6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland

November 14, 2014
6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland

On a cold November evening during my junior year of college, about half of my class of 500 piled into a lecture hall. We were eager for pre-departure information and answers to our endless questions regarding our upcoming spring semesters abroad. You know, things like “No, you cannot pay with American money while studying abroad,” “Yes, your grades will count, so take your classes seriously,” “No, your blow dryer will not work in Europe” and my personal favorite of the evening, (a joyously exclaimed statement by the study abroad office’s director) “dating a foreigner is very, very, VERY exciting!”

Now, I am not downplaying the extreme importance of pre-departure programming; emphasizing academic seriousness at your new institution, safety abroad, interacting with and within other cultures, and going over the logistics of many hypotheticals are all vital for any successful and safe time abroad. I do think that many colleges could benefit from delving deeper into cultural nuances and interactions.

Beyond what lies at the surface. But that is just my take on it from the perspective of someone who has worked in the field.

Those first few weeks were spent figuring out EVERYTHING: where my classes were, acclimating to my Irish roommates’ accents, learning the bus routes, where to buy groceries, and making friends, which was most exhausting for this introvert who would rather sit back and observe much of the time.

Armed with a few hundred euros, an international cell phone (back when they cost about a month’s rent), three suitcases, and the stacks of paperwork given to me by both my small liberal arts school, Muhlenberg College, and the large University of Limerick, where I would be studying, I crossed an ocean for the very first time, at age 20.

Those first few weeks were spent figuring out EVERYTHING: where my classes were, acclimating to my Irish roommates’ accents, learning the bus routes, where to buy groceries, and making friends, which was most exhausting for this introvert who would rather sit back and observe much of the time.

When I finally felt “at home” and started exploring my new city (and country) in a deeper way, half of the semester was over. There are things about Limerick, and Ireland in general, that I wish I had known when I stepped off the plane instead of figuring it out over time.

So, here is a list of six (hopefully non-stereotypical) things to know before studying in Ireland:

6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland

1. Irish education grades differently

There is so much about Irish education that differs from a typical US education. Irish secondary school students take a series of exams called the Leaving Cert, the results of which solely determine what school and program you will be accepted. Coming from a small liberal arts college, I was not used to professors suggesting readings (instead of assigning/requiring them) and only giving weekly lectures, while teaching assistants led smaller modules where more of the discussion took place.

But the toughest concept to grasp, even after I have returned to Ireland for graduate school a few years later, continues to be the grading system. A 70% or above constitutes First Class Honours (or an A), 60-69% typically represent Second Class Honours (or a B), 50-59% is a Lower Second Class Honours (or a C), and so on. It takes quite a while to get used to being satisfied when your essay is handed back to you with a big red 65% on the front.

2. Irish pride is everywhere

Pride in Irish goods extends to every aspect of Irish life. The local food, local sport, and local cultural arts scenes are so integral and unique to every part of the country. Do your research. If you are studying in Cork, frequent the English Market to get to know the food scene.

If you are in Dublin, check out some of the pop-up gallery and performance spaces. Do your best to figure this stuff out ahead of time by reading blogs, joining Facebook groups, or connecting with some folks on Twitter. That way, when you arrive, you can spend your time getting to know the people and places IRL (in real life).

When it comes to sport, there are some major rivalries among counties, with the pairings varying depending on who you ask. As for GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) club games of Hurling and Gaelic Football, some notable rivalries include Dublin vs. Kerry, Kerry vs. Cork, Cork vs. Tipperary, Tipperary vs…. you get the point.

There are also more culturally based city rivalries like Dublin and Cork, and even neighborhood rivalries like between Dublin’s North and South sides.

3. You may not know as much about politics as you think

I was a political science major who was probably a bit too self-assured (like many of us are), but I soon realized that I knew so little about the day-to-day occurrences on the international stage than my Irish roommates (none of whom were studying politics).

And I knew even less about Irish politics. Hell, I’m now married to an Irishman who majored in international relations and mastered in politics, so I’m still learning about the Irish government!

4. Guinness is not the only option

You don’t have to drink Guinness or Bulmers or Jameson to fit in. My Irish roommates actually drank bottles of Budweiser! Although you MUST give the traditional black stuff a try when poured in Ireland, it is unlike anything else. But did you know that Guinness isn’t even an Irish owned company anymore?

Many people in Ireland today are choosing the wide selection of microbrews from local craft breweries–if they choose to imbibe at all. For as much as the Irish have that reputation for being heavy drinkers of the spirits and as much as the pub is seen as a fixture of Irish life, the Irish love something even more than beer and whiskey. And that something is tea!

6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland

5. Tea is a integral part of life

To be fair, you do not have to love tea (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt). Tea is an integral part of Irish social interactions, so having the knowledge of how the Irish make their tea, along with the supplies, is a good idea.

Always have a good, strong, black tea like Barry’s or Lyon’s in the press (Irish for cupboard), a proper kettle, milk, and sugar. At all times. Tea, you will soon find, can solve any problem.

6. It will be tough to leave

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying in Ireland

The final piece of information I wish I knew before studying in Ireland is just how tough it would be coming home. I was not prepared for the difficult re-entry or the reverse culture shock I experienced. Yes, the Pre-Departure and on campus Orientations/De-Brief all warned of it. But, I was excited to see my family, friends and start my final/senior year of undergrad, so obviously, it didn’t pertain to me.

Trust me, you will miss the banter. You will miss the gorgeous countryside. You will miss the smell of a peat fire. And you will miss the friendliness, helpfulness and warmth of the people. You will miss the quaint towns. And the tea. Oh how you will miss the tea!

6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland Related Reading

How Studying Abroad in Ireland Changed My Life

Have you traveled to Ireland? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland photo credits by Sarah Dilworth and photo by Unsplash. 

About Sarah Dilworth

Sarah Dilworth is a freelancer and social media marketer, with a passion for food, wine, yoga, craft beer, and markets. She studied abroad in Limerick, then returned to Ireland for graduate school to study Intercultural Communication in Dublin. Stay tuned for her upcoming South American adventures on her blog, Cultural Eclecticism or connect with her on Twitter @SarahDil.

5 thoughts on “6 Things to Know Before You Study in Ireland

  1. Dee McGuire
    December 7, 2014

    Sarah….We live in Jarrettsville, your Mom knows me, Dee. I would like for you and your Mother to come visit out studio here in Jarrettsville… I think with you study in Ireland and writing about Ireland you will be extremely impressed with the work my husband has been doing with his Irish heritage. He is a wood carver, not small hand held pieces, but many themes about the History and his Relationship with his Irish Ancestry.

    We have a website but it would be more valuable to see these large pieces in the “real”

    Mom has our phone number and address. I must try to connect with her also.

    The Best to you….Dee McGuire

  2. November 28, 2014

    Great post, love it & glad you enjoyed your experience in Ireland and above all found yourself a strapping young Irish man 🙂

    All things nice…

  3. Kelley Ray
    November 14, 2014

    Kudos Sarah – loved reading all about your Irish reflections & revelations – especially after you have since experienced so many other cultures. Perspective from hind sight is a beautiful gift…
    One more thing – you haven’t aged a bit in 8 years!
    Ps. who’s this Sheila lady, and how do you know her 😉

  4. sheila Fitzpatrick
    November 14, 2014

    thanks Sarah, now you have me crying, love you, and i wish your husband and yourself would visit some time ( Christmas ) maybe, O how I do love you x x x

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