The hidden secrets of an exchange to Dublin

For the last half of 2015 I had the most amazing experience studying at Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland. Ireland I can honestly say is one of the friendliest countries you will ever encounter. The people are consciously aware of the fact that their city has an abundance of international residents and go out of their way to help you. They also love having a good time, and in Dublin especially, you can go to any pub and immediately make 5 new lifelong friends over a pint. I loved every second I was there and met some incredible people from all over Europe.

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Trinity College, is in the centre of Dublin so it makes exploring the city easy and means that you become a local very quickly. Trinity itself has a beautiful campus that is made up of a mixture of historical and modern buildings. There are many student services and societies to become a part of and they’re all very involved in the running of the university. Trinity also has cafes and a state of the art gym on campus, which is free to use as a student. The world-renowned Book of Kells, is housed on campus in the Old Library building and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Dublin. This basically leads to 5 to 6 tour groups walking around campus at all times, which can very entertaining.

I chose Trinity because I had travelled to Ireland before and loved the atmosphere as well as its close position to the UK and Europe. I love to travel so this was pic 2definitely a bonus. Trinity is one of the oldest universities in the world and is highly regarded academically. It has a strong focus on student involvement and support and the whole campus is friendly, a definitely selling point for any university. I also loved Dublin and the opportunity to live in the city was not one I was going to pass up.

Accommodation

I worked with a friend from UQ who was also going to study at Trinity, to try and find accommodation. We had a hard time finding a place that would give us a contract for 4 months (a semester) and not 1 year. We eventually were given some useful information from one of the student services at Trinity who recommended a place called the Marino Institute of Education, 15 minutes drive north of the university. The college has an arrangement with Trinity and offers accommodation for Trinity students for a full year or semester. Marino is made up of 6 blocks of apartments. Each block has around 12 – 15 apartments per block, and each apartment has 4 rooms. Our rooms at Marino included our own bathroom, wardrobe and desk. You shared a kitchen and dining room with your flatmates. I personally loved the accommodation; it was clean, in a safe village-like neighbourhood and felt like a little community of international students.

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Subject

I exchanged with the Economics Department in Trinity and was therefore studying economics subjects while there. I enjoyed the lecture content, (as much as you can ‘enjoy’ lecture content) and the lecturers were very interesting to listen to. Each had their own quirky take on their subject and often used some of the strangest examples to make a point. This made lectures a laugh sometimes. The academics, I feel were not as intense as at QUT but they were definitely not a breeze either. Anyone going to Trinity will find that they won’t struggle to keep up with university work and will be able to travel at the same time.

Finance

In terms of money (easily the worst part of exchange), I budgeted around $10,000 for the semester and the few weeks either end. The accommodation was around $2900 (plus a $300ish deposit which you get back at the end of the semester). I then had enough money for day to day spending, weekend trips to London, Amsterdam and Paris, as well as sightseeing in Ireland. Ireland and Dublin especially, is one of the more expensive places in Europe, however, by Australian standards the pricing for most things is reasonable if not cheaper than usual. Be aware of the exchange rate of the Australian dollar to the Euro, I didn’t have the best exchange rate at the time, but it didn’t cripple me financially. I took a travel cash card and a credit card on exchange. The cash card was for day to day use and I used it the most. It was multi-currency, so I could have Euros and Pounds on it at the same time. The credit card I used for big purchases (flights, holiday accommodation etc.) and emergencies (there were none, but just in case). The system I had worked well and I had no hick-ups using my cards all through Europe and the UK.

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Overall Experience and Advice

I have been lucky enough to have travelled a lot before exchange and have gained experience and confidence in travelling alone. I personally didn’t experience culture shock because the Irish culture is very similar to ours here in Australia. There are, admittedly, a few differences but Irish people have a very similar care-free fun-loving attitude that we have here. Dublin is a very safe city, however you should be mindful of pickpockets when living there. More so than in Brisbane, pickpockets a quite common in Dublin and if you’re not careful, your stuff will be taken directly out of your bag. As long as you zip up your bag and keep it in front of you in really dense crowds you’ll be fine though. This goes for all of Europe and the UK. When travelling I’m always fully aware of my surroundings so that I don’t find myself in a dangerous situation. I kept this practice when travelling and made sure I knew exactly where I was going and what I was doing. If you look confident, you are a lot less likely to become a target for people who want to mess with tourists.

All in all, I had a fabulous time in Ireland and would highly recommend the exchange experience to any student in QUT. You see some amazing places and make incredible friends along the way. The time I spent overseas definitely helped me put a few more things in perspective for my future career and made me more independent and confident in unplanned situations. I can also handle the Metro (Paris) and Tube (London) like a boss now, and I’m pretty proud of that!

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If you are thinking of going on exchange I highly recommended doing three things. One, stay in student accommodation. You can make friends, quickly and everyone is in the one location so it’s easy to get together and for nights out. Two, do not be afraid to introduce yourself and do things with people the first week. I cannot emphasise enough how critical the first week is to your continuing friendship with everyone you live and study with. If you get in early and take every opportunity to hang out and go places you all become friends very quickly, and it helps having a little community of people to chill with during busy times in the semester. Three, to aid in the aforementioned process, leave your room door open when you are in, so that people can see you are there and can come say hey. I told everyone when I first met them that if the apartment door was open, I was home and they could totally pop in and have a chat and some tea. Sounds a touch lame writing it down, but hell did it work. I had people coming in all the time and it made my apartment the go to place if anyone needed someone to chill with.

So if you can, go on exchange. It is the best experience you can have as a student and you’ll never regret it. Whether you’ve travelled before or never left the country you’ll benefit immensely from living overseas and will find that you can adapt and be very confident in the most unlikely situations.

 

On finishing semester 1 in Dublin, European summer holidays and a lot of photos

 

Similarly to when I wrote this last post, procrastination is once again lending itself well to ensure that I’m somewhat productive in all areas of life except for that of studying. Here in Ireland, we’re about to enter week 5 here of the new academic year and while I feel like it’s still the start of the semester, things are once again moving at an alarming pace. Last time I wrote an entry, I was sitting in the sunshine in Copenhagen looking at the spring flowers wondering how time manages to move so quickly. Five months later and it’s a pretty similar story, except this time I’m looking out into the garden watching the leaves turn red.

Between studying (read: procrastinating) for six exams and trying to fit as much in before everyone moved back home/went away for the summer, unsurprisingly the final three weeks of last semester passed in somewhat of a blur. Truly embracing the pass/fail nature of being on exchange, a highlight was definitely when a bunch of us booked flights to Germany and ended up at Frühlingsfest, the smaller, more localised version of Oktoberfest in Munich. With beer in litre steins and lederhosen and dirndls everywhere, ‘smaller and more localised’ definitely didn’t equate to less fun.

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Frühlingsfest – Munich, Germany

Five days later and back on Irish soil, things a lot less happy and merry as May kicked off along with the start of exams. Group mentality was fairly prevalent, given that here for some reason that completely escapes me, you take your exams with 3000 other students in the room. Except you’re not in a room, you’re in a freezing cold, barren hangar, off campus somewhere that requires taxis home if you’re unlucky enough to have an exam finishing at 8pm. A truly bizarre way of doing it if you ask me, especially when 600 people up and leave because they’ve only had a 1 hour exam. Seldom fun in the eyes of anyone, I’m going to skip over the rest of exam details and fast-forward to end of them and the beginning of summer.

If I’m honest, finishing exams was a bit of a weird and melancholic experience. While I, along with every other student, was absolutely stoked to be finished the semester, there was a sad feeling in the air as we packed up our things and moved out of where we considered “home” to be for the last four months. On our final night in student accommodation, we all assembled for a last hurrah among the exchange students. Rules were put in place – shed a tear, finish your beer. A lot of beer was consumed. And a lot of tears were shed – myself included when I waved off my beautiful housemates as they left for the airport to fly back to the US the next day. As I’m sure most exchange students can attest to, you tend to bond the quickest with other exchange students. Maybe it’s because you’re in the same boat and fast friendships are necessary to feel some sort of grounding when you’re in a new place, or maybe because you hold what’s familiar close. Or it could just be because you literally always see each other. Regardless, the group of students last semester were a truly weird and wonderful crowd who made the end of the semester exceptionally hard, despite knowing we were free of assignments, exams and, best of all, group work for a whole 16 glorious weeks.

Like most students that have found themselves on exchange in Europe, travelling has slowly etched its way more and more into my exchange as the time ticks by. Whether it be over weekends, mid-semester break, swotvac, during exams (yes, embrace the pass/fail nature of exchange! Any spare time is time to travel), before/after the semester or between semesters, travelling is a massive part of being on exchange. Domestically or internationally, I feel like that’s what constitutes an extremely large part of the whole experience: seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. Coming on exchange for our academic year (i.e. backwards to here) meant that I had four months holidays in between semesters where I was fortunate enough to backpack around Europe – ohh my, what a treat it was having summer holidays mid-year!

The summer kicked off to an incredibly wet start. There’s no other way to put it. My parents came to Ireland to visit and it was possibly the worst 10 consecutive days of weather I’ve seen here to date.

We went to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher that usually look like this if you’re lucky enough with a sunny day – as my housemates were when they went.

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Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

And we, on the other hand, were instead gifted with this: a much more adequate representation of Ireland’s temperamental weather patterns.

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Needless to say, we didn’t see much. Or anything at all really.

While wet for the most part, the weather does change in the drop of a hat here (so they say), so we did manage to get a few scarce hours without rain over the course of two weeks.

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Killary Fjord, Ireland

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Three Castle Head – Schull, Ireland

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Crookhaven, Ireland

And of course it was still beautiful even when it wasn’t sunny!

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Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

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Coumeenoole, Ireland

 

Leaving Ireland behind for the summer, I spent a few weeks travelling through Wales and Scotland…

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Isle of Skye, Scotland

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Glencoe, Scotland

Before venturing to Norway to go hiking for 3 weeks. I’m extremely lucky in that I’ve travelled a fair bit and seen some pretty amazing places over the years but Norway absolutely blew my mind. There really are few words that I can write to describe how incredible it was, so I’ll let photos do the trick instead.

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Lysefjord, Norway

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Trolltunga, Norway

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Kjeragbolten, Norway

After delaying leaving Norway for a week longer than I had initially planned, I finally got to Sweden and Finland before flying to Greece.

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Ios, Greece

Wet weather well and truly behind me, I hopped around the islands before heading up into the mountains in Northern Greece.

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Vikos Gorge, Greece

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Zagorohoria, Greece

I realise how picture heavy/long this is getting, so I’ll race through the next little bit – there were just so many amazing spots along the way. From there I spent three weeks travelling through Albania, Macedonia and Serbia before heading to the largest music festival in Eastern Europe, Sziget Festival, in Budapest, Hungary.

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Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

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Sziget Festival – Budapest, Hungary

(If you get the opportunity to ever go to Sziget, do it. And go for the 8 days – it’s incredible)

After 8 nights of camping with perfectly clear skies, on the final night the sky opened up and it poured down on the 80 000 tents on the island, ours included. Overnight the temperature dropped from 32 to 13 degrees and the rain marked the start of a cold front that hit majority of Eastern Europe, even though it was only August. Firmly deciding I wasn’t ready for 13 degree weather just quite yet, I hopped on a plane to Spain to check out the world’s biggest food fight…

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La Tomatina – Buñol, Spain

La Tomatina – I really don’t know where to start. For one, I certainly didn’t know where I, or the tomatoes, started or ended. I remember looking at my watch thinking at least half an hour had passed and we’d only been at it for 12 minutes – after an hour and I was wading in a sea of squished tomatoes up to my shins. It was mental. Seriously, I washed my hair 8 times in 2 days and still found chunks of tomatoes days (weeks?) later. I haven’t eaten bruschetta since.

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San Sebastián, Spain

After a few weeks travelling around Spain after la Tom, reality set in and it was time to head back to Dublin for the start of college – something that feels like it was a few days ago, not over a month ago. I guess what’s happened between then and now probably warrants a new post because this is well and truly long enough (and I have class in 3 minutes), so I’ll leave it there for now.

Until next time!

Tabhair aire 🙂 

On Dublin, snowboarding in the Alps with 200 Irish students and a bunch of other things helping me to procrastinate

As I enter the last week of teaching week of this semester at UCD in Dublin, Ireland, I’ve become overwhelmed by a certain feeling, one that I’ve definitely felt before, over and over again. It usually signifies that the end of something is near but you’re not quite there yet. The feeling (action…?) is procrastination, and it has most definitely come to say hello.

Speaking of hellos, I’m Ambar and I’m currently on a yearlong exchange for the duration of 2015. Back home I study Business/Creative Industries but here in Dublin I’ve ended up in the Business/Law faculty taking 6 subjects (a frightfully “normal” concept here). While it’s dismal that this is my first blog post, procrastination lends me well, meaning that there’s no time like the present to catch up on what’s been going on for the past few months. And by “no time like the present”, I mean being 8 days out from 5 exams in a row. Exam timetables = providing endless joy regardless of the country that you live in.

I’m currently sitting in a park in Copenhagen, Denmark, wondering how it somehow became the end of the semester and the start of summer. The sun is out; it’s like 16 degrees (if that), so naturally everyone is in t-shirts enjoying the ‘hot’ weather (I use this term loosely Brisbane). I left Australia going on 5 months ago now, but it feels more like 5 weeks. I’m sure that every exchange blog says the same thing: being on exchange flies by. And it definitely does. Maybe it’s the sentiment that you’re not counting down until the end of the semester, or to what come next – whether it be summer holidays, graduation or that next overseas trip. You’re not waiting for the next adventure because you’re already on it simply by being at uni, going to classes in a different country and meeting so many new people. I’m fortunate enough that this is my second exchange, having spent 6 months in France when I was 15, so while in some ways this feels slightly familiar territory, it also couldn’t be further from being the same. Although I frequently refer to my exchange in France being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, this would be a close second – and then some. Funnily enough, France is where my UCD trip begins, so with that little segue, let’s rewind to six months ago where an email I chose to send landed me a spot on the annual Snowsports trip to the French Alps.

Somewhere between Swotvac (study week) and exam week last November, I found myself creeping the UCD Snowsports Facebook page. Having spent majority of the past 3-ish years in Canada living in a ski town, snowboarding had become one of my main motivators in terms of getting through those final weeks of uni before holidays. During my creeping, I happened upon the info stating that the snowsports club was organising a trip to the French Alps in January. Perfect. I was also conveniently going to be in Alps snowboarding for the month before the planned trip. I tossed the idea around for a solid 2 minutes before deciding that I’d send them an email and see if I could get on the trip, despite not technically being a UCD student – or never having visited Ireland. YOLO as the kids say.

Two months later and I stepped off a bus in Alpe d’Huez, a little rusty from the night before. I have quite the affinity with red wine and the $5-per-rather-decent-bottle-average in France never fails to distract me from how bad I know wine hangovers can really be. The 2 busses and 3 trains I’d had to take that day with my luggage for a year hadn’t improved my feelings of utter bewilderment and confusion. It sounds worse than it was, I only had a snowboard bag and a small backpack but with a hangover to boot, it felt like I had more possessions that the whole of Australia put together. Only before trying to check-in to the completely wrong hotel did I manage to find the 200(ish) intoxicated and/or hungover (it was hard to tell between the two) Irish university students that I was to spend the next 7 days with. Fuelled by the encouragement that they’ve made the 38-hour journey from Ireland by bus (oh, the respect), I pushed back the drink someone gave to me and before I knew it, I was cable-tied me to someone I’d never met and well wished for the evening.

The next 7 days passed with little new snow but beautiful sunny days to distract us from the hangovers. Can you sense a theme here? Apparently the Irish like drinking – who would have thought? They can also rally like absolute champions and when I was there in the foetal position in bed, the committee members were up and at it, banging on saucepans outside the rooms every morning at 7am, hustling everyone to get out on the slopes. Before we knew it, the trip was over as quickly as it had started. I know it sounds as cliché or corny as anything, but I really did make and incredible bunch of friends on the trip who made me feel as though I’d known them a lot longer than 24 hours. Needless to say, it made getting on the plane and rocking up on the first day of ‘college’ a whole lot less daunting – despite not a single one of them being in the same faculty as me.

Having gone on the snowsports trip, I unfortunately missed orientation week with the rest of the international students, including a free bus trip to IKEA. Tragic, I know. Thankfully, my wonderful new housemates were able to catch me up with all the ‘craic’ (read: Irish slang for ‘going’s-on’) of O-week and I found my bearings pretty quickly. When sign-ups for on campus accommodation opened back in December and not knowing anyone in Dublin, I went in blind and and opted to share an apartment with three other random students. As it turns out, on their end, it wasn’t so random and I found myself in apartment with 3 Americans all from Northeastern University in Boston. I think I’ve actually learnt more about the fraternity-sorority (Greek) system in the US than anything to do with Irish schooling, but there you have it. Officially, I don’t share any classes with my housemates but we do share a love for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and quesadillas so with that bond, we’re basically family. Unofficially, we have Irish class together, which basically consists of absolutely terrible linguistic skills, a whole lot of laughing and our teacher organising meeting points for beers after class.

Terrible Irish speaking skills in tow, the rest of the semester has literally passed in a blur. I’ve been lucky enough to take advantage of the accessibility that comes with living in Europe, having travelled a fair bit throughout the semester. When a friend living in London asked me to jump in on his birthday celebrations and fly to Spain with 20 of his friends that I’d never met, it was a no brainer. Flights were booked in minutes and the bunch of us hired out a villa that housed 30 people where we spent the Easter long-weekend lounging by the pool, eating paella and drinking cervezas.

Between the UK, Spain, Denmark, weekly netball games against other universities, events on every other weekend and squeezing in a two and a half-week trip to Canada over ‘spring break’, it’s easy to see where the semester has gone. Despite my friends wondering how I ever manage to get anything college-related done, it’s definitely been a work-hard, play-hard balance. Even though taking six subjects in Ireland is technically worth the same as the Australian equivalent of 48 credit points, it still feels like an extra two subjects to juggle in the mix of everything. Which brings me back to procrastinating studying for those impending exams. As I’ve managed to avoid studying for today by writing this (despite my best intentions of bringing my laptop with me to Denmark), I best be off given that my plane’s boarding in an hour and I’m still in downtown Copenhagen. A picture paints a thousand words anyway, so here’s the paintings of seventeen thousand words from my first few months here.

 

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UCD Snowsports trip to Alpe d’Huez, France

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Up at 3300m in the French Alps

UCD Snowsports trip to Alpe d'Huez, France

The Valley Rally – last day of the trip

 

UCD Snowsports trip to Alpe d'Huez, France

Bobbing for apples in sangria and flour for the Valley Rally scavenger hunt. Gross.

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Après Ski sessions, France

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Connemara National Park, Ireland

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Galway Bay, Ireland

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Sunny days actually aren’t that hard to find in Dublin! (shocking, I know)

UCD Snowsports + Surf Ball (i.e. trying to be fancy)

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Camden Market, London, UK

 

 

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St Patty’s Day in Whistler, Canada (spring break)

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Ice crevasse in Whistler, Canada

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Hiking in the Pacific Ranges, BC, Canada

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Easter in Alicante, Spain

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Easter in Alicante, Spain

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Copenhagen’s Skyline, Denmark

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

 

Until next time,

Tabhair aire 🙂