Arriving in Dublin, getting to the UCD campus was simple and straightforward. All had to do was hop on the aircoach bus outside the airport, but even then I was paranoid about getting off at the wrong stop. I had nothing to worry about, there was a whole group getting off together on that Monday morning and we all migrated to housing check-in together. I received my key card and set out to find my room.
After hauling luggage across campus and several sets of stairs, I could unpack and settle-in. Running low on energy, I had two things left I wanted to accomplish my first day: start confirming classes and find a convenience store for basic supplies. Getting help with classes was extremely easy; I just went to the international student building and got everything sorted out within a couple days. Luckily the campus has a store with every basic living item only a 5 minute walk from my room.
I will admit, the first few days were lonely and probably the hardest of my whole semester thus far. Having no roommates yet, no familiarity with anything, and being thrown into a new city and country left a feeling of isolation. Remembering fellow University of Illinois ACES students were living in the same complex, I shuffled through past emails remembering Amy had said what apartment Dane and she were living in. They ended up living in the apartment house right next to me. After meeting up, we started getting familiar with Dublin.
The first two weeks was filled with exploring Dublin and walking its streets. It’s a city like I’ve never seen before. Winding, narrow streets cut through the city every which way. The first few times going into the city were intimidating to say the least, however, there are multiple major landmarks that make learning to navigate much easier.
It feels like a second home now. You know you love being in a city when you just enjoy walking down its streets. It’s filled with character day and night. Rather than being jam-packed with skyscrapers, small cozy buildings line the streets.
Nothing compares to the atmosphere of a true Irish pub. Add in a live band, and it becomes unbeatable. We found little place called the Cobblestone on the other side of the river. It’s out of the main city center and away from the tourists. This gem became one of our favorite places to go any night. You can listen to traditional Irish bands play in corner as you sit around and enjoy a couple pints.
A pub located in the city center, the Stags Head has a lot of character. In it, friendly bartenders, amazing food, and a mounted head are waiting on the inside. While we usually try and explore new pubs, the Stag’s Head and the Cobblestone are the two pubs I will remember most in Ireland.
I’ve spent whole days walking through Dublin, and I still enjoy doing it again and again.
Now being in Ireland in the spring, it seems almost necessary to witness Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. Wow was it a site to see. The streets were crowded and packed with green as far as the eye could see. There were so many people jammed along the street for the parade; we couldn’t get closer than 20-30 feet. That was a day I won’t forget anytime soon.
Travels in Ireland
For the first half of the semester, I can say that I traveled somewhere almost every weekend. I really wanted to get out and explore Ireland and see everything it offered. The first trip was to the Wicklow National Park in Glendalough. There were 8 of us total who went; Dane, Amy, and me, plus several friends we made in the beginning weeks. We arrived on a Friday afternoon by bus and explored the front of the trails. The following day we headed out mid-morning for our hike. We decided to take a combination of 3 trails – each one gave completely different views of the park.
It took around 5 hours to complete the trails, and they delivered some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever experienced. Starting at the Upper Lake, you walk along it to an old mining town. Up until this point, the trail has been flat, but now we start climbing alongside a waterfall. After this ascent we are forced to walk along studded wood beams laid across icy and marsh ground. We follow this to the top of the first mountain. A downhill trek begins before climbing up a second mountain. The last of the trail wound downhill through a forest on the backside of the park, marking the end of our Wicklow National Park weekend.
The next trip was one organized by an international student club on campus. Dane and I signed up together during the welcome week. We were taken west to Galway, a beautiful coast city. We were allowed free roam and exploration the first night there. The following morning, the group was taken to the Aran Islands for a bike ride. We were allowed freedom to go wherever we please. Small groups formed to bike across the main island Inis Mór. One of the most astounding sites of the weekend came from hiking up to Dún Aonghasa, an old fort on the side of a cliff.
Dane and I decided to start exploring more on our own and planned two more weekend trips to Waterford and Kilkenny in the south. Waterford is a coast city, and the oldest in Ireland. The old walls and towers can still be seen that once surrounded it. We walked through several museums and learned a great deal about the history of Waterford that weekend. The trip to Kilkenny the following Waterford was a result of talking to several people who spoke of it as their favorite city. The most prominent landmark is a massive castle sitting along the river. It was a day filled with wandering and admiring.
The last trip before the 2 week break period was a trip to Northern Ireland organized by the same international student organization on campus. The costal views of that trip were once again amazing. We were taken to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Giants Causeway, and I toured the Titanic Museum. The rope bridge consists of a pathway along the coast and a bridge that links the mainland to a small island. The Giants Causeway is natural rock formation on the coast that has the appearance of several small cylinders of varying heights. It’s hard to describe, so I’ll let the picture do that.
Traveling Across Europe
Break period has arrived, and that means exploring Europe! Amy and I traveled the first week of break with Katelynn, her roommate (one of our good friends now). We spent a majority of our time in Italy, visiting four cities: Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome. The focal point of Milan was a large church that rose above the city, giving us a great view of the skyline. Walking through the city center, it was a shopping city for sure.
Venice is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. A city that is made of canals and footpaths, the only transportation is a boat and your two feet. The feeling of isolation from the busy outside world was amazing. We spent most of our time just wandering the twists and turns; interesting shops were around the corner, down the street, and everywhere you look.
I like to split up Florence based on the river. On one side you climb up and see beautiful views overlooking the city. It was quite a hike, but well worth it. The other side of the river is where most of the attractions where, such as the massive Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a cathedral that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
Rome. You can’t really comprehend the history seen throughout the city through pictures and movies. It really takes your breath away when you see it in person. It’s a large city, but very walkable in that you never get bored of looking at what is surrounding you. There was so much to see in the short amount of time that we had. The Panetheon, The Baths of Caracalla, The Roman Forum, The Colosseum. Each and every one blew me away. There aren’t any words to properly describe the feeling of seeing them.
A short stay in Paris following Rome concluded the first week of break. In Paris I saw the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Musée d’Orsay to name the major attractions. It was a vast city, and the only real means of transportation was to take the metro. By this time, a week of traveling had been exhausting, and Dublin was calling me back. It was a relief to be back in Dublin to rest a few days before the next adventure.
The second week of break, Katelynn and I made our way to Belgium and the Netherlands. In Belgium, we visited Brussels and Bruges while we stayed in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Our days were filled mostly with wandering and enjoying the city. Especially in Belgium, we really had no set plans. Bruges was like a medieval fairytale city. It was a cozy city and fun to walk around. In Amsterdam, we went to the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, giving a great end to the break period.
On Campus – Classes at UCD
Now it’s time to talk about the other part of study abroad, the studying. I fell in love with the UCD campus immediately. It’s beautiful and easy to walk everywhere; there is even a woodsy running trail on the south side. There is openness to it since it’s not in city center, yet is only a 10-15 minute bus ride away from city center. All in all, I have no regrets about my program choice; it is absolutely perfect for me.
Throughout my time here, I have always run into helpful staff. The international student office did a wonderful job of answering any questions I had during the first several weeks. From registering for class to giving directions, they were always friendly.
While I did take a lighter course load than normal, I still wanted to take classes that were important to me. I attempted to take two food science classes, but was only allowed into one. The difference in the program at UCD compared to the U of I was interesting to see. The UCD food science program is much more set-in-stone with classes after talking to Irish students. Also, in the last two years, their classes are only 7 weeks long. They end at the break period and the rest of the spring semester are sent to internships. That concept was very interesting to me.
One of the classes I wanted to take from the very beginning was “Irish for Beginners.” While it can be challenging and frustrating to understand a new language, it has become one of my favorite classes to attend. I found it fascinating learning about a language completely different than anything I’ve seen before.
Another class I place great value on is called “Ireland Uncovered.” Basically an introductory class to Irish culture and history, it covers everything from music and language to prominent figures and events in Irish history. It has been a valuable learning experience.
Class structures aren’t any different than back home; there are small seminar sections but are also the huge lectures halls. The difference comes from testing and continuous assessment. Being used to constantly doing small quizzes, homework assignments, and several midterms, studying at UCD was completely different.
Grades rely on usually one or two tests, a final and maybe a midterm. The constant continuous assessment work every week in the form of homework is nonexistent – at least in my classes. This method depends on the student doing independent study and checking their own comprehension of material. While some U of I classes are still like this (massive lecture halls for Gen Eds) the majority of my classes always had some kind of work due every week.
Since my food science class has ended at the 7 week period, I can talk a bit about how exams are different. It was an exam like I’ve never had before. It wasn’t necessarily harder than at the U of I, just a different testing format. First of all, finals are not taken on campus; they have to be taken in an off campus testing facility. It was a room lined with numbered desks. Everyone is assigned a number on a chart outside the room and before you enter all bags are left in a side room.
I was given one test booklet with lined paper and my exam – one sheet of paper. I had two hours to answer 4 questions. But instead of short answers that get to the main point, these questions must be answered in great detail. Connecting the material across the field is the point of this testing method. It is not just to see if you memorized something, it tests your understanding of a process and how it is used. I see this method as a way to “show what you know.”
However, this isn’t the only tests that are given. Other classes I’m in still give standard multiple choice tests. In my opinion, I found the essay testing easier. The multiple choice questions seem highly specific on details that didn’t seem relevant at the time of studying.
Reflecting on my experience thus far, I have no regrets (apart from the flash of panic “what am I getting myself into” a couple weeks before leaving) on study abroad or my host university. Living and studying at UCD has been wonderful fun the past few months. I can really call Dublin home at this point whenever I travel elsewhere. I’m looking forward to the rest of my semester, the time has sure flown by already.