From Study Abroad to Graduate School: An Interview with UCC US Student Ambassador Tim Ferro

  1. First things first. Who are you, where did you go to undergrad, and what did you study?

My name is Tim Ferro.  I recently graduated from an undergraduate program at SUNY Cortland with a degree in Adolescence Education – Physics 7-12.  Prior to attending SUNY Cortland, I began college at Syracuse University for Civil Engineering, later transferring to Onondaga Community College, then Cortland to obtain my current degree.

  1. What are you planning to study in graduate school?

In the fall of 2017 I will be returning to UCC for grad school.  I will be part of the MEngSc program studying Sustainable Energy, to follow and compliment my teaching certification in physics.

  1. What made you decide to study abroad at UCC in the first place?

When I first began college at Syracuse, I never considered taking part in a study abroad program.  It wasn’t until I began attending Cortland that it became a possibility.  Once I decided that I was interested in participating in a abroad program, I had to make a decision about what I wanted out of the program.  Being a non-traditional student, I had multiple concerns that I had to consider when weighing possible placement opportunities.  One of the most prevalent, was the overall cost of a study program, the other was the availability of courses that fit within my degree requirements.  Since I had to focus on sciences and other higher level courses in my studies abroad, I decided to only look into programs in English speaking countries, so that I didn’t have to worry about learning a new language, while adapting to both difficult course loads and a new culture.

UCC quickly became one of the top 3 choices of potential programs that I had applied for based on my initial thoughts and requirements for a study abroad program.  I was also considering programs in Lancaster and Liverpool, England.  After looking at the school and city environments from all three colleges, speaking with people familiar with the cities and greater areas, I determined that UCC and Cork were the best fit.  The descriptions of the campus, the county and city of Cork, both on an academic, aesthetic and cultural level, it seemed as it had the most to offer.  Ireland was always described as a beautiful green country, with amazing people, sights and history, particularly in the south (Cork) and along the west coast.  I can say from my experience there, the reviews and recommendations were all spot on.

  1. What aspect of study abroad was the most difficult to adjust to while in Cork?

I would say that the most difficult aspect of studying abroad to adjust to is the lack of family support when I first arrived. It was a lot like going through Freshman year all over again, except this time I was halfway around the world, in another country and different culture.  Although this only lasted a short while, before I made friends, the lack of direct contact with family for 6 months was hard.

Another difficult aspect was the food.  In the US, we are used to access to any type of food any time of day.  While Cork still had a wide selection of foods available, local cuisines, etc. there was still far fewer options on a day to day basis.  Living in Syracuse, NY, I am used to having one road with 20-30 different restaurants, multiple roads like this, 5-10 large grocery stores, and 100s of convenient stores to choose from.  In Cork, there are not half as many options, which was hard to get used to, but you (I) find (found) some amazing places to eat and purchase food.  For example, nearly all of the food I purchased to cook at home was from the English Market in town, where they sell fresh meats, dairy products, breads, veggies, etc.

  1. What is your favorite “hidden gem” (place, restaurant, pub, etc.) in Cork City?

I am not sure that you could consider this a “hidden gem” since its one of the most popular off campus pubs for students, but “THE ROCK” bar just above the college, is by far one of my favorite places to grab a pint with the lads.  It’s somewhat of a traditional pub style, including having a beer garden in back.  The atmosphere is great, relaxing, great for a chat, but also fun.  Wednesday’s, they have “Trad Night” featuring traditional Irish music.  The bartenders are friendly, and the Beamish always has a good pour.

Another gem, just outside of the city is Fota Wildlife Park.  It’s what we in the US would consider a zoo, but with many open enclosures, some of the animals are free ranging within the park, including wallabies and peacocks.  It’s a great place to go for the day with friends, on a date, or in my case a man date with two of my best friends from Ireland, when I came back for a visit over spring break.

  1. How did you go about making friends while at UCC? Did clubs and/or societies play a role?

Making friends at UCC and abroad in general is so easy.  Prior to settling at UCC for the fall semester, I spent 6 weeks backpacking through Europe.  I was able to easily talk to and meet new people in every city and every country (8) that I traveled through during my 6 months abroad.  Everyone in Europe was extremely friendly, happy to have a conversation with the person sitting next to them on the train, in the park, or at the bar. 

At UCC making friends is just as easy.  If you, and you should, take part in the Early Start Program that UCC offers the Fall Study Abroad students, you’ll be able to get settled into college before all of the Irish students arrive.  Taking one class everyday with the same 20+ students, going on weekend excursions, you will develop very close friendships with the people in your course, which lasted me throughout my time at UCC.

The most instrumental aspect that helped me make friends, and I will say currently these people are and remain my best friends in the world, was through the UCC clubs and societies.  At the start of the school semester I joined the UCC J3 rugby football club, “The Bulldogs”, by the end of the first night of training I had made some friends, within a few weeks the number exponentially increased, and I soon became extremely close with a large number of them.  Now any time I visit, I usually live with them and their families for the time I am in the country.  I would say that clubs and societies are the absolute easiest and best way to meet new, similar, different, unique people at UCC.  The International Society offers socials and events for all international students, not just those from the US, so through them I was able to make friends from countries all over the world, including Germany, Brazil, and Italy to name a few.

  1. If you could give students any advice about managing classwork while at UCC, what would it be?

The best advice I can give for managing course work is to keep up with or ahead of everything, learn how to pace yourself and develop personal responsibility and time management skills.  The course/class organization at UCC for most classes is quite different from any of the colleges I have attended in the US.  First, most classes have little to no ongoing assessment, other than a few labs and/or small group instruction tutorials which supplement the primary lecture seminars.  Most classes are lecture seminars, where you attend a class with a large number of students and a professor lectures for the class period.  Again, the only ongoing assessments will be held in the labs, where lab work and reports will be completed or the tutorials where some supplemental instruction and a few minor assignments will be assessed.  Some classes do assign research or writing assignments throughout the semester, however, many courses simply have one final exam or 2, including a mid-semester exam. 

Therefore, your success in the course is based on your preparation and performance on the one final examination.  Because of this, the professors do not constantly push and prod you to complete assignments, study or prepare for exams throughout the semester.  You are expected to take the responsibility to get yourself prepared for the exams, it is up to you to complete assignments, attend lectures, and study, since there is really only one opportunity to pass or fail the course.

  1. What was your favorite place to visit in Ireland? Any recommendations for students heading abroad?

Can I just get away with saying Ireland?  No.  Well, there are some many incredible places to visit while you are in Ireland.  I will tell you right now that no matter what you do, where you go, what you get to see, you won’t see enough or feel like you have had enough time.

That said, here are a few of my favorite places to visit while in Ireland, outside of Cork, since you’ll be living there already:

  1. Ring of Kerry/Dingle Peninsula
  2. Galway/Salt Hill (3m diving platforms into the ocean)
  3. Rent a car (if possible) drive up the west coast (Wild Atlantic Way)
  4. Northern Ireland – Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Bridge. They also have a good GOT tour up there too.

My biggest recommendation when visiting or traveling anywhere in Ireland or abroad, meet locals and have them take you everywhere and do things that they (locals) do.  You will do, see, and experience things that no one else visiting Ireland or any other country that you visit will probably ever do. 

Here’s just a brief story to prove my point:  I rented a car and took a 2-day trip with a friend from Cork to visit another friend who was living in Caherdaniel in the Ring of Kerry, where we stayed with her in the caravan park she was living in, on the beach by the way.  The first day we spent there she introduced us to her coworkers and friends that were from the area, after which they took us out into the middle of nowhere, past the beaches, up along the coast and out to a point looking out on the ocean.  There was a giant surf pool, they called “the tank”, which was a 20-30 ft drop from the mainland surface, which we proceeded to cliff jump into.  The second day we walked out of the caravan onto the beach and kayaked out into the middle of the ocean, looking over at Skellig Michael in the distance.  I never would have had the opportunity to do either of those if I hadn’t known people local to the area.

  1. You’re coming back to UCC for graduate school. What made you decide to return? What are you most excited for as you return to campus?

If you haven’t realized this yet, you probably haven’t read my responses to any of the previous 8 questions, but I absolutely love it over in Ireland.  So, I may repeat myself a little here, but that’s okay because a) it means its important, b) no one is forcing you to read this, and c) if you have a problem with it, well let’s just say I learned a phase while studying abroad at UCC that I’d tell you. 

First off, I decided to return because I wanted an opportunity to experience the country, culture and people at least one more time while I still could.  Second, I wanted to get back to see all the people for more than a week, which is what I have been doing once a year the last 2 years.  Like I said before, I probably have well over 30 of some of my closest friends living in and around Cork, plus 50+ more friends that live there.  Third, is the atmosphere of Ireland.  Everything is laid back, people are friendly, and it seems like everything about life there is far less complicated.  Overall, I decided to return just for the craic.

I am probably most excited about seeing old friends, playing rugby again, and maybe doing some scuba diving off the coast.  Each year UCC holds numerous events, such as RAG Week and other campus events that I can’t wait to take part in again upon my return.

  1. Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience? We’re all ears!

I’ve been going on for 4 pages now, so I’ll leave this short, but I could go on for at least 4 more.  When going abroad, plan, but don’t plan too much.  Get an idea of major places you want to go, things you want to see or do, plan those.  But, leave a lot of time open to explore, take a spur of the moment trip somewhere, do something that you’ve never done before.  Make friends with locals, or just talk to them, ask them what they do, where to go, what to see.  The most amazing things you will probably do or see while you’re abroad won’t be on a road map, or guided tour, and probably haven’t been done by many other visiting persons.


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