Share

The Opportunity of a Lifetime: Ireland - Amanda Gregor, Immunology and Infectious Disease

Tags:

Posted: August 28, 2012

Although I love Penn State, my semester in Galway, Ireland may be the best couple of months that I’ve had during my college experience.
A handful of the friends that I made on my program and myself (far right) on a trip that our program planned for us to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

A handful of the friends that I made on my program and myself (far right) on a trip that our program planned for us to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to travel all over the world. In the summer of 2009 I was lucky enough to take a 2-week trip to Italy and Greece with my high school Latin club, but I knew that when I went to college I wanted to study abroad for a whole semester. I wanted to experience what it’s like to really live in a foreign country and not just be a tourist for a week or two. During my sophomore year I narrowed my choice down to Galway, Ireland: not only do they speak English (all I knew was high school Latin), but the city of Galway is surrounded by beautiful countryside and is considered the cultural capital of Ireland where the Irish language is still spoken. I couldn’t have picked a better location to study abroad.

At first, I was surprised by all of the connections between Ireland and the United States. For example, I was hoping that the college kids over there would listen to English or Irish bands that are unknown in the United States, but everyone listens to the American Top 40 Hits. People walk around town with Hollister and American Eagle clothing, and Barack Obama is a really popular person (featured on T-shirts with ‘Yes we can!’ in Irish Gaelic).

GregorIreland3.pngHowever, the more time I spent in Galway, the more I discovered all of the subtle differences between my old and new home. Sometimes I was able to handle the culture shock well and other times I learned by trial and error. Grocery shopping was an interesting way to learn the differences between American and Irish food: Aubergine to an Irish person is what we call eggplant, and they use much less preservatives in their food so it needs to be eaten quickly or else! One mistake that I made happened one of the first weeks of the semester when I bought juice called Mi Wadi from the grocery store. After just one sip, I literally could not drink anymore because of how disgusting it tasted; it was so sweet and strong and really unbearable. My Irish housemates burst out laughing when I told them, because as it turns out, Mi Wadi is concentrated juice that has to be diluted to 95% water. Needless to say, I never bought it again.

One of the things that made my experience abroad so amazing was getting the chance to live with four other Irish roommates. They told us early on that they didn’t bond so well with the Americans that lived in our room previously because they would usually eat dinner and then go to their bedrooms and never go out to the pubs. My American roommate and I decided that we would be different and bond as much as possible with our housemates, staying in the living room to watch tv or movies with them and just talking. Our housemates seemed to learn just as much as we did, often commenting on our accent or the “weird” way that we say things. Through all of the countless nights I spent with them, including a weekend in May where they invited us to their hometowns and we got to meet all of their friends from home, I can honestly say that I developed lasting friendships with my housemates (my American roommate included!) and I can’t wait to see them all in the future.

GregorIreland2.pngWhile most of my semester abroad consisted of just having fun and traveling (I got to go to Amsterdam, Prague and London, plus all over Ireland), some schoolwork was necessary. It was interesting getting used to the Irish education system, and will be challenging this upcoming year at Penn State as I have to transition back. What was the biggest difference was that the material covered in lecture is not tested on at all. It’s not uncommon to have 100% of your class grade rely on a final essay that you turn in a month after classes have ended (which was March 30). Lectures are really just seen as supplementary material, and all of the material relevant for the final essays is posted on the equivalent of Angel. As nervous as I was having one assignment affect my entire grade, I was still able to do really well. The Irish base their grading scale from the bottom up, so anything above a 70% is an A. I took classes that taught me a lot about Irish culture, including two Irish Gaelic courses that included an Irish homestay in the Gaelic-speaking region. My favorite was a linguistics class about the history of the English language in Ireland, where I learned about the Irish accent and all of the different phrases that they use.

To help me manage my time, I signed up to volunteer as a helper in an after-school homework club, where I tutored 6th-years (6th graders) with their homework. I volunteered every Wednesday afternoon from February-April, and loved every minute of it. All of the kids had so many questions about what life was like in America, such as if I had ever met a movie star and had I ever seen a hurricane or tornado. Helping at the homework club was a great experience for me, and gave me the feeling that I was giving a bit back to the local community during my brief stay in Galway.

All in all, the five months that I spent in Ireland flew by so fast, and I feel that I have a second home 3000 miles away. Although I love Penn State, my semester in Galway, Ireland may be the best couple of months that I’ve had during my college experience. If you’re considering studying abroad, I recommend it wholeheartedly and hope that you have as great an experience as I had.