Getting Lost in Galway (And in a New School System!)

Study abroad students are those of us that have the desire to see the world and explore a culture other than our own. By being fully immersed into another school, city, country and continent for a substantial period of time, we are able to learn about ourselves, the world that we live in and how we interact with it. Coming into this study abroad experience, I have met many other international students who share my same passion for exploring and experiencing another way of living. For our first weekend off of classes, we planned a trip to the western part of Ireland to see the city of Galway.

Galway is a smaller city that required a two-hour bus ride through the Irish countryside. It was nice to escape the busy Dublin lifestyle for a weekend and see a more rural part of the country. Lucky for us, the bus company offered student discounts and by staying in a hostel as a group, we were able to travel affordably and still have a great time. After counting hundreds of sheep out the window, we arrived in Galway and checked into our accommodation. We went out to explore and take touristy pictures before the sun went down. Galway represents what many people think of when they think of Ireland. There were lots of colored houses, pedestrian-only streets with many shops and restaurants, beautiful views of the water and lots of green grass. 

Gothic Chapel in Kylemoor

On Saturday we toured Connemara. It rained off and on throughout the day, but that just gave us a more traditional Irish experience! We explored the only fjord in Ireland, Killary Fjord, Kylemoor Abbey and its gardens, and even got to pet some friendly horses in the mountains of Connemara. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. On Sunday we went underground and toured Aillwee Cave, one of the oldest caves in Ireland. In the cave, you are able to experience total darkness and having your eyes closed or open looks the exact same! We then traveled up to the famous Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs are a well known Irish landmark and seeing them for the first time was truly incredible. As we continued to walk around the cliffs, the views continued to get better and better. The weekend presented us with gorgeous scenery and new views of the country that we have lived in for a little over two weeks now. Exploring the western part of Ireland was a great way to settle into this country more and experience our first weekend of travel. 

Taking in the scenery at Killary Fjord

After returning to our on-campus accommodation on Sunday night, we were all very excited to sleep in our own beds. However, class Monday morning proved to be difficult. This gave us a taste of what the next few months will be like as we try to plan various trips throughout Europe while still keeping up with educational requirements. Often, the "study" part is forgotten and the "abroad" part takes over. Starting with a weekend trip within the country was a good way to test out the waters and get a gauge of how we can better plan for future travels. 

The incredible group I traveled with braving the wind at the Cliffs of Moher

Luckily, it is still early on in the semester and workloads are manageable. However, one major difference between American and European Education systems has begun to make itself very apparent. In America, students are typically graded on a few exams and potentially homework or quiz grades as well. Overseas, homework and quizzes do not exist and your final grade mostly comes from your final exam. Some classes may have a paper or lab portion that will also slightly contribute to your grade, however, your performance in the course heavily relies on your final exam.

It may seem nice as an international student to not have to worry about homework while abroad, however it is important to now motivate yourself to study and keep up with what is going on in class instead of being forced to keep up through weekly assignments. Cramming for a final exam is never fun, especially when that exam counts for more than half of your final grade.

Now that we are starting to really get into the swing of classes it is time to schedule in study time and remember that this experience is not just a vacation. Overall, the past week has been a huge learning experience. Not only did I learn about how to adapt to my courses and workload abroad, but I was also able to learn about a new city and lifestyle within the same island country. I have been busy almost every minute during this international adventure and I would not want it any other way. The time is already flying by but I am excited to look to the future and what else I will learn and explore during my time abroad.