I have recently just returned home from spending a semester abroad in Maynooth, Ireland. After easily the best semester of my life, allow me to apologize in advance for being that annoying person who can’t stop talking about their abroad experience.
Maynooth is a small, college town about 30 minutes outside of Dublin. I basically just tell people I studied in Dublin the same way I tell people I’m “from Chicago”. You get the point. While Dublin is great, Maynooth is a great unique, little town. It is very much a college town and is mostly filled with students from the university. That was one of my favorite parts about the Saint Mary’s Ireland program; that I was put right into an Irish university, as opposed to a Saint Mary’s campus right in Ireland. I got to be fully immersed into the Irish university life so I was living and going to classes with all of the Irish students. Which leads me to my next point…
As a student at an all women’s college, I’ve got to start by addressing the elephant in the room; BOYS. Students of the male variety actually sat next to me in class. For a Saint Mary’s student, this is something out of the ordinary. Obviously high school made me no stranger to boys in the classroom, but I’ve gone a solid year and a half without them. No worries though, I got my cootie shot before I went and it all turned out okay, boys actually don’t bite! In reality though, nobody really interacts in class. I ultimately had most of my classes with other American students, but there were some with Irish students, and yes they laughed at me when I asked dumb questions. A piece of advice, don’t start a sentence with “Well I’m from America…” in front of a lecture hall full of 300+ students…
Because it is all girls, one of Saint Mary’s greatest blessings is the ability to go to class in your pajamas. We take “rolling out of bed” a little too seriously. Unfortunately, that was not a thing in Ireland. Nobody, literally nobody, goes to class in their pajamas. No sweatpants, nothing. Occasionally a sweatshirt and jeans, but the fashion in Ireland, and pretty much all of Eurpope, is the polar opposite from that of Saint Mary’s and I’m sure most other American colleges. The girls dressed extremely trendy and very dressy for class. It was very common to see skirts, dresses, leather jackets and even heels worn to class. Essentially they were wearing to class what we were going to wear to go out that night. While these girls did look super chic, I can’t say that us SMC gals adopted that fashion. We dressed the part, but we stuck out like sore thumbs despite our best efforts. Their fashion sense is totally different than ours and they wear things that we don’t in America, for example, tights underneath jean shorts…yuck. And the makeup, holy cow the makeup. These girls CAKE on the makeup every single day so the fact that I wasn’t walking around with bright red lipstick on was probably a dead giveway.
My living situation was just like the Irish students so I lived in the same apartment buildings as them. Unfortunately I didn’t have any Irish roommates but instead four other Saint Mary’s girls. We all had our own rooms and shared a kitchen. The rooms were fine but the bathrooms were weird. The toilet, sink, and shower were all next to each other in a small little closet-like room. Even showers with no tub always have some sort of threshold to keep the water separate from the floor. Not in these rooms. The shower had no boundaries so the whole floor got wet when you took a shower. It was a strange setup. Foodwise we were given money each week since we did not have any sort of meal plan. So I became very acquainted with the Aldi across the street and perfected the art of making pasta, and pasta, and chicken, and sometimes I made pasta.
Going out in Ireland was a grand old time. The drinking age in Ireland is 18 so needless to say I enjoyed myself. The college students in Maynooth are just like American college kids hanging out at bars, they just get to do it legally… There were three main hotspots in Maynooth for the students; Mantra on Mondays, which is a bumpin’ club that is full of skin tight dresses and sweaty boys. Good times! Wednesdays we would go to Brady’s which was my personal favorite, and that was sort of whatever scene you wanted it to be. Downstairs was more of a pub atmosphere, but upstairs there was a dance floor and a DJ who always played the best throwbacks. He’d also play popular Irish bands so I’d just keep on jammin like I knew every single word. They also had a photographer there every night so all those pictures you’d never want anybody to see got captured and posted on Facebook the next day, oh great!!! The Roost was the place to be on Thursdays and that was probably the most relaxed of the three. There was always an awesome band or a performer singing and I always managed to send obnoxious Snapchats of said band or performer 95% of the time. My apologies. The main difference in the nightlife in Maynooth was that none of the students really went out on the weekends because they go home. While Americans typically live for Friday and Saturday, the Irish students all start heading home for the weekend around Thursday. So campus was always pretty dead on the weekends. Lucky for us the weekends was when we did most of our travelling.
Being able to travel was easily one of my favorite parts of studying abroad. The entire world was literally at my fingertips, and was just one click to Ryanair.com away. I was able to go places that I know I would have never gone to otherwise. It was amazing that I was capable of planning a trip on my own and at how simple it was, other than the severe decline in your bank account balance. Each click of “submit order” was another sting, but also brougth much excitement. Luckily teachers were very accommodating when we missed class to jet set around Eurpope whenever we wanted. Classes were much more flexible than at home. Skipping a class was practically no big deal, and knowing we were American students, some teachers even reminded us that we were here to travel, so not to worry about missing class. Little did they know how much we’d stretch that.
My favorite places that I traveled to were definitely Amsterdam and Barcelona. Amsterdam can be summed up in 1 word: bikes. There are bikes absolutely everywhere. Parents bring their children to school on their bikes riding on the front, on the back, in a basket; everyone is on a bike. Aside from pedestrians and cars, all the streets have separate lanes for bikes. Needless to say I caused a alot of traffic jams and almost accidents. After getting past the initial shock of how many bikes were constantly flying at me, Amsterdam was awesome. There are beautiful canals running throughout the city. People actually live in house boats along the canals. Every single thing I ate in Amsterdam was delicious; cheese, chocolate even the random Mexican restaurant where I ate a quesadilla. I loved the entire city and was also very surprised and thankful for how many people spoke English. Barcelona was another favorite and I don’t know if I even saw half of it that is how big it is. I did see a lot though, and I owe all of that to the Barcelona hop-on hop-off bus tour. Seriously those things rock. There was so much to see and do in Barcelona I couldn’t believe it. It kind of reminded me of Chicago only in the sense that there is a giant city and then on the outskirts there is a beach and beautiful harbors. Barcelona was gorgeous and the weather was perfect, minus the awful sunburn I got after not seeing the sun for 3 months. The delicious food and sangria wasn’t bad either.
Other than traveling in Europe I obviously loved exploring Ireland. Living in Maynooth was really the best of both worlds, because I got to experience an Irish college town, but was also just a 40-minute bus ride from big city Dublin life. Aside from that, I had all of Ireland at my fingertips being able to hop on a train or bus and go anywhere to get away from it all. Traveling further out to places like Howth or Malahide right along the coast was beautfiul. The Wicklow mountains were another personal favorite spot. How green Ireland is never ceased to amaze me. There was so much more natural beauty and open land than anything I’ve seen around home.
My parting words to you all: absolutely 100% study abroad in some form if you have the opportunity. You will not regret it. Well I guess you can forget the study part, but travel somewhere for sure. And eat everything. None of this trying to be healthy nonsense. There are bakeries upon bakeries in every country and the baguettes are just too good to pass up. Eat the traditional food of wherever you go, trust me it’s worth it. I was so fortunate to experience everything I did and have little to no bad experiences. Sometimes I forget that I just spent the last four and a half months in a different country, but luckily I have 3700 pictures to remind me. I loved every second of being in Ireland and I already cannot wait until I can go back someday!