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My Semester Abroad in Ireland

Joe hold a UM banner while in IrelandHi! My name is Joe, and I’m a senior studying marketing at the University of Montana. I decided to do a semester abroad because of the potential opportunities it presented, academically, socially and personally. My mom studied abroad while attending cosmetology school and wanted me to have my own independent abroad experience. I chose Ireland for its charismatic people, scenery and culture.

Any information I needed became easily accessible once I met with Emma Swartz, the program and technology manager in UM’s . Before my semester abroad, the GEO required me (and all students studying abroad) to enroll in a class called Successful Education Abroad. This course prepares students for their time living abroad. I would not have been able to study abroad without the help I received from the Global Engagement Office. 

Early Challenges: Getting There

My initial flight from O’Hare airport was canceled as I was on my way to the airport due to mechanical issues. I had to go back home and spend one more night in the U.S. I changed flights two times to arrive in Ireland the next day and landed around 5 p.m. At that point, I had been awake for over 24 hours.

One unexpected thing was when I first landed, I saw that all the signs were in Irish first and then English; Irish is the official language of Ireland, and most people can speak it. It was also the hottest it had been in Ireland all summer. It was 75ºF (23 ºC) every day for a week, which isn’t that hot for the US, but it was hot because of the humidity and lack of air conditioning.

Intriguing Notes from My Semester Abroad

Inside a museum in IrelandMy days abroad were pretty relaxed. I took four classes at University College Cork, none starting before 10 a.m. My days mostly consisted of going to class and whatever I felt like doing afterward, whether that be traveling to a nearby town, seeing a castle or going into the City Centre to do some shopping. It the evening, people typically to head down to the pubs and socialize. Tuesday and Thursday nights were the most popular nights to go to the pubs.

I met many different people from all over the world, and I made friends from Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Brazil. Everyone I met was kind and genuine. The Irish are pretty similar to Americans in terms of their temperament. The Irish tend to be friendly, loud and are always joking around; younger Irish men tend to be more immature.

It was very easy to stick out in Cork. It’s not fair to say that all Irish people dress the same. However, it is fair to say that they lean toward a popular style. Irish guys tend to keep their hair shorter and wear tighter-fitting clothes. I felt easily recognizable as not Irish because of my longer hairstyle and baggy clothes. It wasn’t something I was ever made fun of for, but I was made aware of it by the number of times I was curiously asked where I was from. 

Making Friends Abroad

Four study abroad students smile for a photoWhile at UCC, I joined the volleyball club to meet some new people. There are many different clubs/societies to join at UCC, from trampoline to drawing clubs. Joining clubs and societies at UCC is a great way for international students to mix with Irish students. There isn’t much socialization in classes, so sports and clubs are a popular way to meet new people.

American culture is a big deal in Ireland, and they love all kinds of American music, specifically country and 80s music. I was asked a few times if fraternities and sororities were real and if they were like they are portrayed the movies, along with American high schools.

The Irish are proud of their culture, which is vital to them, and they celebrate it often. Pubs are an essential part of Irish culture. Some people go to the pub every single night, which is normal for them because the pub is seen as more of a social event than just consuming alcohol.

Other Observations from Studying in Ireland

One interesting thing I noticed was that younger Irish people greatly respect the elder/older Irish population. I consistently saw younger people giving up their seats on the bus to the older people who would get on. Public transport in Ireland is much more formal and better maintained than in the United States.

My favorite example is when I took the train from Dublin to Cork when I first arrived. There were two Irish lads, about college age, if not mid-20s, at the station. It was about 7 a.m., and they were already causing issues, being loud and slamming on the piano in the lobby. Once on the train, they continued to harass some people and continued being loud, up until an older Irish woman told them to “Shut up,” and they apologized and stopped immediately.

My Travel Tips

An Irish castle

Some travel tips would be to plan your flights in advance, especially if using Ryanair; the rates are much cheaper if you book in advance rather than the day/week before.

In addition, it is not as much of an issue in Ireland, but in large European cities like London, pickpocketing is a huge problem. Fortunately, I wasn’t pickpocketed, but being hyper-aware of your surroundings is important, especially in popular tourist spots. There are lots of scams and tricks people will do to steal your things or straight up steal your phone out of your hand while you take a picture.

More tips:

  • Secure your accommodation well before you arrive. A housing crisis is happening in Ireland, and many of my friends from other European countries struggled to find affordable housing.
  • Save more money than you think you’ll need. I wish I had saved more money to travel more.
  • Most places in Europe do not have air conditioning. Bring breathable clothes and clothes you can layer once it gets colder.
  • Go to as many events as possible, and try your best to be as outgoing and open-minded as possible to meet new people/friends.

Ireland Left a Mark on Me

UM senior Joe in IrelandMy semester in Ireland was an unforgettable experience that profoundly shaped me academically and personally. Influenced by my mom’s study abroad, I used my experience to explore new cultures and learn in a new and exciting environment.

I felt welcomed to Ireland by the people I met and got to experience Ireland’s incredible scenery and rich culture.

My study abroad process was successful because of the guidance from the . I gained so much living in Ireland, educationally and personally. Ireland left its mark on me, shaping me into a more open and worldly person.