefully the Irish language will not fall into complete disuse.


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.