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Studying abroad: questions I should have asked…

December 29, 2014 | By | 5 Comments

Emily Mannix is our US and NUI Galway Ambassador. In this blog, she tackles the questions she should have asked before choosing to study abroad in Ireland. From checking out alternative student housing to delving into your course options…

When preparing to study abroad, there are some questions you know need to be answered.

Where will I study? What will I study? Where will I live? Is my passport valid? Will I have enough money?

Some of these questions involve some serious research, but most of the answers are straightforward. For me, all of these questions had quick, simple answers: NUI Galway; Marketing; Student housing; Yes; and Yes. It wasn’t until I actually settled into my on-campus housing at NUIG that I realized the countless of questions I should have asked. If I could do things over, I would get these questions answered before making any decisions. Since I don’t get a mulligan, I’ll share the lessons I’ve learned to help you out…

670x300_oneDive as deep as you can into the courses you’re considering. I knew I wanted a Masters in Marketing so that narrowed things down a bit, but not all programs are created equal. Even within universities, courses vary a lot. So, ask a lot of questions. Ask a lot of different people the same questions. See how opinions differ across departments and really get into the nitty-gritty of the course details. There will still be surprises along the way, but knowing as much as you can ahead of time will help you hit the ground running and make your transition much smoother.

You might be thinking, “It’s just school. I’ve been dealing with school for so many years; how different can it be?” It’s different. Ireland’s grading scheme is different – at most schools, a 70% is a First Class Honors mark – and that’s hard to get used to. There also isn’t one office that can answer all your questions or tell you who to talk to about housing, fees, and classes. They’re all spread out and it’s difficult to get them to talk to each other. Thankfully, the International Affairs office at NUIG understands this issue and do their best to make things easy for all the super-confused international students. A good number of these offices are also closed for lunch from 1-2:30pm every day, which is frustrating when your class schedule (a.k.a. “timetable”) has you in class every other hour besides lunch. There’s also a very good chance your choice of Masters program doesn’t allow for elective classes. I would have loved to take an Irish history or literature class, but I was sorely disappointed to learn that wasn’t possible.

The lesson here is this: Ask all of your questions to as many people as possible. No matter how small your concern may seem, ask the question anyway. As long as your questions are specific, they will be answered.

670x300_twoDo not assume the on-campus housing is the best option for you. I’m still generally happy with my choice since my housemates are great, but I should have asked more questions.

When I moved into my apartment, I learned that the vast majority of the students living in the complex are first-years. First-years who LOVE to party on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights instead of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights like I was expecting. On top of all that, first-years in Ireland are generally 17 years old. The prospect of being the 25-year-old babysitter for all these kids who were away from home for the first time was, honestly, terrifying. But, like I said, it’s okay. I got incredibly lucky with my roommates, but I realise now that it could have been awful. Don’t just trust your university’s accommodations website. They have some great options and suggestions for student housing, but there actually are so many more, especially in Galway. A quick Google search of “student housing Galway” could have helped me avoid an awkward situation.

And now we’ve learned this lesson: even if you think you know, still Google it, just to be sure.

670x300_threeDon’t wait until you land in Ireland to start looking for a part-time job. Your ability to work may vary depending on the nature of your visa, but US students who are enrolled in a course for at least 1 year are eligible to work up to 20 hours per week during school term and 40 hours per week during breaks. Masters programs are demanding, so it was important for me to find a job that would understand my need to put school as my first priority. On-campus jobs make the most sense in a situation like that, but all of those were filled during a recruiting weekend in the middle of the summer. I missed out, big time.

It’s easy to assume that finding a job will be simpler when you’re actually there and can walk up and down the street asking for applications, but I haven’t found that to be true. It’s difficult to communicate across the Atlantic but navigating the job application process that way as early as possible will help you avoid major disappointment from hearing, “No, we’re not hiring,” over and over when all you want is a part-time job to pay for groceries.

So, if I could have a do-over, I would be sure to ask questions at the International Affairs office about jobs for international students. Find out if there’s any opportunity for internships within your course and if you can find one that pays. I would ask each café on campus about their hiring practices. I would get some experience as a waitress, since all the restaurants want an experienced wait-staff. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with two shifts a week waitressing at the local pub. It’s not glamorous, but it keeps you busy and puts pasta on the table five nights a week. (#collegebudget, am I right?!)

Lesson learned: Apply early and apply everywhere. Take advantage of the laws of probability and email.

670x300_fourThis last lesson doesn’t really involve questions that should have been asked, but travel during study week.

To be clear, I am not insisting you don’t study for your finals. All these years of school have taught you something: how you operate as a student. They’ve taught me that I study best under pressure. An extra week to study before finals even started is too much for me. I wasted the week. If you need and like lots of study time, then please, do not listen to me. But if you can handle it, go somewhere during your week off. Eat your way through all the pizza and pasta in Italy. Visit the Christmas market in Amsterdam. Stalk Bono and The Edge in Dublin (I hear Killiney is a good place to start). Go kiss the Blarney Stone – that might even help you with your exams. I’ll be spending my next study week in Scotland and I’ll enjoy every last minute of it before coming back to Galway and locking myself away to study.

Ultimately, the last (and most important) lesson boils down to this: Don’t waste it. Take advantage of every single free day you have. There are too many things to see that are unique and special to spend your time watching Netflix, trust me.

All that being said, I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience so far in Ireland. Was there a better way to prepare myself? Oh, yes there certainly was. But I’ve learned so much already in four short months and I can’t imagine it any other way. So many people have helped me along the way and I’ve figured out the best part about the Irish – they’re welcoming and caring with everyone so you never feel alone. So, regardless of the path you take and the questions you ask before you get here, you’ll be grand.

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


  1. Susan

    Hello. Thanks for this write-up. I’m researching studying abroad at NUIG right now. Would you be up for answering a few of my questions? I’ll double back and read more of your blog to see if you covered any of them and to be honest I didn’t finish the post before beginning this comment because I got too excited to come across somebody that went to NUIG! I have some questions regarding the modules/seminars & timetable there. Thanks in advance and if you don’t feel up to replying don’t sweat it I’m just pleased to have found something at all on this subject since most blogs(and there are only a few out there) mention the same old stuff like what to pack/what not to pack and the benefits of their time abroad rather than their specific experience studying and how the school works. Thanks again!

    • Hi Susan,

      I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have that I didn’t already cover! Feel free to send me an email and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.

  2. You’re going to Scotland?! Lucky duck I wish I could go with you (nice blog)

  3. Hello Emily! I am Daniel, a current 4th year senior in high school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am wondering if you be able to answer some of my questions regarding your experiences studying abroad in Ireland coming from the USA. Thanks!

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