Semester abroad in Ireland serves as new learning experience

Let’s face it, for most of us here at the College, New Jersey is home. No disrespect to those out-of-staters – in fact, some of the closest friends I have made over the past few years are from places like New York and Connecticut. But there is no doubt that the vast majority of the student body hails from some part of the Garden State.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I would be the first to stand up and declare my Jersey pride. I take offense to any of the popular “Armpit of America” jokes, not to mention I worship the Boss, love The Sopranos and couldn’t live without the Shore.

With that said, after spending my first 20 years in this great state, and college flying by, I was desperately seeking a change of scenery. Studying abroad in Ireland seemed like just the solution, and it turns out I couldn’t have been more right.

Anyone who knows anything about Irish culture or people knows that it doesn’t take long for them to make you feel comfortable and at home. This was exactly my experience soon after my arrival in Ireland at the beginning of January.

My new home for the following five months would be the city of Galway and I was immediately comforted by its busy city center and small-town feel. Galway is known as the capital of western Ireland, and several years ago it was named the fastest growing city in Europe. It is located along the water and is known for its lively, pedestrian-only city streets that are lined with countless pubs, shops and street performers.

Another focal point is the city’s college, The National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), which accounts for the young energy that gives the city its character. It is also where I am studying this semester.

My experiences with both the academic and social life at NUIG have greatly contrasted with that of the College. For instance, my daily routine as a student was altered because of the class structure and housing. I have previously been accustomed to rolling out of bed just before class and making the short walk from my dorm to one of the academic buildings on campus.

This is impossible in Ireland, however, because on-campus housing does not exist. As a result, students either commute from their homes or live, as I do, in one of the student housing complexes in the city. These complexes are intended for students and offer townhouse-type dorms that are about a 15-minute walk from the university.

Classes have also been an adjustment. Unlike the small class sizes at the College, NUIG is a large research university, which means that almost all classes are lecture-style and held in theatre halls with several hundred classmates.

In addition, the coursework for the semester usually only involves a midterm and a final, which gives students less weekly homework but much more pressure around exams time.

The social life has also been something to adjust to because, as one could imagine, a bustling Irish city offers something different than what is available to students at the College.

Because of its city location and 18-year-old drinking age (and simply because it is Ireland), pubs are the center of social life for Irish students.

Throughout most of Ireland, and especially Galway, people from all walks of life mingle in the pubs. As a result, the pubs are where I’ve had some of my most interesting conversations and made my most memorable acquaintances.

While my semester abroad has been an adjustment from my daily life back home, the benefits of my adventure have far outweighed any drawbacks.

Any student studying abroad will tell you that the learning experiences rarely take place inside a classroom. This certainly holds true for me, as my travels and interactions are the experiences that will stick with me for a lifetime.

Whether it was my two-week journey that included such destinations as London, Amsterdam, Germany, Italy, Spain and France or simple conversations with my Irish housemates about life in their country, I know I finally found the new learning experience for which I had hoped.

Even though I am finding it hard to accept that this wonderful trip is going to end soon, the thought of seeing friends, finally being 21 and a summer at the Shore doesn’t sound too bad right now. But then again, that is probably because it sounds like New Jersey – and New Jersey means home.