TM: What makes Ireland the best study abroad destination, in your opinion?
Allison: Ireland is a great study abroad destination when people pick countries for study abroad (or even just for vacation), Ireland isn’t typically at the top of the list. It doesn’t have snowy ski weather or sunny beach weather. Ireland does get lots of rain, which just makes you appreciate the sunny days so much more!
Ireland is worth the visit alone because of its breathtaking natural sights. I have been on trips to many different parts of Ireland and to many small towns along the way, and I never cease to be amazed by the country’s beauty. Capturing it in pictures just doesn’t do justice.
Cork county, where I am studying, is actually the largest of the 32 counties in Ireland. Many of the small towns that I have visited have been in the west of Cork, which is known for its cliffs and beaches, and most of the breathtaking views that people associate with Ireland.
Most of the small towns have been very quaint and quiet, and buildings are painted any range of colors. These small towns also tend to be pretty far apart from each other, and definitely don’t blend together like they do in the U.S.
Studying abroad in Ireland has also given me the opportunity to travel Europe for much less than it would cost going from America. Flights to the European continent have cost me as little as 12 Euros (through budget airlines like RyanAir), and from there I can get anywhere. Traveling to another country for a weekend is an experience that I never imagined I would have.
By studying abroad in Ireland, I’ve been able to see European countries that I’ve always dreamed of visiting, while also experiencing Ireland, a country that I also never imagined I would visit.
How are Irish people different from how they are usually portrayed in films?
Not everyone has red hair, nor does everyone sit in a pub, drinking all day. Not everyone is a farmer, or lives in a small town off the beaten path. Some do, of course, but as an exception. I’ve found that Irish people, for the most part, are extremely friendly, polite, and hospitable. It was a very refreshing upgrade from American standards I’m used to.
What has been the biggest culture shock for you?
There have definitely been a few aspects of culture shock for me, going from the U.S. to Ireland. One that I wasn’t expecting is that nearly everyone here smokes — a lot. Walking through town everyday, I pass numerous people walking with a cigarette in hand. Even walking through the university campus, there are crowds of students smoking outside buildings.
Another difference was how casual the drinking culture is here. I knew it would be different from the U.S., since Ireland’s drinking age is 18, but I didn’t know how casually people take it. There definitely are people who go out to party at night, and the vast majority of people will go to a pub after work with friends, have a beer or two, and then go home. One of my teachers even suggested to our class that we all go out for a drink together when the class finished!
Another different aspect that I’m very happy about is how much fresh food is available. In Cork, where I am studying, we have a fresh food market with all sorts of vendors that are open daily. Plus, the food is very inexpensive! Packaged foods in grocery stores have less artificial additives, and are more fresh than their counterparts in the U.S. Even though I have to go grocery shopping more often, for the delicious food I get, I don’t mind at all.
What has been the most profound lesson being in Ireland has taught you so far?
I’ve been slowly learning to embrace everything thrown my way and dance in the rain, both literally and figuratively. I can’t let myself use the excuse, “It’s raining, I don’t want to go anywhere,” because I have things to do…and in Ireland it could rain for 10 days straight!
Especially as I’ve been traveling more, there is always the chance that something could go wrong. I’ve tried to adopt the mindset of getting straight to “how to fix the problem” rather than staying in the “get upset over the problem” phase as I used to.
My goal for the rest of the trip to enjoy every minute I have left here. My trip is already half over, and it feels like I just got here a week ago. I will never get another opportunity like this, so I’m taking it all in while I can. I can guarantee that once I’ve left, I’ll only want to come back.
Allison Parker is a second year Occupational Therapy student at Quinnipiac University. She is spending a semester abroad in Cork, Ireland and is journaling her way around Europe. You can read more about her adventures on her blog, The Luck of the Irish.