Thursday, March 3, 2016

From SU to NUIG

Passing the Galway Cathedral on the way to NUIG

Stockton University was always my first choice school. I had applied to few larger schools, but I knew I wanted to go somewhere relatively small. I only had one large lecture in my three years at SU and the rest of my classes had about twenty students maximum. I got used to the Academic Spine and how navigable the campus is. I knew where everything was and every place I needed to be was in one centralized location.

When I thought about studying abroad, I never really imagined what my new school's campus would be like. National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) isn't that much bigger than Stockton in terms of buildings. I would say that Stockton has a little less space than NUIG, but the buildings on NUIG's campus are spread farther apart. I didn't find it that difficult to get used to the campus layout.

The most difficult part of my transition was the way the school structures their class modules. I'm very used to the MWF and T/R class schedule that happens in the States. Over in Ireland, there is no schedule like this. One of my classes meets from 5PM-6PM on Tuesday nights and then from 9AM-10AM on Wednesday morning. Another meets on Thursdays from 12PM-1PM and then again from 3PM-4PM. And each section of the class is in a different room. Not only did I have to get used to meeting at strange times, but I had to remember which module met in which room in which building. This led to a very color coordinated schedule and some awkward moments when I went to the wrong room at the wrong time.

The other thing that took some getting used to was the class sizes. At NUIG three out of four of my classes have over 100 students in them. At first I was unsure if I liked this or not. I do think I enjoy being in large lectures because in order to learn, I have to rely largely on myself which is a challenge I enjoy. but now that it is the middle of the semester, I am missing the professor to student interaction that happens in small classes. I love my professors here, but I wish there were more opportunities to develop a relationship with them.

Their lectures are great and I do learn from them, but with small classes, students are better able to
share their ideas and opinions on the material. There is a better chance for a discussion which is a large part of how one is able to process what we're supposed to be learning. It also allows for a better way for students to generate ideas for papers. Hearing what other students think and bouncing your ideas off of your professor really facilitate the learning process.

The thing I miss the most about Stockton is the Campus Center. NUIG does not have a building in which students can just hang out and do work. A lot of the students sit in the hallways or at the various cafes and restaurants on campus. There is the library, but it's always very crowded and it is very silent. There is no area designated just for students so in order to get work done, I have to go back to my apartment. I'd like to stay on campus a little more but I haven't been able to find a place where I can spread my stuff out and feel comfortable.

The Quad

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Getting to Galway

Living in Ireland has been a goal of mine since I was in elementary school. I was raised in a very Irish American family so I grew up knowing and learning a lot about the Irish culture. As I got older, I started to explore the Irish way of life on my own. I tried to teaching myself the Irish language, I immersed myself in Irish literature, television programs, and films, and I began following the Irish newspapers online to keep up with the daily events in the country.

This obsession led me to plan studying abroad in the Spring of my Junior year. I knew I would be doing this even before I knew what college I was going to. Upon deciding on Stockton, I met with the study abroad advisor each year to ensure that my dream would become a reality. It was finally time to begin the application process the second semester of my Sophomore year. I was excited, but I was also very nervous.

My freshman year I had taken part in Stockton's Holocaust and Genocide Studies Faculty Led Program to Poland. Lithuania, and Germany. This two week trip was my first time out of the country. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had and I'm still in awe when I think about everything I saw and learned.

The next summer, I enrolled in Stockton's Hospitality and Tourism Management Faculty Led Program to Rome and Florence, Italy. This class was just as amazing as my first international experience but for many different reasons. Being a literature major, it wasn't at all related to my immediate field. But I study what I study because it allows me to participate in a number of disciplines.

When I graduate Stockton, I plan on becoming a writer and a school librarian. In order to be successful in these fields, I have to be experienced and knowledgable in a variety of different things. I have to experience life first hand which means taking chances and leaving my comfort zone. I am a commuter student and a home body. Studying abroad meant leaving my family and friends for six months, leaving behind everything I knew and everything I had become accustomed to. Although I was truly ready to embrace this opportunity, I was worried about all of the new things that would come with it.

Despite all of my fears, I pushed forward with the application process and before I could blink, I was at the airport and boarding my plane. Throughout the journey over, I still didn't really believe what I was doing. It all seemed too surreal. I wasn't hit with the "oh-my-goodness-you-moved-to-Ireland" feeling until I had arrived at my flat and began to unpack.

Putting my belongings away made me realize that it finally happened. I had started to live my dream. I was very scared, but I was ready. I went to bed that night nervous, but looking forward to the journey ahead.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My (Most Meaningful) Place

Piazza de Michelangelo

Though I've been fortunate to travel a lot recently, I still feel as though I haven't yet explored enough of the world to label one exact place as my favorite. But thinking back on my past few travels has provided me with a place that I would call one of the most meaningful. 

This past summer I took part in a Faculty Led Program to Rome and Florence, Italy. The class consisted of about fourteen students, all girls, who were members of my university's Hospitality and Tourism Management Program (HTMS). Being a literature student, I was the only non-HTMS major in attendance. I did love getting to know these girls and I was thrilled to be learning about something new, but a huge part of me felt like I was on the outside looking in. Not just because I wasn’t a member of the HTMS program, but also because pressures of the “real” world were suddenly overwhelming me. I was feeling lost and alone. And being in a foreign country with people I didn’t know really established that uneasiness. 

People always describe beautiful places by saying, “it’s absolutely breathtaking” or “it’s like a postcard.” They were phrases that I thought to be true, but they are so overused that I when I hear them I never imagine them to be used to describe something so incredibly wonderful.

I think reason behind that is because you never truly understand this type of beauty until you experience it first hand. When the girls and I heard of Piazza de Michelangelo, we had no idea what we were in for. It was a last minute decision to make the trek and we were definitely not prepared for the steep hike up the hill.

Out of breath, we scoped the piazza for a place to sit. It was completely packed. It seemed like people had been here for hours trying to claim a seat. The stairs and balcony were crammed but with some luck we were able to find a spot for our group. Conversations stirred all around us, every language seemed to be represented. The girls and I were excited that we decided to come, as this definitely seemed like the place to be. They chatted about our day’s activities and I withdrew myself from the conversation to observe the world around me.

The sun had started to set. People were holding hands, hugging each other close, and taking photos with the brightest of eyes and widest of smiles. Everyone was in their own little corner of the universe, with someone they held dear.

When the sun finally fell beneath the mountains, every single person on the Piazza de Michelangelo cheered. Each little universe expanded and enveloped the universe next to them. Everyone was clapping, laughing, and popping bottles of champagne. The piazza went from a million different stories, feelings, and lives to just one single group.

We were all there to witness such an amazing moment. And yes, the sun sets every day but this experience was so unique. Everyone at the piazza was suddenly one big unit. It didn’t matter that we were all different ages, that we came from different countries, or that we were just plain different from each other.

As cheesy as it may sound, it was like a celebration for being alive and for finally slowing down enough to appreciate something that is so overlooked. 

This was the most amazing night of my life. It’s so hard to explain how amazing the atmosphere was and how dazing the piazza actually is. It was sense of belonging that I’d never felt before, something that everyone should experience at least once in life.