By Leah Bode, third year Biochemistry, pre-med student from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN; Michaelmas term at Trinity College
It seems that whenever you see or do something new, people are always asking, “what do you wish you had known beforehand?” I usually try to take this question with a grain of salt because if I had known everything before having the experience, then the mystery and the joy of doing it would be taken away. However, when it comes to studying abroad in a foreign country, there’s a bit more at stake than just having a good time. Studying abroad doesn’t just mean abroad, it also means studying. And when it comes to academics, there are some things I wish I knew beforehand.
TCD’s Global Room team had lots of great resources on the topic – I would definitely take advantage of those. However, I didn’t get a students’ perspective on what it really means to go to school in another country’s educational system until it was my own. Out of my experience, I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice that I find notable, especially in regard to the differences between the American and Irish college systems.
Academic Registration is a bit stressful, but it will be okay
I came into Trinity with an idea of the exact modules I wanted to take here. My home university had an extensive list of all TCD classes that had been previously approved, and I had cross-checked all of these with the module enrolment page on Trinity’s website. However, when I got here, only one of those modules that I had meticulously picked out was still being offered. At Notre Dame, I take classes in a variety of disciplines every semester. This means that at TCD, I was signing up to take modules in 4 different courses. Which meant criss-crossing all over campus that first week to get hand-written signatures from Every. Single. Department. Coming from a school where scheduling is done online, in one sitting, with all the timetables posted in the same location, it felt a bit hectic. But in the end, it worked out okay for me. And it will for you, too. If you have any questions about the madness, don’t hesitate to ask the Global Room staff – they are super helpful and conveniently located right next to Academic Registry! Just be ready to get your steps in on Week 1!
You have to hold yourself accountable here
At Notre Dame, I usually have exams every 2-4 weeks. Between those exams, I have problem sets due weekly, usually a couple of papers per semester, and quizzes sprinkled throughout. I usually spend a minimum of 5 hours a day, more when I have papers or exams coming up, on homework and studying, something that is fairly typical in the United States. Here in Ireland, I feel accomplished if I’ve done 5 hours of work in a week. No one is checking up on me or giving me assignments, it’s all on me. My piece of advice is to create a system that works for you early on in the semester and challenge yourself to stick to it as much as possible – keeping up on reading and notes will be integral to succeeding.
Make the effort with your professors
Similar to #2 above, professors aren’t going to make themselves as obviously available as they do in the United States. In my experience here, the professor is usually the last one in the room and the first one to leave. They will have office hours posted, but you’ll be lucky if they’re always in their office during those times. BUT, don’t let this deter you from emailing them after class about scheduling a meeting, or tracking them down in the hallway as you leave. My experience has also taught me that professors are just as excited to answer your questions and talk about the subject they love as they are in other countries – you may just have to do a little bit more work on the front end to track them down.
Live and let go
Not everything is going to go perfectly while you’re abroad. You’ll miss flights. (check) You’ll arrive and find out that your favorite class is no longer being offered. (check) You’ll get sick. (check) You’ll fall behind on reading. (check check check) You get the point. While it’s important to stay on top of things and ensure a successful semester in the classroom, it’s also important to remember that the chance to study abroad is once in a lifetime. One bad grade is not going to tip the scales in the direction of a bad life over the incredible experience of living and studying abroad in a completely new place. So live it up while you can, and cut yourself some slack!