By Sophie Donnelly
My name is Sophie Donnelly and I am a Junior Sophister PPES student on exchange in Georgetown University, in Washington, DC. Although my degree subject is PPES, here at Georgetown I have specialised into a “double-major” of Politics and Economics, and am taking a selection of classes from both of those fields over the course of my year here.
Georgetown is a private, liberal-arts college located in an affluent district of the US capital, and it is world-renowned for its politics department (or, as it is known here, the auspiciously-named “School of Government”). It was primarily for that reason, alongside the overall allure of studying at an American university, and the opportunity to live in DC during perhaps one of the most exciting and volatile election years in living memory, that I chose Georgetown for my year abroad.
Moving across the Atlantic for an entire year, having lived at home in Dublin for my first two years in Trinity, was probably one of the biggest and scariest decisions I ever made! The process of getting here has been a long, and really quite arduous, journey from January through to August, comprising of endless reams of visa documentation, countless email chains with Trinity and Georgetown administrators, Skype interviews, embassy interrogations, multiple extraneous vaccinations… at times I was left wondering whether I would even make it onto US soil! But thankfully the exchange coordinators at Georgetown were incredibly patient and understanding, and went above and beyond to facilitate all the incoming exchange students before (and even since) our arrival.
I was lucky enough to know two Trinity PPES students who had previously participated in year-long exchanges to Georgetown, and they provided such incredible advice and insider tips throughout my application process. Both of them recommended applying for the Global Living Community at Georgetown, which is a “living learning community” (comparable to the Scéim Cónaithe in Trinity) made up of a 50:50 mix of international and American students. It is founded on the principle of “maximising cultural exchange” but basically was just a great way for me to have my accommodation confirmed quite early-on in a swanky new dorm building, plus I get a couple of free dinners a semester (which is a plus because the cost of living in DC is extortionate!). Living with lots of international students has proven to be an unexpected blessing, as everyone is in the same boat- we’re all trying to muddle into a completely new academic and social system two full years after the majority of the students in our class, so it’s nice to have a little community to fall back on.
So far my transition into American college life has been as smooth as I could have hoped, but adjusting to all the little differences at Georgetown will take a while, as is to be expected! In terms of modules, the selection is vast and varied, and it is very easy to tailor your choices and timetable to your personal tastes even after you have arrived on campus. There is a lot more reading and continuous assessment throughout each module than an average Trinity student might have experienced before, and because class participation counts towards the end-of-term-grade, Georgetown’s culture of lively, student-led seminars is a far cry from excruciatingly silent tutorials that are so commonplace back home.
Luckily, Georgetown has a strong tradition of clubs and societies to get involved in, and I have succeeded in filling up the vacant gaps in my weekly timetable by getting involved with the student newspaper and joining the varsity sailing team. One of the more off-putting (and perhaps unpleasant) aspects to student life here is that almost all well-regarded societies have an application process, whereby you are scrutinised by your peers in a faux-professional “interview” setting, in order for them to determine whether they are going to permit you to contribute free labour towards maintaining their society for another year. I must admit I felt more than a little resentful during my interview for the student newspaper: in a classroom being grilled by two suit-wearing second-years sitting behind the teacher’s desk. However, this is accepted as a Georgetown fact of life, and I have learned (like a lot of things in this university and indeed during my first few weeks living in the country) that often the best policy is just to go with the flow…