By Fiona Corcoran, Michaelmas 2018 Study Abroad Student from American University
Most of my friends thought I was silly to arrive in Dublin for study abroad almost a full month before classes actually started. To them, the later semester schedule that many European schools keep seemed like an opportunity for a longer, stress-free summer. But for me, it was a chance to get a head start on adjusting to life in a new country. The Semester Start-Up Programme (SSP), a three-week pre-semester course at Trinity designed for international and visiting students, was hugely helpful in this area. By the time most visiting students were just arriving for Freshers’ Week, I had made new friends, gained a stronger understanding of Irish history, and knocked a few must-see locations off my list.
The SSP is run by faculty from the School of Histories and Humanities and focused on immersing international students in Irish culture from multiple perspectives. The two weeks of lectures and seminars were split between two thematic branches: The Story of Ireland and Visualizing Ireland. The Story of Ireland was my personal favorite, since it concentrated on key historical events and literary trends. Visualizing Ireland was fascinating as well and put special emphasis on the significance of one of Trinity’s greatest treasures, the Book of Kells. We had three lectures a day Monday-Wednesday and then more in-depth seminars on Thursdays. It sounds like a lot, but the presentations were engaging to the point that it felt like the lectures sped by. This grounding in Irish culture has been extremely helpful with the rest of my classes, especially Irish Politics.
Every Friday, SSP students traveled to a different significant location in or near Dublin. My favorite field trip was a day-long visit to the Hill of Tara and Trim Castle, both in neighboring Co. Meath. The Hill of Tara was once the seat of power of the High Kings of Ireland and remains a significant archaeological site. From the top of the hill, it’s possible to see nearly a quarter of the low, flat landscape of the center of Ireland, all the way to the peaks of Co. Wicklow and the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down. Luckily, it was a clear and beautiful day when we visited, giving us a full experience.
Trim Castle is the largest remaining Norman castle in Ireland, standing at roughly one hundred feet tall. It was built near the River Boyne over an existing medieval Irish fort and served as the central administrative point for the Anglo-Norman lordship of Meath. Walking through the sturdy stonework halls of the was awe-inspiring simply because the construction had survived since the 12th century. It was easy to imagine Norman forces holding up under siege inside the enormous fortifications which bristled with arrow loops and what our guide called “murder holes.”
But perhaps the best part of SSP was the opportunity to meet and form a support system of other international students. Now, if I’m nervous about attending a protest or joining a new club, I have friends that I can count on to tag along and be a familiar presence. If I’m planning a trip outside of Dublin or a museum day in the city, I never have to go alone. This past weekend I traveled to Paris with a group of friends that all participated in SSP and I’ve kept in touch with since. Exploring the city would have been incredible even if I was travelling solo, but having people to laugh with as we tried out our high school French and navigated the metro made the weekend a memorable one.
For any future study abroad students that are choosing between a couple extra weeks of vacation and the Semester Start-Up Programme, I think the choice should be clear. Though it was only a few short weeks, SSP has had a lasting positive impact on both my educational and social experiences at Trinity. Now that I’m almost halfway through the semester and the end of term draws ever closer, I’m grateful that I got a little extra time in Dublin.
Visit www.tcd.ie/study for more information on studying at Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin