The Irish Expedition

By Sarah Adams. Published April 25, 2011

I’ve been in Ireland for about three months now (shamefully neglecting any contribution of writings or comics to the Review) but even though it’s getting close to the end of the semester, there’s still a lot going on, so I thought it was worth writing something about the Irish experience so far! I’ve been studying at the University of Limerick and exploring other places in Ireland, and soon I will be venturing off of the Emerald Isle into mainland Europe. The study abroad experience has been great so far, so here are a few of the highlights for anyone who wonders what I could possibly be doing while absent from McK and not doodling comics of monochromatic cats.

I’ve found the Irish culture and country in general to be in some ways similar and in some ways different from the picture we tend to get in the United States. It’s just as green as the stories say, and I’ve never seen more beautiful blue sky and fluffy white clouds than I have here! Of course, that’s on the days when it’s not raining, and it rains a lot. It also rains very unpredictably. Just the other day I looked out a second floor window and it was raining, but in the time it took me to walk down the stairs, it stopped. It’s best to have a hooded jacket and umbrella most of the time.

This is also my first experience being in a country where the past is literally all around you. There aren’t too many really old structures hanging around in the States, but in Ireland you see roofless stone ruins all over the place. These remnants are sometimes singled out as historical sites, but plenty are just hanging about on roadsides or even in the middle of town. A lot of art and sculpture in public areas is associated with memories of Ireland’s great famine, even all these years later. Some of the most popular souvenirs are items decorated with heraldic crests and Irish family names. In Ireland, your history is a big part of who you are.

Everything you ever heard about the Irish and how much they like to drink is true, but the time spent in pubs is more about socializing. It’s not about getting drunk, the pub is just the place where people hang out after school or work and not all drinks have to be alcoholic. You can even find traditional Irish bands playing in a lot of pubs, but I was a little disappointed to find that Irish dancing performances actually seem to be more of an American thing. I went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin and saw all sorts of crazy things, but no Irish dancers!

As for the Irish academic system, it can be a little intimidating for an American student. Most of us are used to homework assignments and tests every few weeks, but some classes at UL have 100% final exams! Continuous assessment throughout the semester and credit for attendance isn’t found as often as it is back home. Grades for most classes here are based on a midterm, a final test and maybe a project or two. Right now I’ve got a couple of reports to finish and a LOT of material going right back to the beginning of the year to review. I hope this helps you all back home to appreciate attendance points and non-comprehensive finals.

Outside of school, there’s plenty to see in Ireland. I’ve been to see popular sights like the Cliffs of Moher, Giant’s Causeway and the Aran Islands. I’ve been to Avoca, the oldest Irish weaving mill still in operation, and seen the ancient “monastic city” at Glendalough in the hills of County Wicklow. And of course I had to check out the big cities of Dublin and Belfast. Now that I’ve seen a lot of Ireland, my big plan for UL’s Easter break is to make a whirlwind tour of Paris, Rome and Athens! I plan to do my best to enjoy the awesome experience before coming back to cram for final tests.

Study abroad is definitely everything I hoped it would be in terms of new culture, new challenges and adventure. My last month here will undoubtedly be the busiest and I’m going to make the most of it before I say goodbye. It’s been wonderful to finally see a place I’ve always wanted to go to, but it will be nice to be back home too. Take care, McK, and I’ll see you when I come home!

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