Putting the Study Into Study Abroad

Living On Irish time will chronicle the experiences of SLU student Fiona Clair as she studies abroad in Ireland and her travels this semester.

Much like most students who take a semester or year abroad, the one thing I forgot to prepare for was actually going to school. I stuffed a few pens and pencils into my carry-on bag minutes before leaving home and called it a day. In fact, I didn’t even bring a backpack, that’s how far down on my list school was.

Of course it’s silly. I came here to go to school. That’s the entire reason I’m here, and the only reason I was able to rationalize spending four months in another country and blowing my life savings. And yet, you can’t really blame me for forgetting about the ‘study’ part of the plan.

Part of getting used to living on Irish time came with the endless waiting to register for classes. We didn’t have access to a current course schedule until we got here, and we didn’t get to register until after our orientation. I had to physically stop myself from thinking about school just so I would not go insane stressing about which classes I was going to take.

Needless to say, it was a bit of a rude awakening getting here and registering for classes. The first roadblock was understanding how the timetables work at NUI Galway. Unlike the beautiful SLU portal that is essentially dummy-proof, here you have to check—and double-check— that none of your classes overlap. If you don’t catch on that your Monday class from 1-2 is also on Thursdays from 11-12 you may just find yourself scrambling to rearrange your entire schedule.

The second roadblock was actually finding my way around campus. In addition to classes being at different times, they are also often in different buildings. Which means I had to actually pay attention on my less-than-helpful campus tour and carry my map around for the first week like a total dweeb.

The final roadblock, though, was the tough one, and it was simply that school in Ireland is different from school in the United States. I don’t just mean they offer different subjects or teach in some crazy-different fashion. It’s really the subtle differences that made the adjustment a little more difficult.

For instance, there aren’t necessarily assignments in many of my classes, and there aren’t any attendance or participation grades either. We are expected to show up for class and read any assigned readings, but there is no real homework. Great! Right? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it means I have a lot of free time throughout the week to explore this amazing city I’m living in. No, because it also means that my entire grade in the majority of my classes is just a 2,000 to 4,000-word final essay. To me, that’s nerve-racking, but then again, the grading scale is completely different here, too. At NUI Galway, a 70% is an A, which hopefully doesn’t mean they are infinitely tougher graders. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Another major difference I’ve noticed from my SLU classes is the inter-classroom relationships. All of my teachers have a bit of a lighter style. They still have authority over the classroom, but they teach in a way that evens out the playing field a bit. I felt comfortable right away in most of my classes, because on day one, the teachers either rushed in late, swore, joked around, or started the first lecture of the entire course with a Donald Trump quote (yeah, I laughed along with the Irish students until it dawned on me that that was my reality). There’s just a lighter feeling within the classrooms, like everyone genuinely wants to be there. I remember being shocked during my first class of the semester when, in an 80-person lecture, no one was on their phones or laptops goofing off. It was refreshing and inspiring compared to the lecture courses I’ve taken at SLU.

After two full weeks of school, the novelty is certainly wearing off, but I’m curious to see how the differences evolve as the semester goes on. I’m also just excited to feel more comfortable at my new school. That’s where the real fun comes in—when you find the nooks and crannies you make your own. The hangout spots to chat with your friends, the quiet window seat to finish up your homework in between classes, the best (and cheapest) place to grab lunch—those are the things that make school feel a little homier, if only for the semester.