Everyone who studies abroad has a Dorothy moment…

Blog my US UCC Student Ambassador Anna Bradford

Everyone who studies abroad has a Dorothy moment. A moment when they know exactly how Dorothy felt when she told Toto, “We’re not in Kansas anymore”. Everyone who studies abroad can probably pinpoint the exact moment when it hit them like a freight train, and they realized that they were no longer home; instead they were in this new crazy, amazing place that was different than what they were used to, and they couldn’t wait for the adventure to continue.

For me, my Dorothy moment came one Tuesday when a dog wandered into my Intro to Math Modeling class. Yes, you read that right, a dog wandered through the open door and into the classroom, like it was a dog park or a pet store. Now I don’t want to give you a false impression, studying abroad at UCC does not mean that you are guaranteed a doggie visit to your classes or even that there are just random dogs wandering the street for you to befriend. Nope, this was probably just a case of Mary had a little lamb; the slightly scruffy, black and white mutt who visited my class followed his owner to college that Tuesday, and just waiting outside wasn’t good enough for him. Instead, he took it upon himself to explore the first floor of the Western Gateway Building (especially after the automatic doors opened wide and let him in). Since my classroom was closest to those automatic doors, and our door was open, in he came sniffing for a new friend much to the shock and amusement of every kid in that class. He wandered up the side of the classroom before beginning his dramatic crossing of the room. Climbing over feet and backpacks, he made his was across the classroom two rows up from me, causing a massive distraction, yet the professor kept droning on in his voice that sounded like Gru from Despicable Me. It hit me then, as the dog was blazing his path through the tangle of legs, I was most definitely not in the USA anymore. It’s funny…you would have thought the cars on the wrong side of the road, the colorful euros, or how people called z, ‘zed’ instead of ‘zee’ would have been the thing to clue me in, but, nope, the sheer craziness of a dog in class was what did it. I realized in that moment that I had left my home behind and was now in this totally different place that was amazing, new, and strange all at the same time, and I loved it! Our new doggie friend stuck around for another few minutes (long enough for him to reach my side of the classroom where I snapped this photo) before getting bored with potential energy and vanishing out the door to continue on his adventure.

Other than the infamous dog visitor, there were some other major things about the study part of study abroad which made it clear to me that I was now in Oz and had left Kansas behind. Now none of these are as exciting as a dog, instead they are functional. Consider them the yellow brick road you need to follow for making it through the strange new world of college in Ireland. Yes, that was another Wizard of Oz metaphor, but stick with me this next stuff is important.

The first major difference was class sizes. I go to Marist, where the average class size is 25, and at UCC I was in lectures with more than 50 other students. While this was overwhelming on the first day, I quickly got used to it; its way easier to text at the back of a lecture theater than in a normal classroom. Also, since there are so many kids in the class, passing back papers or assignments takes forever, and considering classes are only 50 minutes long, there’s going to be a lot less lecture time on those days.

But the lectures aren’t the only times that you have to learn; the second major difference is tutorials and practicals. These are like a fun bonus amount of learning in addition to the two lectures you have each week. Practicals are like labs, they meet once a week and attendance is mandatory, the more you miss the farther your grade drops. So that means no matter how much you want to sleep in you still have to drag yourself out of bed every Friday morning, and head to the Western Gateway Building for your one annoying practical at 11am. Tutorials, on the other hand, are optional but are very beneficial and you should probably not skip them for the first three weeks like I did. If you follow my advice you will avoid the facepalm that comes after your first day at the tutorial when you realize that is where everyone has actually been learning the material. Not only that, but the TA has spent the past two tutorials (which you missed) going over examples similar to the homework which you have spent the past few days struggling to do. It might be tempting to blow them off, but by the time your first homework is due, you’re probably going to regret sleeping in on all those Mondays.

And speaking of homework, you are going to have a lot less of it, which is a bit of a catch-22. Yes, you have less homework, but that means the two assignments you do have count for more so you shouldn’t slack off and leave them until the last minute. Same goes for studying for the final exam: while it is easy just to coast and blow off learning the material until the night before the exam, those are dice you don’t want to roll. Failing an exam means coming back to Ireland in August to retake it and paying for that plane ticket isn’t going to be cheap. Hopefully that scares you straight, but disclaimer I don’t know anyone Irish or American who’s had to re-sit their exams.

The last difference, and the one that I had the most trouble adjusting to, is the grading. As confusing as it sounds, when you get a 70 or above at UCC that translates into an A back home. This means that the Irish grade stricter than Americans, and it is rare to get 90’s or 100’s on papers in Ireland. Instead, you’ll get 60’s or 70’s and I can’t promise that it will ever get easier to be handed back your paper with a ‘failing’ grade. Just remember that you need to add 20 points and that’s roughly what your American grade is. Basically, your Irish grades are going to get one heck of a curve when they are put on your American transcript, and even though the grading systems are different, don’t worry it will all work out in the end.


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