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Ireland: first impressions from an international student

January 7, 2015 | By | One Comment

First impressions count. In this blog, Calvin Wong our Canadian and University College Dublin Student Ambassador, discusses what his initial thoughts were on the Irish pace of life, the weather and the importance of getting out of your comfort zone while studying abroad in Ireland…

A different way of life…

Fumball cafe in Dublin and a scone with jam and creamPerhaps it’s appropriate that I’m sitting here at my desk writing this first entry over a steaming cup of Earl Grey and a warm buttered scone. I’ve grown rather fond of these afternoon breathers during my time here in Ireland. Sure, the Irish might be stereotypically known for their love of a few drinks (the draft at the Guinness factory is outstanding by the way), but what many may not know is that to turn down an offer of hot tea borders on criminal over here. You can’t blame them really, the stuff goes a long way on cold rainy days, especially at the end of a long, long week of exams.

The pace of life in Ireland is slow and laid back. The Irish are very much a “but first, a cup of tea” type of people, and I think this will be especially noticeable to students who come from any of the big southeast Asian cities or major commercial hubs where the pace of life is generally very fast. I’m not complaining. Like I said, I’ve grown fond of my afternoon tea breaks, but I think there is something to be said, especially if you’re new to university, or enrolled in a busy program like medicine, for keeping pressure on yourself to stay on top of your studies, because unlike some of the places you may be from, you might not feel that same pressure or sense of urgency you’re used to over here.

The weather…

Ha'penny Bridge in DublinYou will have heard that it rains quite a bit in Ireland. That is true. You may have also heard that it rains sideways in Ireland. That is also true. Be sure to bring yourself a sturdy rain jacket (or two, or three… if you don’t want to be wearing the same thing every day…). You’ll be using them a lot. Umbrellas are pretty much useless once the winds kick-in in late autumn. I wouldn’t be put off by the prospect of gloomy weather though. While you may not be hitting the beach, there’s a different sort of enjoyment to be found in spending time indoors laughing with friends over a warm drink and some comforting food. Besides, if you’re starting school on a typical winter schedule, you’ll still enjoy a solid two months or so of mostly crisp sunny days before the rainy season starts. And I would strongly recommend using this time to do some travelling. Ireland is a the “emerald isle” after all, and if you head out on a sunny day, the scenery really does the name justice.

Take time to travel…

Cliffs of MoherIn first year, I found time to visit Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, and in hindsight, I’m glad I decided to go when I did, that is, early in first semester while the weather was still nice and the workload at school was still on the lighter side. If you’re lucky, the school you attend might have an international students’ society or some other student body that will organise sightseeing trips like this on the odd weekend. If not, it’s definitely worth finding a few buddies and heading out there yourselves.

Get out of your comfort zone…

Graffiti on wall in DublinA word of advice on the above: One unfortunate mistake that I see over and over again with international students is that they stay too far inside their comfort zones. I’ve met a lot of international students for example, who almost exclusively hang out with students from their home country, which is shame since many do already speak English, and the Irish are all so very nice. I’m Canadian, and among other things, we Canadians pride ourselves on how nice we are as a people, so when I say the Irish are nice, that means something! In my opinion, if during your time in Ireland you don’t end up making any friends outside your own culture, then at least one aspect of your time spent here was a complete waste. Do yourself a favour and dare to stick your neck out when you first arrive here. Make some new friends (Irish or otherwise) and go exploring the city and countryside with them. You’ll be greatly enriching your experience.

In summary, as far as first impressions go, Ireland’s a beautiful country with friendly people. Put some effort into meeting new people when you get here and then go enjoy the scenery with said people, especially while the sun’s still out and school is still relatively easy. Some of you will find the slow, laid back pace of life here a refreshing and relaxing change. Take some time to enjoy it. I know I do. Just don’t enjoy it too much. And be sure to bring those rain jackets!

Bonus tip! Here’s a hint for of you who end up studying at one of the institutions in Dublin: make sure you pick up your student Leap Card¬†as soon as you can! Those things will save you a fortune in travelling fares, especially when you’re running around the city in early September exploring, buying groceries, or just generally trying to get your new life sorted out.

Do you want to study in Ireland? Check out the Education in Ireland website for all the info you need.
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